This co-created project began in October 2022 when Yambe and Albert embarked on a nine-month residency with the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities (WEH), which includes members of the Department of Psychiatry.
The artist duo have been working alongside the Rethinking Collective Minds research group, which is co-directed by Professor Ilina Singh in Psychiatry, to explore major ethical and philosophical issues pertaining to emerging technologies for collective thinking.
The exhibition explores the philosophical questions of how we think and act as collectives; a phenomenon made increasingly more sophisticated through technological advances, brain-computer interfaces and digital social networks. The exhibition features a bespoke multiplayer art videogame and accompanying sculptural artworks, all developed in collaboration with researchers and consultation with young people from Oxfordshire.
The research and artistic team are investigating how novel constellations of brains and computers challenge conceptions and ethical frameworks for collective thinking and decision-making. This work will address questions such as: what does it mean for a Collective Mind to have an identity?; what becomes of the individual in an increasingly connected world?; what are the rights and responsibilities of an individual within a collective?
The exhibition captures and fuses the philosophical, ethical, technological, and artistic dimensions of such questions. The new multiplayer game experience created by Tam and Barbu challenges these perspectives and invites public audiences to participate in exploring them in a virtual world. In turn, this residency and its public events have and will continue to inform and shape the WEH’s ongoing and emerging research questions around ‘Rethinking Collective Minds’.
Dr David Lyreskog, who has led this project, said: "Working on the Merging Minds project with our artist partners Yambe and Albert, and with young people, has been incredibly fruitful. Not only has it contributed to our dialogue with stakeholders and with the wider public, but it has really shaped our research more directly by helping us think outside of the box about how to untangle complex concepts, and to rethink Collective Minds. It has been an amazing experience, and I hope and believe that this is only the beginning."
The resulting art video game invites people to enter a three dimensional labyrinth as merged-mind avatars - multiple players embodying the same bodies - negotiating and collaborating with each other to navigate challenges. It simulates some of the problems collective minds could face in the future around decision-making, the economy of merging, and attachment to identity. Rather than offering any definitive answer to these questions, our approach was to create the conditions to observe how people would intuitively react in these situations, like a virtual laboratory."
Artist in residence Yambe Tam
Sophie Pannett-Smith, a member of the young person advisory group consulted as part of the process, said: “It makes the research more engaging and it offers new opinions, hearing what the artists also think about the research. I think it is a really fun idea of mixing research with art; it is creating a new type of research, which is very appealing and interesting to listen to and watch.”
The exhibition is held at Fusion Arts, 95 Gloucester Green, Oxford between Thursday, May 11th to Sunday, May 21st (closed Monday, May 15th). It is free and suitable for ages 13+.