Thoughtography - how your mind sees art

The challenge

Since 2013, La Trobe and the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) have partnered to bring inspirational exhibitions to the community each summer. As the gallery’s Learning Partner, La Trobe’s expertise across hundreds of subjects has provided NGV visitors with insights and understanding of each exhibition’s themes and the artists’ intentions.

Each year La Trobe's challenge has been to develop an engagement that enhances the NGV visitors’ gallery experience, while also providing a tangible demonstration of La Trobe's expertise.

The solution

During the record-breaking Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition, from December 2015 to April 2016, La Trobe wanted to deliver an experience for gallery visitors that opened their understanding of how the subconscious mind responds to art. To do this we used innovative technology, known as thoughtography, to create an award-winning engagement that showed how our minds see art.

Academics and creative teams across La Trobe collaborated to create the Thoughtography installation, a tangible demonstration of the intersection between science and art. Participants were shown artwork from the exhibition while wearing a special dry electrode electroencephalogram (EEG) headset that measured the electrical impulses coming from the frontal lobe of their brain. Each person also wore noise cancelling headphones that filled their ears with white noise, so the only stimulation for their brain was selected pieces of art by Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei. A special algorithm then interpreted the brainwave data to create each person's thoughtograph in real time, providing a unique ‘finger print’ image of how their mind sees art.

Thoughtography is an example of La Trobe’s world-leading research and innovation across science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  Expertise from our arts, psychology, biomedical science and neuroscience courses helped inform the development of this unique experience that featured at the NGV and toured Victoria at Open Days and community events.

The outcome

The Thoughtography installation was recognised by the NGV as an added attraction to the gallery that was eagerly sought out by visitors wanting to create their own unique thoughtograph. Almost 2,000 participants created their thoughtograph with La Trobe at the Andy Warhol | Ai WeiWei exhibition, and a further 2.5 million people were engaged through widespread discussion in the traditional, digital and social media.

Our innovative approach to developing an engagement that enhanced the experience of NGV visitors was recognised by Australia’s two leading awards programs, winning the Australian Marketing Institute’s 2016 Awards for Marketing Excellence (National Sponsorship Marketing Award) and Mumbrella’s 2016 BEFest Awards (Best Use of Experiential).

Watch a video about Thoughtography.

Discover more about Thoughtography.

See more than 2,000 thoughtographs in the online gallery.