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Neuroscience and art on conflict and peace

The arts bring an intellectual and emotional comprehension of scientific research, data and news



Dr. Emile Bruneau, Director of the Peace and Conflict Neuroscience Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, studies the inner workings of our minds as it relates to our predisposition to conflict. The brain is designed to keep us alive which requires it to process information in a biased way, but according to Bruneau’s research, we are able to reverse and transcend unconscious bias because the brain is designed to be flexible. People can be made aware of their unconscious processes and how they can transcend the way they think.

Listen to Dr. Bruneau speak about his neuroscience research and how the habits of mind that drive conflicts are similar across cultures. His talk was presented as part of our A View From The Cloud program of art and conversation at the United Nations Church Center.



The use of misinformation to sway public opinion has a long history, but in the current era the use of propaganda and fake news has been scaled up by the capability of new technologies to circulate influence around the world. Power players in all sectors, fueled with money, news platforms, algorithms, and social media are co-opting communications technologies to manipulate emotions and social biases to steer policy and profit in their favor, with real-world consequences.

Although people embrace news that supports their own beliefs, and reject that which contradicts them, people with opposing viewpoints can come together to defend common interests and bring about change. Consensus has been proven to be possible when evidence is presented and more so when emotional connection can be made around some point of mutual interest. Further to this, according to scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, when 10 percent of a population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.

The arts are a catalyst for making these emotional connections. Especially when they bring us to see people and their cultures up close in ways that are different from how they are presented in the news media. The communication methods for reaching audiences are evolving far beyond the traditional formats and social media, as innovations in technologies open up new ways for human interconnection.  ..




Consider the capability of the arts to affect elements of conflict and peace. The artists’ creative process acts as a humanist filter that reveals perspectives and ramifications of social issues for the individual and society. Through diverse mediums, the artworks bring about an intellectual and emotional comprehension of these issues that motivates a change to the trajectory of thinking and action. The vibrancy of the art is also assimilated into the mind at the subconscious level which is a tactic of commercial marketing.

The Future by artist duo LigoranoReese, is an ice monument that melted away in New York City on September 21, 2014 during the Peoples’ Climate March. In 2006 LigoranoReese began theMelted Awayseries of ice monuments as markers for the transformation of social values in the opening decades of the 21st century – first, DEMOCRACY is broken, then, the ECONOMY ruined, the MIDDLE CLASS disappears, THE FUTURE is tenuous, THE AMERICAN DREAM vanishes, and TRUTH remains an open question. Read more. Collect the interactive media sculptures of LigoranoReese here.

Gigantomachy II, 1966, is a painting by the American artist Leon Golub (1922-2004). His devotion to the figure, his embrace of expressionism, his fusion of modern and classical sources, and his commitment to social justice distinguish his practice as an artist. Subjects of longstanding interest to the artist, from mercenaries, interrogators, and the victims of violence to political figures, nudes, and animals, all of them are rendered in the raw, visceral style for which he is justly celebrated. Golub’s body of work attests to his incisive perspective on the catastrophes that afflict human civilization and his critique of brutality and belligerent masculinity. The artist’s work has much to teach us in the twenty-first century, as does his belief in the ethical responsibility of artists.

[From text of Metropolitan Museum Breuer exhibition Raw Nerve. Gigantomachy II is a gift to the museum from The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts and Stephen, Philip, and Paul Golub, 2016]

foxconn frequency (no.2) – for one visibly Chinese performerwas composed by Remy Siu w/ Paul Paroczai, text by Xu Lizhi 许立志 (1990 – 2014).It was commissioned by the Western Front for Vicky Chow, digital light, and Disklavier. (Website) The work was inspired by the suicide of 24-year old Xu Lizhi in 2014, during an epidemic of suicides that had been taking place as a result of the harsh working conditions at the Foxconn factories that employ over 1 million workers to produce the iPhone and other electronics. Xu Lizhi was a poet and had hoped to work in publishing. His friends gathered his work and translated his poems. Xu wrote in one poem from 2011, “I stand like iron by the assembly line, my two hands flying/ How many days and how many nights/ I stand there like that, falling asleep.”Read about Xu and a selection of his poemshere

Inverso Mundus, 2015 (World Upside Down) by AES+F, is a video installation (38:20) and collection of prints that reflect on political, economic, social questions, and whether we’re living in the media’s virtual world or the real world. Video excerpt and details here. Available to collect here.

A performance of The Root by Magna Carda is captured in this video by David Bates, Jr.. “Everybody come from somewhere or maybe no where. The place you wake from, the place we ain’t from that makes us scared. The projects, the over seas, the trailer parks, the poverty line. Place where ain’t no art on the walls just pictures of Jesus and civil rights leaders or confederate flags… (the complete lyrics are here)

Invisible man / woman,2016 by Marty St. James, is a video artwork (2:42) that symbolizes the existential complexity and balance within the relationship between man and woman, and the boundaries they cannot quite escape. View the video and Collect this work and others by St. Jameshere.

The Race, 2018, by Tom Snelgrove is set in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.(Excerpt from 7:54) Under public pressure to end the exploitation of children ages 7-10 working as camel and horse racing jockeys, they are being replaced by robots. Artist’s website

Pippo Lionni’s pictograms in his Facts of Life series are drawings and animations that communicate universal ideas. Animations here



ART, INNOVATION and SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY Streaming Museum calls artists and curators to propose artworks that interpret the conflicts within society, and envision a future where the conflicts have been mitigated. We call innovators across fields to propose those solutions. This includes systems, softwares, and products that have a humanist focus and are desirable, marketable, profitable, and useful on a daily basis. Streaming Museum will promote the works in a range of display and program formats and partnerships.

One of the key innovations that will transform the world is the development of the renewable energy industry which will be the biggest economic industrial enterprise and diplomatic campaign of the 21st century. It affects the factors that create conflict, such as pollution of the environment and food supply, trade wars for profitable fossil fuels, lack of energy for developing regions. Yale Climate Connections explains:

“Renewable energy can be beautiful” is the motto of the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), founded in 2008 by Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry. LAGI provides a platform for artists, architects, landscape architects, and other creatives working with engineers and scientists to bring forward solutions for sustainable energy infrastructures that enhance the city as works of public art while cleanly powering thousands of homes.

LAGI’s work provides a link between neuroscience and climate communication: “By recognizing the innate human desire for beauty and for beautiful things—an aspect of our evolutionary psychology—we can show the post-carbon world that we want to create, powered by 100% renewable energy as something sexy that we can all want to possess.”

BEYOND the WAVE, 2014 Team: Jaesik Lim, Ahyoung Lee, Sunpil Choi, Dohyoung Kim, Hoeyoung Jung, Jaeyeol Kim, Hansaem Kim (Heerim Architects & Planners). Team Location: Seoul, South Korea. Energy Technologies: organic photovoltaic (OPV), kinetic harvesting (piezoelectric).  Annual Capacity: 4,229 MWh

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, says that the arts are critically important for engaging people in climate change and that there is a need to help people get inspired and motivated by solutions. Cynical viewpoints about the future become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Read the interview here


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