Thoughtworks Arts

Thoughtworks Arts Exhibition at SPRING/BREAK for Armory Week 2018

The work of Thoughtworks Arts artists were exhibited together at the closely-watched SPRING/BREAK Art Show in March 2018. The exhibition took place at 4 Times Square as part of New York's Armory Week.

A wide shot of the exhibition space
The exhibition space just prior to opening

The exhibition, sponsored by the media art center Harvestworks, was comprised of works incubated by Thoughtworks Arts programs over the last four years. This includes work from Art-A-Hack and the Thoughtworks Arts Residency, and by the directors of these programs, Andrew McWilliams and Ellen Pearlman, who are also practicing artists.

The show’s curator Lee Tusman, says:

These works show the tipping point of innovation socially transforming our world over the next 25-30 years. They cross over into areas of virtuality and nature and the artificial and the real. As the real (nature/climate change) is threatened, the artificial (VR/AR/immersion) grows. As one world is being destroyed, another opens up.

The exhibited works are listed below, each showcasing the intersection between art, technology and society.

Dual Brains

Dual Brains is a real-time visual performance of the brain data of two performers who are wearing 3D-printed brainwave headsets. The work was incubated as part of Art-A-Hack 2014 and 2016, and first performed at Thoughtworks New York.

The work showcases shared empathy between two brains, creating a live-time visual and sonic environment.

A man and woman share a 3D-printed brain-computer headset
A performance of ‘Dual Brains’ on opening night

First conceptualized by artist Eva Lee, the piece uses custom EEG headsets created by 3D fashion designer Aaron Trocola. The software behind the performance was extended and refined for the exhibition by Thoughtworks developer Julien Deswaef.


RIOT is an emotionally responsive, live-action film with 3D sound, which uses facial expression recognition technology to navigate through a dangerous riot in progress. In the experience, audience’s emotions are used to adjust the story of the film, so that their emotions drive the narrative of the film forwards.

A visitor explores the RIOT installation, a large screen guarded by a man in riot gear
The RIOT AI installation

This project was incubated as part of artist Karen Palmer’s 2017-2018 residency at Thoughtworks. During this time a new version of the emotion analysis engine and RIOT user experience have been built from the ground up by Thoughtworks developers.

The RIOT installation has been shown at South by Southwest, the Future of Storytelling, and was selected as one of the Digital Dozen breakthroughs in Storytelling, 2017.

Karen's collaboration with Thoughtworks has been covered in Forbes and Fast Company. The RIOT pototype has been further covered in Engadget, CBS, Guardian, Fast Company, NBC and the New York Times.

Suppressed Images

Suppressed Images is a graphic short story exploring the implications and issues around DNA, identity and genetic surveillance, and imagining what types of futures might unfold.

The story illustrates a collaboration between the then-incarcerated whistleblower Chelsea Manning and artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. In 2015, Chelsea sent a cheek swab from inside military prison, which Heather subjected to DNA analysis. A 3D-printed portrait was produced based on the DNA.

Comic panes mopunted on the wall
Suppressed Images wall-mounted prints

Designed by Thoughtworks graphic illustrator Shoili Kanungo, the story discusses this collaboration and explores societal issues surrounding the use of DNA analysis technology.

The piece was created as part of Heather’s residency at Thoughtworks in 2016, and can be viewed online at Suppressed Images. Heather's collaboration with Thoughtworks and the creation of the work was covered in Guardian, Huffington Post, Vice, the New York Times, e-flux, Paper Mag, ArtNet, SF MoMA, HyperAllergic, ArtSlant and many others.

Heather joins the AI Now Institute as an artist fellow in 2018, based out of New York University.


Biofields is an open-source framework prototype combining biosensors measuring heart rate and breath with custom volumetric and interval arithmetic simulations to “interactively model the elusive feeling of energy around the body.” The prototype was presented as a virtual reality experience during the exhibition.

A woman relaxing in a yoga pose wearing VR headgear
The ‘Biofields’ virtual reality experience

The piece is a collaboration between artist hannes bend and designer and technologist Lewey Geselowitz. The project was initiated as part of hannes’ 2017 residency at Thoughtworks.

Noor: A Brain Opera

Noor is an immersive brain opera where a performer launches video, a sonic environment, and a libretto through her brainwaves. The piece was created by Thoughtworks Arts director Ellen Pearlman to raise questions about the future of brain-computer interface technology.

A performer wearing brain-computer headgear approaches an audience member
A still from ‘Noor: A Brain Opera’

Featured in the Thoughtworks Arts exhibition was documentation of a world premier at ISEA Hong Kong and the Microwave Festival, in a in 360-degree theatre. The piece asks “Is there a place in human consciousness where surveillance cannot go?”

Emergency Room

Emergency Room is an immersive media installation comparing global warming to a chronic health crisis. The piece was created by Thoughtworks Arts director Andrew McWilliams.

A red-lit room with scenes of climate chaos and a healthcare theme
A shot of the installation ‘Emergency Room’

The work uses custom-created algorithms which develop a story in real-time based on a databank of video clips related to planetary environmental chaos, activism and the causes, effects and potential remedies to climate change.

The piece has been shown previously at the Human Impacts Institute, and at Harvestworks in New York.

Utopia 1.0: Post Neo-Futurist-Capitalism

Utopia 1.0 is a first-person expedition to Second Life, the once thriving virtual 3D online world, in search of what remains. The film was shot ‘on location’ within Second Life by filmmaker Annie Berman, and was screened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2015.

Three people wearing VR headgear in front of the UTOPIA logo
Utopia 1.0: Post Neo-Futurist-Capitalism

The film shows ruins that do not decay, speculative real estate, realtors' offices, wide open spaces with 'for sale' signs, Harvard University’s virtual ‘sandbox’, and an art gallery on its last days.

In a satirical nod to current techno-utopian hype around virtuality, Annie led an Art-A-Hack team to develop a virtual reality version of her film experience, which was presented at this exhibition.

To Be With Hamlet

To Be With Hamlet is the world's first live-action telepresence production of Shakespeare via virtual reality. This project, whose initial creation was incubated by Art-A-Hack, went on to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017.

A man uses VR headgear to explore a virtual Shakespeare performance
An audience member explores ‘To Be With Hamlet’

Actors in remote locations interact with audience members via live microphone feeds, motion capture and real-time telepresence technology. Audiences together watch a live scene, able to move freely about the scene and view the actors from any angle.

The work was conceptualized and created by Javier Molina and David Gochfeld with the support of NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Relativity Five

Relativity Five is a table-top heart sensing and reflecting light sculpture by artist Sofy Yuditskaya. The work is an extension of a concept incubated at Art-A-Hack, in which lasers are used to display viewer’s biometrics.

Two sculptures with electronics and lights inside
The biometric sculpture ‘Relativity Five’

This work magnifies and immerses audiences in their own bodily rhythms, with their heartbeats pulsing in laser form as they touch buttons on the sculptures.