This Is Your Brain On The Internet

Any questions? (Google them.)

Tess Dumon’s installation Take Shelter, her final project for a master’s in information experience design at the Royal College of Art in London, looks like a ’70s bedroom through the lens of a bad acid trip. The walls, floor, ceiling, and bedspread explode into intricate, kaleidoscopic patterns. Pills spill out onto the floral pink countertop; a giant rabbit sits serenely in the corner. It’s pink on pink on pink–made even more saccharine by the thick, sweet fragrance of rose wafting through the air.


A closer look reveals more sinister patterns than what first meets the eye. One textile is composed of a repetition of tiny, barely discernible Trump heads. The body of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi completes a rosy nautical pattern covering an entire standing armoire. Like a Magic Eye for the 24-hour news cycle, Dumon’s patterns distill online imagery to create a physical representation of the Internet’s information overload.

Dumon, who is French, got the idea for the project after having to watch the last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris unfold on the Internet in her apartment in London. Searching for news of her friends and family’s safety, she read and watched the news for three days straight, seeing the same information play out again and again in a dizzying pattern. “I had to detox” in the end, she says. “I wasn’t feeling safe in my most intimate space, my bedroom, because of this invasion of information.”

Weeks later, Dumon decided to cull these images from the Internet and take them out of context, photoshopping them into patterns along with flowers, butterflies, and seashells. “I wanted to make a parallel between the cabinet of curiosities in the 18th century that gathered all scientific knowledge in one place in the king’s court,” Dumon says. “The Internet is the new cabinet of curiosities. You can find anything you want. But it’s no longer butterflies and shells, it’s about information and horrible images.”

On June 23, at the RCA graduate show, she unveiled her full installation: a 300-square-foot space transformed into a nightmarish bedroom covered in her news patterns. Taking a cue from James Gleick’s book The Information, and the author’s description of Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS), Dumon wanted to simulate what happens to our the brain when we over-expose ourselves to media, technology, and information. The pill bottles, the giant rabbit, and the overwhelmingly intricate patterns are physical representations of the feelings of paranoia, anxiety, and depression that can result.

Dumon says the room had its desired effect–visitors could only stand to be in the room for a short time before buckling to sensory overload. “People would enter the room and say they felt good because it’s reassuring and welcoming,” Dumon says. “But when they looked at the patterns you can see their faces change. In the end I couldn’t be in the room, it was too exhausting to look at.”


See the installation for yourself in the slide show above. This is your brain on Internet.

[All Images: courtesy Tess Dumon]

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.