The NPR podcast, Hidden Brain has an episode entitled “A Dramatic Cure”. This episode focuses on the ways in which the placebo effect has been used and tested in medicine. One of the researchers interviewed for this podcast, Dr. J. Bruce Moseley, talked about his work in this area. This doctor was interested in a specific kind of surgery that relieves patients who are suffering from arthritis in their knees. The surgery had a great record of success: but doctors had no idea why it was successful.

Dr. Moseley decided to run a trial. He was going to divide a group of patients suffering from an arthritic knee condition. One group would receive the actual surgery. A placebo group would also go to the hospital. There they would be put under anesthesia and wheeled into the operating room. The doctor would make the same small incisions into the knee as those receiving the actual operation, and then stop. Nothing else. The surgeon would pretend to do the operation (in the air, above the knee) instruments would be passed around, water would be splashed on the knee, but no operation would occur. This theatrical treatment of the operation took into account those patients who would not be completely unconscious from the anesthesia and would feel, hear, and smell a small part of what was going on. These procedures also made sure that all of the patients were unconscious for the same amount of time.

One hundred and eighty patients took part in the trial, and the results were astounding. The patients in each of the groups gained similar functioning in their knees, and to the same degree. These patients (both real and placebo) felt that they were better off after receiving the surgery and would suggest the procedure to others. 

What is interesting about this research, for us, is the fact that our mind can attribute so much power to a situation. Just being there can have a  powerful effect on the mind and body. So, let me do an experiment with you:

Let me ask you; have you ever seen the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci?

How do you answer this question? If you have actually been to France, stayed in a (really posh/kind of seedy) hotel, eaten at a charming cafe, battled the lines in the Louvre, etc. you might say ‘yes, I have seen the Mona Lisa’.

But if you have not made that trip, what do you say? You have a picture of the painting in front of you right now. If you are one of those that has seen the Mona Lisa, you might argue that the viewing experience here above is better than that of the Louvre. But we are reluctant to say that this is seeing the Mona Lisa. Why is this? Perhaps this is the same reason that the placebo surgery fixed so many arthritic knees. We give power to place and situation. An important part of seeing the Mona Lisa is the café and the line of tourists, and the ticket stub that you kept in your wallet for a month.

…and why is Popwalk site-specific?

This power of experience is what Popwalk is able to do with digital artwork, performance, animation, sound art, etc. It leads you to the location of the art, to be inside the experience.

Our goal is to exhibit and sponsor artwork that enriches our perception of the location and to place work in places that will inform the content of the artwork. This interaction will happen in many ways, perhaps as many ways as there are artists, and we have talked about some of those ways in previous blogs.

But we believe that our minds are already wired for this kind of artistic experience.

Powalk has a map of the locations of artwork. There are many applications that use maps to show the locations of the artwork or other cultural resources. These mapping applications are mostly the digital translation of paper maps that were printed by public arts organizations to help lead people to the sculptures and paintings in their city or region. But this is not Popwalk’s primary function.

Popwalk is not a format for mapping out the world of art, but a way to exhibit artwork. It does this by allowing the work to be site-specific. This means that there is artistic content that will be viewed on your phone, but you can only see it when you arrive at the location in which the work is intended to be seen. The works displayed on Popwalk are meant to be seen on site. 

There are public art programs that have used Popwalk to show off their sculptures and paintings. Like other applications intended to share public art, Popwalk has a map of works, it has a description of the work, and the name of the artist. The thing that Popwalk offers, that these other applications do not, is Popwalk awards the user with their cultural pilgrimage by giving them richer experience of the artwork, but only when they arrive at the location. In many instances, this experience is a video of the artists talking about their own work.

It is possible that the most important thing that Popwalk offers can be seen above. It is the little lock on the video that tells you to move closer to the location of the artwork. This is a statement that the location is enriched by the artwork, and that the artwork will not have the same power if viewed out of context.

We already experience so much art and cultural content out of context. We sit in front of screens and take it in each day. Popwalk is intended to encourage people to experience their world in a deeper way. The work exhibited on Popwalk is meant to enrich our experience of the world, but to do that, you have to go out there to find it. 

And our minds are ready for the experience.