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Interview with Loop.pH


Interview with Loop.pH

The Artling interviewed Mathias Gmachl and Rachel Wingfield, founders of the Loop.pH studio, to find out more about The Chronarium Sleep Lab, that recently popped up in Singapore from the 10th-15th October as a part of Future Everything 2015. 


Who are Loop.pH? 

We are a London based spatial laboratory experimenting across the fields of design, architecture and the sciences. The studio was founded in 2003 by Mathias Gmachl and Rachel Wingfield to form a new creative practice, beyond specialist boundaries.


What is your mission? 

Our vision is to bridge the gaps of understanding between science and the public by creating and facilitating environments that allow people to dream and re-imagine new visions for our future. 

We also explore the role of art and design in public space by choosing to work outside of the traditional setting of a gallery, museum or laboratory.


Did you have the opportunity to visit Singapore before conceptualizing this art work? 

Unfortunately not, I think if we had then perhaps the project would have taken a different form. Its always difficult to anticipate how a different culture will respond to your work. 

We did research global issues around sleep and urban life and found Singapore (like many other global cities) to experience a decline in sleep quality and quantity. 


How does your work address the curatorial question posed by Future Everything for this festival of digital culture in Singapore – “How can we generate new thinking and possibilities around the Smart Nation?”

We were initially interested in how we could create a restorative and calm space within a busy public place, that offered respite from our media rich environment. We wanted to create a bubble where we were un-connected and technology as we believe these oasis ought to exist within the Smart Nation. 

The more we researched this topic the more we were interested in neuroscience and sleep and how we could use technology to entrain the brain and help teach us the skills of sleep and relaxation. 

As a studio we focus on health and wellbeing in the city, whether thats through urban agriculture initiatives or looking at how light can affect our bodies, ultimately we are exploring how we can better control our environments for the health and sustenance of the individual, community and built environment at large. 

People living today sleep significantly less than generations before with sleep disorders on the rise. We are only just beginning to understand the impact that these disorders have on people’s lives.  With the quantity and quality of sleep being constantly challenged by round the clock communications and globalised business, it’s becoming increasingly important to focus on our resting time and develop the necessary skills for sleep if we are to become a truly Smart Nation. 

Tell us more about your new project for Singapore, The Chronarium.

The Chronarium was presented for the first time in Singapore as an immersive audiovisual environment that totally transforms its location into a restorative, calm and contemplative experience.

Once visitors entered the Chronarium they were exposed to different environmental stimuli that aim to reset their internal circadian rhythm for better, more harmonious sleep. They are invited to lie back and rest inside a series of suspended swings.

The cyclical audiovisual program has been developed in consultation with a leading UK sleep scientist and looks to entrain the brain by encouraging a deep relaxation and rest over a 15 minute period using pink noise and a wash of coloured light.

We also collaborated with award winning composer Anna Meredith for the installation's sound. Meredith composed a piece with four phases reflecting the four sleep states, which included “pink noise,” a low frequency sound which has been shown to induce more restful sleep. Meredith also incorporates binaural beats into The Chronarium, which can induce low brainwave frequencies associated with sleep. This soundtrack, combined with animated light and colour  through the visible spectrum to complete darkness, creates a brainwave entrainment, designed to take people from their awake state to a deeply relaxed state. 

As a sleep laboratory we collected EEG data from a selection of visitors, recording their brain activity throughout the sessions. We wanted to see if there was any marked response to the change in environmental stimuli. We were especially interested in the alpha waves associated with states of relaxation.


The Chronarium has been open for a few days now. How is the response? 

Visitors were extremely curious about the experience, particularly about how light and sound can affect our sleep, and how we can harness technology to help our sleep.

It appeared that in Singapore people where culturally more aware about sleep scarcity, where very long working hours are the norm, and many workplaces encourage a mid day ‘nap time’, not too dissimilar to the Mediterranean siesta. So essentially our installation didn’t seem too much of an alien idea to the Singaporean passerby.


What will you do with the EEG readings / information gathered at the Sleep Lab? Will you presenting any findings from the project?

We used the public laboratory as a space and opportunity to collect EEG data from a selection of visitors in order to record their brainwaves throughout the sessions. We wanted to see if there was any marked response to the change in environmental stimuli (the light and sound program), and were particularly interested in the alpha waves, which are associated with states of relaxation.

One of our Loop.pH team members, Kaja Ritzau-Reid is a scientist (trained in genetics) and worked with us to develop a questionnaire so we could analyse people’s relationship with technology and quality of sleep. We were also interested to see how peoples attention and focus were affected by taking a short nap in the day, and asked some people to fill out a simple psychometric test to evaluate this both before and after the experience. Our preliminary findings show that on average, people displayed sharper cognitive focus after the experience. This is really interesting for us, as it shows how we can potentially improve our work efficiency by taking naps in the day.  

We are currently working with Vikki Revell, PhD, Head of Strategic Development, Surrey Clinical Research Centre. She advised on our research methods and on the light programming. We are mapping and assessing our data and hope to publish it soon as well as use it to inform the next Chronarium installation.  

Have you met, discovered or worked with any Singaporean artists during your time here? 

Not yet! but we hope to return soon and meet more Singaporeans. 


In Da Vinci’s time art and science coexisted naturally. Later they matured to the point of polarization. In Singapore we have the Art Science museum, UCL has its first cohort of BASc students graduating this year - do you think the study of art and science are coming back together?

I have been involved with higher education for over 10 years, teaching design. I would often bring in biologists and computer scientists to explore the synergies of practice and blur the boundaries between disciplines. I believe trans-disciplinary practice is vital for tacking some of the tough challenges ahead.  A lot of our work deals with traditional craft and the evolution of technology - without textiles and the loom the modern day computer as know it wouldn’t exist as it provided the inspiration for Babbage. It was also textile designers who were employed at the time of the silicon boom to work on the intricate patterns needed for silicon chips. Today we see designers train with biologist and geneticists in order to re-design life in a field known as synthetic biology. 

In regards to the Chronarium, we consider it a design project that has been informed by science. I think design can provide an accessible way to engage with cutting edge science, which often takes years to find a way into the public realm. The effects of our modern lives, including artificial light, sound and our electronic devices have a major impact on sleep quality, and its important to be able to communicate this in ways which are accessible to the general public. 


Can you share some of the characteristics that artists and scientists share?

Curiosity, obsession, looking for patterns and being ‘systems thinkings’, not afraid to fail, discovery and epiphany… 


Increasingly researchers say that curiosity is a starting point to creativity. What are you curious about right now?

I am curious about many things and I try and pursue all the tangents simultaneously whilst constantly looking for patterns and connections. 

I am fascinated by botany and new technologies for farming, I am also fascinated by the public bathhouse as an ancient social space - so a current initiative brings these two curiosities together in a project called the Horticultural Spa. 


Find out more about Loop.pH: The Chronarium Sleep Lab here.


All images courtesy of Future Everything

Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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