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Proto-Objects is an ongoing, long-term research project by Michael Schwab retrofitted to a number of activities held before and after 2009. The project combines two distinct concerns: (1) the figuration of brain activity and (2) the conceptualisation of artistic, epistemic objects – that is, it combines a specific with a general research interest. The material basis for proto-objects consists of one hundred three-dimensional models, each of which represents an artistic analysis of Schwab’s brain activity while seeing a work from the history of art. While these models – or figures – may be scientifically developed to enhance our understanding of the workings of the brain, they may also be artistically developed and used for the production of new works of art. The notion of a proto-object indicates that both avenues may be suspended and that objects may be produced with unknown or at least underdeveloped representational status. This approach makes use of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s distinction between graphematic and representational spaces, where the former can broadly be understood as the space of research and the latter as the space of science or art. By deploying the notion of a proto-object, this research project suggests that research activity can continue for its own sake at the border of either science or art so that ‘knowledge’ in the guise of epistemic or aesthetic objects may be speculatively projected but never quite realised in those representational spaces.
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