School of Music and Fine Art

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Instruction for the Rubber Hand Illusion (2016)
[Text, and - if fabricated - experiment components: facsimile hand, 2x touch stimulating implements, cowl, screen, and 2x participants]

The piece was exhibited as part of Concrete Plastic, a group show at LAM Gallery, Los Angeles. Other artists were: Patrick Coyle, Annabel Frearson, Patricia Lennox-Boyd, Michael Bizon, Anne Guro Larsmon and Kim Schoen.

The exhibition responded to the world famous archive of Conceptual art and ephemera held at Chelsea College of Arts. Text predominates in this collection, ‘Instruction pieces’ are common. This genre of art can be seen to question the phenomenological presumptions of Minimal and Post-minimal art. Instruction pieces, carefully formulated in precise sentences, need not be rendered spatial and experienced by a present and mobile body. Instead, they need only be read and as such ‘rationally’ assimilated. An interruption is thereby introduced by this art-genre problematizing the widely held belief that art is necessarily experiential.

The Rubber Hand Illusion is a neuro-scientific experiment in which a healthy subject experiences an artificial limb as part of his or her body. During this illusion, in the words of neuro-philosopher Thomas Metzinger, the human animal’s body awareness, or its ‘phenomenal self model (PSM)’ is shown to be distinct from the actual ‘physical’ body’s perimeter. The PSM is a relatively autonomous product of neural activity - a system that might be tricked. Here, it is the rationality of science that reveals the unreliability of everyday experience; the experimental subject doesn’t really grow a new limb. The rubber hand illusion creates its own interruption driving a wedge between the apparent accuracy of our direct phenomenal experience and reality. 

Klee’s contribution to the exhibition overlaid these two interruptions; he created an instruction piece, a genre that challenges the necessity of embodied phenomenal experience within spectatorship. This instruction – when (and if) realised – results in a bona-fide scientific experiment, an experiment that itself casts doubt on the ‘certainties’ of phenomenal experience. In this piece then rationality gets the upper hand over experience, rationality questions experience.

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Last Updated: 27/02/2017