The Physical Mind

During a residency in Shanghai, Teun Vonk discovered by chance that it eased his stressed body and mind to apply physical pressure to his body. Contrary to what one may expect, the registration of sensory input does not improve in a heightened state of sensitivity, such as stress. Such a state serves the evolutionary purpose by filtering out irrelevant information, only focusing on the accurate response: fight or flight. When experiencing such a state, applying pressure to the body has a strong stress-relieving effect.

Participants experience the relation between their physical and mental states

With The Physical Mind, Vonk seeks to let participants experience the relation between their physical and mental states by applying physical pressure to the body. The installation consists of two inflatable objects. The participant lays down in between, is lifted up and gently squeezed between the two inflatable objects. The lifting creates an unstable feeling, a slightly stressful sensation that is directly contrasted with a secure feeling of being gently squeezed between two soft objects. Paradoxically, this forced physical stimulus reduces feelings anxiety and paradoxically stress and the flight- or fight-response disappear. The participant experiences and increased sensitivity to stimuli, normalized alertness and a calm state of mind. The positive effects of this increased receptivity can continue for a few hours after the experience. The installation evokes empathy in bystanders who witness a participant undergo the experience.


For more information and technical specifications of The Physical Mind, visit Project files.


This project has been realized in co-production with Chronus Art Center and V2_Lab for the Unstable Media as part of the Summer Sessions Network, with generous support of the Creative Industries Fund NL.