Mala Gaonkar and David Byrne, co-creators of Pace’s The Institute Presents: NEUROSOCIETY
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A sleek white space is the setting for a virtual-reality experiment.
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In a classroom, a voting exercise reveals how appearances factor into inferences of competence.
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There’s a new reason to flock to a stretch of El Camino in Menlo Park that was previously dotted by abandoned auto dealerships: Pace Art + Technology—which opened its first outpost on the thoroughfare in early 2016—recently took over a neighboring building. The latest location debuts with The Institute Presents: NEUROSOCIETY, created by David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar, who share a fascination with neuroscientific lab experiments. “We both realized that we had similar impulses,” Byrne explains. “She had seen the work of various labs and thought they deserved to be seen by a wider public and seen in a different way than they were conceived. And I thought we could re-contextualize [the experiments] by putting them in an art gallery.”
He had an existing relationship with Pace Gallery, which had shown his sculptures, photos and “this and that,” says the multihyphenate Byrne, also the founder and frontman of Talking Heads. In 2010, Pace was opening a branch in London and asked him for suggestions for its launch. “I proposed to them—invite the labs to install their experiments and continue their work in the gallery,” he recounts. While that didn’t pan out, Byrne remained committed to developing the idea. According to Byrne, he and Gaonkar eventually workshopped about 10 experiments for “reproduce-ability” of the data yielded by the labs. “Then the challenge is: how to do it so it’s fun; how to do it so that it’s not one person at a time being dealt with by a lab technician, but 10 people at a time, so you have decent numbers going through,” he adds. When Byrne informed Pace President Marc Glimcher of his progress on the project, Byrne recalls, Glimcher’s response was: “Well, funnily enough, we’re interested in doing these experiential kind of things out here [in Menlo Park] in these former car showrooms. And your concept actually fits perfectly.”
NEUROSOCIETY, which runs through March 31, is composed of four spaces offering five experiences. In an all-white room, as part of a reinterpretation of Ehrsson Lab’s Being Barbie experiment, a virtual-reality headset tricks your brain into taking on a doll’s perspective. An examination of how a political candidate’s facial appearance affects our voting choice is conducted in a classroom environment, while a game-show set is the backdrop for making split-second decisions pertaining to moral dilemmas. “When we read about these experiments, our reactions were, ‘Boy, I sure would like to do that,’” says Byrne of the motivating factor for him and technology investor Gaonkar. Now, the pair has made it possible for the public to partake as well. The $45 timed tickets are available for advance purchase (which is highly recommended), with groups of up to 10 for each 80-minute session. 350 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650.656.8190
Originally published in the January issue of Silicon Valley