The Brain in A Year with 13 Moons

- A performative lecture and walk through the Systenence Systems factory, Jiading, China, November 15, 2015.

The performance takes the shape of a walk through the factory where the artist (for the English speaking audience) and a Li Hui, a Chinese actress (for the Chinese speaking audience) lead the visitors through the factory, stopping at four places introducing various topics related to the brain and screening short videos videos.

The narrative takes its starting point in contemporary neuroscience and connects it to the factory and ideas about originality and the assembly line. The work looks at how ideas from industry creep into our way of seeing the world and questions their validity.

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The inspiration for the artwork and also the end point for the performance is a scene from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film “A Year with 13 Months.” In it we hear the film’s main character telling his sad life-story while we see images from an abattoir. The images are so repugnant that it becomes virtually impossible to take in the spoken words. The sequence is interesting because it tells us many things about how our brain works – how humans and other animals take in impressions from the outside world and how they are processed. Much of the performance is therefore dedicated to what we can learn from neuroscience how that can be useful in our everyday lives.

The sequence also shows how effective the strategy of the corporate world has become to hide the production sites of consumer products from our sight since the production of the film in 1978. This, of course, remains especially true for images of “uncomfortable” places such as abattoirs or sites where conditions for workers are particularly grim. Again, this strategy awakens interesting questions of how the brain works. It proves that humans make associations that influence their choices (I remember seeing how ghastly the conditions for the workers are in the factory, so I will abstain from buying the product.) But we can also learn that our decisions are affected by what choices other make – a behaviour that, interestingly enough, neuroscientific studies have proven is present in such small creatures as fruit flies.

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A special thank you to Li Hui for performing the Chinese version of the piece and to Rebecca Catching for her tireless support.

Download the text for the performance here.