Daniel Pinchbeck    Florencia Portocarrero    Warren Neidich    John C. Welchman    Lars Bang Larsen

The Brain Without Organs: Psychedelic Drugs and Emancipation
curated by Warren Neidich:

In the past few years the artistic community has begun to understand the importance of having a say in what we should do with our brain as the noted philosopher Catherine Malabou has suggested. We no longer want a flexible brain imposed from without, sculpted by neoliberalism to do its bidding, but rather a proactive brain, which constructs a world according to an alternative logic, rendering, instead, a poetic and emancipated brain. The artistic community has been resistant to incorporating the knowledge of neuroscience into its repertoire of artistic and creative apparatuses and devices, fearing its message might seem reductive and deterministic. But recently an acceleration in the technologies interfacing with the brain, such as brain-computer interfaces, neural dust, cortical implants and optokinetics, as well as the burgeoning fields of consumer neuroscience, institutional neurolinguistic programming and neuroeconomics have created an emergency, necessitating a post-humanistic response. We want a material brain that is noisy, empathic and open. Not an optimized one that can work longer hours in front of computer screen more efficiently! This is the point from which The Brain Without Organs: Art, Psychedelic Drugs and Emancipation takes off.
    Artists and poets have long understood the importance of mind expansion as a space of inspiration. Many a wordsmith has scribbled down a line or two while inebriated. Since 1960 psychedelic drugs have guided them on journeys to formerly inaccessible areas of consciousness, all in the spirit of finding expressions in sublime syllabic and imagistic concatenations. Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelics, especially, Ayahuasca. Its role as a serotonergic analogue with tremendous healing powers has led to its recent popularity. Noteworthy is its neuro-trophic potential, increasing neuroplasticity, especially, in the treatment of depression and drug addiction. However its role in eliciting mystic journeys is by far the most important factor in its rise in popularity, spurring an entire tourist industry around its use. Experts in the field of art history, shamanistic practices, curating, psychoanalysis and neuroscience have been assembled here to address the role of these drugs in their designated fields of interest. Keeping in mind the recuperative powers of capitalism we want to consider whether art and drugs might provide a way out of the conundrum, just on the horizon, of neuro-totalitarianism.


Warren Neidich is the founder and director of the Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art and Professor of Art at the Kunsthochscule Berlin-Weissensee. He studied photography, neuroscience, medicine, ophthalmology and architecture. He is author of Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism Part 1, 2 (Archive, 2013), Cognitive Architecture: From Biopolitics to Noo-Politics (010 Publishers, 2009) and Blow-up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain (DAP, 2003). The third volume of the Psychopathologies series is forthcoming with Archive Books in 2017 alongside Neidich’s collected essays in German published by Merve Verlag. His solo exhibitions in the Netherlands have been held at venues including: Fons Welters Gallery, Amsterdam; Onomatopee, Eindhoven; and SKOR Foundation, Amsterdam. Neidich is represented by the Barbara Seiler Gallery, Zurich.

With: Warren Neidich, John C. Welchman, Daniel Pinchbeck, Florencia Portocarrero, Lars Bang Larsen.




10:00 Walk-in
10:30 Introduction Warren Neidich
10:45 Daniel Pinchbeck, Amazonian Shamanism, Psychedelic Revelations, and the Future of the Brain 
11:30 Break


11:45 Florencia Portocarrero, Notes on Wellbeing and Affective Resistance in Times of Cognitive Capitalism
12:30 Round Table
13:00 Lunch


13:45 Warren Neidich, The Brain Without Organs: Psychedelic Drugs and Emancipation
14:30 John C. Welchman, Beam me Down: Guidance Devices and Aftereffects of the Psychotropic Imaginary in the Work of Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley
15:15 Break


15:30 Lars Bang Larsen, Acid Aesthetics
16:15 Round Table

Daniel Pinchbeck, Amazonian Shamanism, Psychedelic Revelations, and the Future of the Brain

In this talk, we will consider the effects of psychedelic substances, particularly the Amazonian visionary medicine ayahuasca, on our conception of the brain as an expression of the greater universe. Many people who explore this these substances discover their mechanistic or materialist perspective on the nature of consciousness is challenged by phenomenological experience. These phenomenological encounters also have a nascent political dimension. They suggest that our current model of the world is delightfully incomplete, and there are future frontiers for humanity to explore.

Daniel Pinchbeck is an American author living in New York’s East Village. He is the author of Notes from the Edge Times (Tarcher/Penguin, 2010), 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006) and Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002). He is a co-founder of the web magazine, Reality Sandwich and of Evolver.net, and edited the publishing imprint, Evolver Editions, with North Atlantic Books. He was featured in the 2010 documentary, 2012: Time for Change, directed by Joao Amorim and produced by Mangusta Films. He is the founder of the think tank Center for Planetary Culture, which produced the Regenerative Society Wiki. His new book How Soon Is Now? will be published in February 2017 by Watkins Press.  

Florencia Portocarrero, Notes on Wellbeing and Affective Resistance in Times of Cognitive Capitalism

Wellbeing can be defined as a state of dynamic equilibrium between the objective world – the material conditions of life – and the subjective world – our mind and body. Throughout history many discourses have sought to mediate the relation between subjectivity and the social and objective circumstances, in order to maintain a sense of purpose in life. However, in the context of cognitive capitalism and its global mercantilist imaginary, wellbeing has emerged as a category of political-economic analysis well as a powerful industry, aimed at the mass manufacture of a subjectivity over-adapted to the system and even open to self-exploitation. Through the presentation of different artistic practices, this talk explores alternatives to this hegemonic discourse that function as spaces of affective resistance in the contemporary world.

Florencia Portocarrero is a researcher, writer and curator. She obtained her BA in Clinical Psychology at the Catholic University of Peru where she received her MA in Psychoanalytical Theory. During 2012/2013 Portocarrero participated in De Appel Curatorial Programme and in 2015 completed an MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she graduated with honours. Portocarrero regularly collaborates with contemporary art magazines, such as Artishock and Terremoto; and she has contributed her writings on art and culture to numerous publications. In Lima, she works as a Public Program Curator at Proyecto AMIL and is a co-founder of Bisagra, one of the few independent art spaces in the city.

Warren Neidich, The Brain Without Organs: Psychedelic Drugs and Emancipation

In this moment of Cognitive Capitalism, the Brain has become a factory for twenty-first-century metaphors of resistance created in early industrial capitalism—rendering these metaphors no longer efficient. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theory of the body without organs makes this clear – and now the production of the efficient and optimized body has transitioned into the production of an optimized and efficient brain. The Brain Without Organs is a non-specified brain that through such processes as epigenesis, operating upon the brains pluripotential neural plasticity, can become what we want it to be. Essential in this equation is the power of art and drugs to sculpt an emancipated brain in contradistinction to one normalized by institutional regimes that utilize the processes of governmentalization.

John C. Welchman, Beam me Down: Guidance Devices and Aftereffects of the Psychotropic Imaginary in the Work of Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley

This talk will not address the direct or experiential effects of psychoactive drugs – whether psychological, social, political or aesthetic – but instead examine the shadow cast by the absorption and reorchestration of their impact in popular or everyday cultures during the 1970s and 1980s, as manifest in the artistic practices of two Los Angeles-based artists, Jim Shaw (1952) and Mike Kelley (1954–2012). What results are called “aftereffects” for several reasons: first, because the during the initial stages of an (obviously contested) “normalization” of drug cultures, especially in American suburbs and high schools – a process sutured to unevenly stern and discriminatory regimes of criminalization – we witnessed the construction of new narratives and renegotiations, some consolidating a general misunderstanding, of the psychotropic discourse largely developed by a previous generation; secondly, the purview here is limited to representations of imagery arising, both directly and indirectly, from psychotropic experience, and is thus removed, possibly several times, from that somewhat mythical construct of the ‘trip’ itself. What is of interest, then, in the transmission, reception and, in a sense, the narrowing of, or even capitulation to, certain boundary conditions of drug-related experience. The discussion follows how this channelling connects to other social formations, including but not limited to education, acculturation, coming-of-age, ‘visionary’ religious phenomena and the reorganization of aesthetic codes during 1970s and 1980s.

John C. Welchmanis Professor of Art History in the Visual Arts department at the University of California and a leader in the international arts community. He serves as chair of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Los Angeles and Advisor at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam. His books on art and visual culture include Paul McCarthy: Caribbean Pirates (forthcoming, 2017), Guillaume Bijl (JRP|Ringier, 2016), Vasco Araújo (ADIAC, 2007), Art After Appropriation: Essays on Art in the 1990s (Routledge, 2001), Invisible Colours (Yale, 1997) and Modernism Relocated: Towards a Cultural Studies of Visual Modernity (Allen & Unwin, 1995). He is co-author of Joseph Kosuth: Re-Defining the Context of Art: 1968–2014. The Second Investigation and Public Media (forthcoming, 2017), Kwang Young Chun (Skira Rizzoli, 2014), On the Beyond: A Conversation between Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and John C. Welchman (Springer, 2011), Mike Kelley (Phaidon, 1999) and The Dada & Surrealist Word-Image (MIT, 1989); and editor of Sculpture and the Vitrine (Ashgate, 2013) and Rethinking Borders (Minnesota University Press/Routledge, 1996). Past Realization: Essays on Contemporary European Art [XX to XXI vol. I] was published Sternberg earlier this year, the first of a series of six volumes of his collected writings. 

Lars Bang Larsen, Acid Aesthetics

In an attempt to develop a contemporary extension of art’s psychedelic relation and what might constitute an acid aesthetic that makes interpellations of style irrelevant, this lecture will be a meditation on dissolution, ‘becoming-molecule,’ and the zero degree of the event. Not a visual orgy, then, but according to the artist Søren Andreasen ‘what it might feel like to be hit by one proton at a time,’ or what the artist Pia Lindman calls the ‘sub-sensorial.’ 

Lars Bang Larsen is a writer, curator and art historian based in Copenhagen. He is professeur invité at the HEAD in Geneva. He has (co-)curated group exhibitions such as: Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings, Courtauld Gallery, London, 2016; Reflections from Damaged Life, Raven Row, London, 2013; and Incerteza viva, the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, 2016. His books include Arte y norma (Cruce Casa, 2016), Networks (MIT Press, 2014), and The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society 1968 (2010). His PhD on art and psychedelia is titled ‘A History of Irritated Material’.