At this year’s Neuropsychoanalysis Society, our art installation Tender Rhythms, Brainwave Correlation in Dyads won the best poster prize! The installation is based on cutting edge neuroscientific methods, which claim that when two people connect, their alpha brain waves start synchronizing, forming “a 2-in-1 complex system”, “which can not be reduced to the summation of affect in single isolated brains” (Takahiko, 2015). From here, sonification design researcher Mike Winters (GTech), visual artist Daniel Sabio and I, collaborated to create an art installation which both visualizes and sonifies this invisible intersubjective system. In relational psychoanalysis, this system gets referred to as “the rhythmic third” (Benjamin, 2018). The aim of the installation is to ask critical and philosophical questions from this intersubjective thirdness: who are we when we connect? What happens to our individuality, but also our gender, age, race and sex? Could the installation help us to think beyond traditional monadic and binary constructs?

Members from the audience were invited to wear the portable EEG device and participate in the installation. In this way, Tender Rhythms combined neuroscience, relational psychoanalysis, feminist theory and philosophy in an interactive fashion.

Finally a note on terminology. “Tender” refers to the often forgotten Freudian concept of tenderness or Zärtlichkeit. Freud attributed an important role to tenderness, as the first iteration of the bond between caregiver and infant. Yet, Freud relegated tenderness to the domain of the infantile and maternal as the imperative of the oedipus complex required a repression of tenderness, in order to avoid hysteria. In other words, adult tenderness is impossible in Freud’s framework. Tender Rhythms goes against this implicit taboo on adult tenderness, and emancipates tenderness beyond the infantile, maternal and hysteric.

“Rhythm” refers to the musical aspect of tenderness. Many relational psychoanalysts (Stern, Benjamin, Knoblauch) but also philosophers (Irigaray, Deleuze, Guattari) have pointed out the musical qualities of intersubjectivity. And is it a coincidence that tenderness shares it’s etymological root –ten,-tan (Indo-European for “to stretch and be stretched) with musical concepts like tone, tune and dance? This is the main reason why we use the technique of sonification. Because, if tender intersubjectivity has a form, it will be more like the fluid and stretchable un-form of music.