Anna Denejkina

Category: The Kernel (The Daily Dot)

The promise and peril of DIY electrical brain stimulation

Written for The Kernel (The Daily Dot’s Sunday magazine)
Published in Mysteries of the Brain Issue, April 10th, 2016

tDCS Kernel 2016

tDCS Kernel copy

The last 15 years have seen a resurgence of interest among medical researchers in transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. It’s a mild form of brain stimulation that uses a direct, constant, low current delivered to the brain via electrodes—typically placed at both sides of the forehead to stimulate the prefrontal cortex. Some studies suggest this stimulation can help alleviate depression, offering a potential alternative for patients who want to avoid medication and the more severe electroconvulsive therapy.

Studies have also suggested the treatment could enhance cognition, which inevitably led to a do-it-yourself tDCS community forming online. So while research into the medical uses for tDCS has crept slowly forward, alongside it runs a parallel track of lay experimenters using themselves as guinea pigs. And a market has evolved for homebrew tDCS kits, too; many promise the kinds of cognitive improvements that science can’t yet prove. The growing number of experimenters—and businesses willing to cater to them—has some scientists and researchers concerned.

“I highly discourage the do-it-yourself tDCS,” says Veronica Galvez. She’s a visiting psychiatrist and clinical research officer with the Black Dog Institute—a Sydney, Australia-based research and treatment clinic. The institute specializes in mood disorders, including depression and anxiety; it’s currently conducting a tDCS trial. Galvez points out that such trials require a long screening process designed to keep participants safe; they’re conducted by teams of psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, and experienced post-doctoral researchers. “It’s not only that you need specific training; it’s that you need to know your medical and psychiatric conditions,” she says. Technique is important and must be standardized; you’re running electrical current into the brain, after all. “The people commercializing these devices,” she says, “are not taking these issues into account.”

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Illustration by J. Longo


Viral artist Jesse Willesee wants to legalize marijuana—and become the next Andy Warhol

Written for The Kernel (The Daily Dot’s Sunday magazine)
Published in The Fame Issue, October 18th, 2015

JW Kernel

Sitting on a vintage couch in his manager’s apartment in inner-city Sydney, Australia, Jesse Willesee is awkward and patently shy, a stark contrast to his carefully cultivated online persona. As he chops, rolls, and smokes, I’m hoping to avoid a contact high as the rosy-eyed pro-marijuana activist, viral artist, and all-around renegade eases into discussing how he uses online culture and social media to not only challenge the definition of art but to confront your inner prude—and his.

Willesee, a 28-year-old American-Australian, is best recognized for his arrest at Sydney’s Town Hall, in a marijuana legalization protest turned performance-art piece. Following a photo essay of him smoking weed outside five Australian police stations and the Parliament of New South Wales, he arrived at Sydney’s city center on April 20: 420, the counterculture holiday celebrating cannabis.

Plagued by heavy wind and incessant rain, the day was gray, wet, and cold: exactly what Willesee didn’t want. But as a small crowd built up on the steps of Town Hall, and 4:19pm clicked over to 4:20pm, Willesee swung onto the pillars, lit a joint, took a hit, and was promptly arrested. …

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Illustration by J. Longo


The Body is Obsolete: Interview with Stelarc

Written for The Kernel (The Daily Dot’s Sunday magazine)
Published in issue, Offline and Obsolete, July 26th, 2015


Since the ’70s, transhumanist artist Stelarc has used himself as an experimental canvas for exploring his ideas about the body’s obsolescence and its potential for technological alteration. The Perth, Australia-based artist has investigated, amplified, and internally examined his body to view how far it can be pushed with the use of technology, and how much further we can take its operation and its capabilities.

He’s created the spiderlike Exoskeleton, a six-legged, pneumatically powered walking machine with himself at the center; his Third Hand was a mechanical, humanlike prosthesis attached to his right arm and controlled by electrical signals from his muscles. For Stomach Sculpture, he swallowed a crablike robot, then used an endoscopic camera to record the results. And he permanently altered his body with Ear on Arm, a work in progress that’s exactly what it sounds like: a cell-cultivated ear built atop a non-biodegradable scaffold inserted beneath the skin of his arm. He hopes eventually to Internet-enable the ear, so that when it’s within any Wi-Fi hot spot, you’ll be able to listen to what Stelarc’s third ear is hearing.

For Stelarc, the obsolete human body is not one that becomes disembodied. Instead, it is this particular body—the one you’re sitting in, with its specific form and its limited functions—that has become inadequate in a technological terrain of fast, precise, and powerful machinery. Via Skype from his office as the Director of the Alternate Anatomies Lab, School of Design and Art (SODA), Curtin University, Perth, he shared his thoughts on art and the body, the increasing speed of technological change, and whether experimenting with his body reminds him of his mortality. …

Read Full Article Here.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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