86 Billions



Senior Studio 
8 months
[interactive installation] [virtual installation due to COVID-19] [research process] [SciArt] [open-ended exploration]
Touchdesigner, Processing, Arduino, Rhino, Cinema4D, Addressable LED light-strip, mirrors, wires, foil paper...

There are 86 billion neurons in the human brain.The art, science, the greatest creations and discoveries in this world our species hold so much pride in, are all created inside this “space”-the brain, at some time.

Neurons work ceaselessly in this “space” to allow everything to happen.
What if we think of neurons as “tiny lifeforms” living inside our brains. For every one of us there is a universe of them. Does the brain become a house, a factory...or perhaps a entire new universe for them?


The Exhibited Virtual Installation

Entering the virtual gallery

The installation is placed in the center of the virtual gallery, surrounded by process works and my other computer graphics works on the walls, reflecting on the cube’s mirrored surface.
Reflection plays a big part in the installation, here it is used to create fractals and infinity spaces.

Viewing experience 01

The installation is a single-person viewing experience. 
The viewer shall stand at the opening of the cube. At the right position, the viewer will see infinities of their face reflected on the mirrors inside the cube,
as if they are interacting with the 86 billion neurons living inside their brain.

Viewing experience 02

Through the many neurons occupying the cubed space, at the back of the cube, there is an additional layer of frosted glass. This semi-transparent surface vaguely shows structures of more “neuron branches” and lights flowing through, representing the action potentials in the neurons.

In the original proposed physical installation, this part were addressable LED light strips programmed with an Arduino Mega. (shown later in process)

Viewing experience 03

While the fictional “one’s own universe of neurons” space (illusional infinity in the finite cubed space) is for one viewer at a time, others would have a different viewing experience at this time.

Others could tour the virtual gallery, of course, directly looking at the works hanging on the wall. But they could also look at the reflections of the works on the outer reflective surface of the cube.

This is another virtual space (the first one being the infinity space created in the finite cubed space) in the gallery, one created by 2D mirrored surfaces.

Research, Experimentations, Iterations

“We all, children and grownups alike, are inclined to live in our own little world, in our immediate surroundings, or at any rate with our attention concentrated on those things with which we are directly in touch. We tend to forget how vast are the ranges of existing reality which our eyes cannot directly see, and our attitudes may become narrow and provincial. We need to develop a wider outlook, to see ourselves in our relative position in the great and mysterious universe in which we have been born and live.”

-Kees Boeke Cosmological View

Part 1:
What is the exprience like inside an enclosed mirrored sphere?

Entry-01 : Sept. 2019

This is one of my earliest installation proposals. This proposal would make use of an EEG device, electroactive polymer materials (EAP), and a one-way mirror (manufactured to be spherical).

A single user steps into the one-way mirrored sphere in the center,
The inside is mirrored, This is the viewing experience for the person inside at this time. They are completely isolated from the outside world, but accompanied by many distortions of themselves.
Is this the experience inside their brain?

An EEG device the inside viewer wears collects their brainwaves. 

The brainwaves are used to shift the shape of the EAP “sculptures” outside.
Outside viewers sees the EAP “sculptures” constantly changing shapes with the inside viewers mind working every millisecond. But they can also observe the inside viewer from the see through-glass outside surface of the sphere.

The inside viewer is not only connected to an EEG device. They are further more “wired” with many “dendrites” (sculptures). 
For the outside viewers, are they in the inside viewer’s “brain space”? Does the space of the room become a representation of inside viewer’s brain?
For them, does the inside viewer become the owner of this “universe”, or just a single neuron connected?

Entry-02: Oct. 2019

To further investigate the unusual yet mysterious experience inside an enclosed mirrored sphere, I built and rendered a 3D model to virtually experience the first person perspective of this experience.

My main insights from this investigation includes the following:

01 - Isolation of the Self

Being inside a mirrored sphere cuts the person off from the outside world. The mirrored sphere becomes a space of isolation and reflection. Perhaps one could think of the person stepping into this mirrored sphere as stepping into the virtual space of their brain, being completely alone.

02 - Instances of the Self

The person would also see many reflections of themselves around them. What do these reflections mean? Duplicated selves? 

03 - Distortion of the Self

The reflections the person sees at different angles are greatly distorted and varying from one another. Surely they are not simple duplications of the self. I’d like to think of these reflections as other the neurons, and the person becoming a single neuron in this imagined space of the brain. This is the embodiement of imagining neurons as small lives (but also some sort of duplications of the person) living inside the person’s brain (as a space). Here the person steps into the mirrored sphere to witness the “space” of their brain in a neuro’s perspective.

Entry-03: Nov. 2019

From interviewing a bioinformationist on campus, I gained access to EEG datasets and were introduced to some opensource EEG analysis and visualization resources.

I also browsed Github for code fragments visualizating EEG data. I consulted two computer science students on how I could achieve what I proposed.

Entry-04: Nov. 2019

At around the same time, I encountered a book at the library: Portraits of the Mind by Carl Schoonover.

It is a fascinating collection of images produced by brain-imaging techniques throughout history, from the earliest hand-drawn neurons to awing present-day brain visualizations such as “brainbow” (shown on the bookcover).

I decided to move away from EEG for brainwaves are representations of activities taking place in the brain rather than what the inside of the brain looks like. I decided to instead create my art piece with the look of the brain and its neurons as the starting point.

“For an Apple is in itself a little Universe; the Seed, hotter than the other parts thereof, is its Sun, which diffuses about itself that natural Heat which preserves its Globe: And in the Onion, the Germ is the little Sun of that little World, which vivifies and nourishes the vegetative Salt of that little mass.”
-Cryano de Bergerac

Part 2: Dendrites: Fractals and Cosmological Aesthetics

Entry-01: Dec. 2019

I started to find great similarities between neurons and tree branches, and even the cosmos. Why does nature create this similar branching structure in such different scales? Though at first not understanding the fundamental idea behind, I started to document tree branches with this idea in mind. Perhaps I could also imagine the brain as another natural landscape, I thought, a landscape of the mind, parallel to the landscape we live in.

Entry-02: Jan. 2020

Perhaps it is because they are both fractals-a realization I made after learning about fractals in a conversation with a math major student here at University of Michigan.

I was amazed by how ubiquitous the existence of fractals is in this world, whether in nature, math, even in a hypothesis for the stock market and more. To provide a better explanation of fractals, I here quote the Fractal Foundation:

“A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. Geometrically, they exist in between our familiar dimensions. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals. For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc. Abstract fractals – such as the Mandelbrot Set – can be generated by a computer calculating a simple equation over and over.”

With references from New York University’s Professor Daniel Shiffman’s book The Nature of Code, I learned and used Processing to create simple fractal trees.

Entry-03: Feb. 2020

At the around same time, I was looking at many immersive installations that employ the use of projection mapping and interactive projections.

With some research, I learnt that Touchdesigner and vvvv. are two great softwares to generate real-time graphics for real-time-projection-based installations. Touchdesigner provides a node-based system that I thought of as “visual programming”, which allows me to produce a infinity pool of generative real-time graphics, but without needing to actually write a great deal of code (some nodes in Touchdesigner do provide the opportunity for incorporating custom code fragments).

I learnt some basics of Touchdesigner and created a self-duplicating/branching network pattern. I also applied forces to animate it, to make it more dynamic.

Entry-04: Feb. 2020

Experimenting with projection, I felt like using “virtual” to create “virtual” was not what I wanted for this project. I once again transitioned, into trying to create something more physical, yet still interactive, and lets viewers into the “virtual” space.

During the transition period, I quickly went over a few ideas, including envisioning the creations of kinetic sculptures, bioplastic sculptures etc. But many ideas simply seemed too forced upon their own forms, and do not provide an immersion into the narrative I wanted to bring my viewers into.

“To give an object poetic space is to give it more space than it has objectivity; or better still; it is following the expansion of its intimate space. For the sake of homogeneity, I shall recall how Joë Bousquet expressed the intimate space of a tree: ‘Space is nowhere. Space is inside it like honey in a hive.’ In the realm of images, honey in a hive does not conform to the elementary
dialectics of contained and container. Metaphorical honey will not be shut up, and here in the intimate space of a tree, honey is anything but a form of marrow. ..If the interior space of a tree is a form of honey, it gives the tree ‘expansion of infinite things’.”
-Gaston Bachelard Poetics of Space

Part 3:  Mirrors, Infinity Spaces, Programmed Lights, and Neuron Sculptures

Entry-01: March. 2020

At this stage, I was experimenting with mirrors to create illusions of a virtual space in a physical space. 

We were each given an around 9ft * 9ft * 9ft cubicle space for the exhibition. With the help of mirrors, I could create an infinite space inside the finite cube, and infinite instances of “neurons” (sculptures).

I decided to also incorporate the use of mirrors on the neuron sculptures. One would see infinite reflections of themself, with dendrites extending from their reflections, reaching out far into the void to connect with many other of their reflections.

Entry-02: March. 2020

In order to prepare for the upcoming exhibition scheduled in April 2020, I wrapped up my conceptual explorations and started the construction and preparations for the actual physical installation in March 2020. 

Entry-03: April. 2020

Yinuo Han @2021