What Goes On In Your Head?

Let’s start with some questions. R+ + you = what? What would you do for dopamine? What goes on in your head? What goes on in your teenager’s head? The last question was focus of workshops run by artist Jim Lockey, and the culmination was What Goes on in Your Head?, an installation and talk on behaviour and the brain.

The installation presented a range of answers to this question from the teenagers that took part. The art and words they created ranged from the direct and light-hearted to the profound. The installation aimed to show that when we ask a teenager this directly, or in the form of an exasperated rhetorical monologue, the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Tracy Mapp, an expert in the field of behaviour management, built on this with research about the growing teenage brain, paying particular attention to several areas. The first was the relationship between a person’s behaviour and the behaviour of those around them. The second was on dopamine and a teenager’s high senstivitity to it, as well as its implications for behaviour. What Goes on in Your Head?also looked at the changing structure of a teenagers’ brain, at the process of synaptic pruning in operation that takes the brain from a child to an adult. Moving on to consider ways of changing behaviour, Mapp challenged the view of punishment as an effective technique and explored instead the power of positive reinforcement - otherwise known as R+.  What Goes on in Your Head? explored behaviour; it’s origins, it’s influences and techniques to change it using science and experience.

-       Dave Horn


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Why Is Synaptic Pruning Important for the Developing Brain?Scientific American

Swedish Speed-Camera Pays Drivers To Slow DownWired

Wild teenage behaviour linked to rapid cognitive change in the brainGuardian

Kevin Becomes a Teenager Harry Enfield and Chums (1994)

Ugly Chief // Victoria Melody

Framed as a living funeral, Ugly Chief mines what is at stake when we numbly follow mainstream social norms or accept glib representations of the truth.

The entire show is founded on the misdiagnosis of Victoria Melody’s father with a terminal illness. Although he notices his health fails to plummet, he does not confer with his doctor, as is all too typical in relationships with professionals where technical prowess subsumes empathy. In the space of ignorance, Melody plans her father’s funeral, as requested, and trains as a funeral director. When the doctor’s error comes to light, the Melodys collaborate on ‘Ugly Chief’- a title that emerges from an inaccurate meaning ascribed to their surname picked up from online ancestral research.  There are frequent prods at our tendency to infer truth from unsubstantiated sources, like her father’s apparent familiarity and connection with the culture of New Orleans. As revealed by her research trip, it turns out it's limited to the opening sequence of Live & Let Die.

Melody confronts the conventional taboo of talking about death, luridly describing funeral practices such as sewing mouths closed in an attempt to make corpses parody the living and for death to appear less distressing. She shows us a product range of coffins rising to one at £19,000 with no value to the end-user.  These shiny veneers may offer more comfort than openly discussing death when alive, but in doing so they sidestep environmental factors and we relinquish our freedom of choice. We succumb to limited and often more costly options driven by corporate agendas. 

Rather than experience emotions, we choose what psychotherapist M Scott Peck describes as 'dinner party conversations', prevalent in what he describes as pseudo community: a shallow existence. Melody moves beyond her explorations of death and goes on to break a second taboo, the public airing of familial dirty laundry as she and her father explore their fractured relationship. Experts in truth and conciliation identify this willingness to talk as a precursor to forgiveness. At the end of the show, the Melodys read eulogies for one another that are raw and touching. Although this is a performative work and we have no way knowing what is real, Melody has attuned us to this dilemma earlier by describing her dim experiences at Chelsea College of Art, which include a tutor berating her for a poor understanding of Baudrillard’s Simulacra. In the end, perhaps it is only the willingness to experience emotions, to allow discomfort and speak the unspeakable that sets us free and enables us to be real. 

- Lubna Gem Arielle


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Doctor Patient Relationship - Huffington Post

A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics - Daniel Levitin

Live and Let Die (1973) - New Orleans Funeral Scene

Death Cafe

Death Doulas - Huffington Post

The Different Drum - M Scott Peck

Funerals - Ethical Consumer

The Forgiveness Project

Baudrillard's Simulacra

Siri // La Messe Base with Aurora Nova

The central concept of Siri, using the iOS assistant AI to fulfil a speaking role in the performance, is intriguingly complicated by the biography of Laurence Dauphinais, the actor conversing with the disembodied voice of her phone. As one of the first Canadians created by artificial insemination, Dauphinais shares some unusual certainties about her conception – exact time and place, process and design – that echo the available information about the creation of Siri by Dag Kittlaus at the SRI Artifical Intelligence Centre. Two derivations of ‘AI’ are at play in Siri, artificial insemination as well as intelligence. Continually questioning her phone to answer the deeper, more emotionally resonant questions that arise from the bare facts of her creation provokes unnerving confluences and responses from the now-familiar voice from the phone. Dauphinais plays with this, the answers that might most approach a Turing-test pass instantly undone by repeated and carefully provoked stock answers.

Fragments of songs and films are used to give Siri the illusion of personality. Familiar touchstones like the homicidal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a reference so familiar that it is actually built into the software of Siri itself, are used alongside the autobiography of the performer to question identity, intelligence and the nature of consciousness. As artificial intelligence arrives and becomes part of our lives, these questions become even more essential. Siri provides an anthropomorphisation of external supplementary memory. She is a deferral of the responsibility to remember numbers, the layout of cities or good restaurants near me, and a step towards the normalisation of everyday AI. The performance asks what it means to create it, and to accommodate it into our lives.

Just as Kittlaus saw his creation developed by another, the anonymous donor that provided half of Dauphinais’s genetic makeup is a spectre hanging over even the most technobabble dialogue. Dauphinais recounts how her home DNA test, an increasingly common postal swab, led her to a previously unknown relative and the potential of reconnection. The performance dwells on the risks of pursuing it, asking whether Dauphinais’s biological father might feel differently to now see his anonymous donation realised in a full person as complicated as any other, just as Kittlaus might not recognise the original goals of his creation in the program we carry around today. 

- Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Siri - CanadaHub at Summerhall

Turing Test

Siri Development

History of Artificial Insemination in Canada

The DNA Test as Horoscope - The Atlantic


The all-male cast in a strangely intense musical ode to fatherhood has no baritone. More’s the pity as who doesn’t love a good baritone?

The bread and butter of Fatherland involves stories from a range of fathers, young fathers, grandfathers and single fathers. ‘It wasn’t fashionable back then’, one father says in relation to his status as a single father during the 80s shortly after his wife apparently took most of the family funds, went off on holiday and finally left him with the kids. He brings them up; having to explain periods and all.

One of the more joyful scenes involves a father being alone for the first time with his new-born. Just the two of them in the early morning and he literally takes flight to call out to all and sundry and maybe Mother Nature herself, ‘THIS IS MY SON!’

Many studies do, of course, highlight the fact that kids with involved fathers benefit. They’re less likely to be criminals, more likely to delay sex, do better in school, stay at their job longer and are less likely to gender stereotype. These benefits are there whatever form the father figure takes i.e. grandfather, stepfather and presumably 2 fathers.  In contrast, when kids feel rejected by parents, they’re more likely to be hostile, emotionally unstable or have low self-esteem.

Research is also a theme within the performance. The stories are gathered by Frantic Assembly, a team of 3 performer/researchers, whose role is explicitly challenged throughout the performance by the constant questioning of one of the interviewees (played by an actor). What will you do with the stories? Will you make money out of this? Are we going to see any of this money? Why are you doing this anyway? Though a plot device which sees the interviewee finally rejecting to take part at all, the question resonates. What will happen to these stories after Manchester International Festival? Where are those fathers now? Can their stories be used for even greater benefit i.e. comparisons with fatherhood in its present form or as an introductory text to fatherhood for high schoolers? The show covered key themes which might benefit young people especially. Each tale beginning somewhat wistfully with the question, ‘What is your first memory of your father?’  

One tale queries how fathers speak to their children with the father telling a young child to f-off in a moment of anger. Even when forgiven, he takes the time to tell his daughter that no one, not even he, has a right to speak to her in that way ever. An unseen father does not respond well to his son’s mental breakdown at university.

All of these stories broker the path that many men, young or old, will take over time so perhaps the most stimulating query that Fatherland engenders is simply this. With all the evidence in support of involved fathers, why are there still so few occasions and creative performances/plays etc that explore, celebrate or focus on fatherhood singularly? Like single fatherhood in the 80s, is discussing fathers and fatherhood somehow not seen as fashionable today? (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Fatherland - MIF 2017

The Science of Dad: Engaged Fathers Help Kids Flourish

Why Dads Matter According to Science - USA Today

Dads Play a Key Role in Child Development