In 2007, German teacher Heide Pfüetzner's life changed forever when she was diagnosed with the devastating disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). But Pfüetzner refused to be creatively stymied by her debilitating illness. This month she debuted a series of striking, colorful paintings created using special software she controls with her brain.
In the years since Pfüetzner's diagnosis, ALS has left her paralyzed, unable to breather on her own and able to communicate only by using her eyes and a computer, according to a Startnext crowdfunding page raising money for her exhibit.
Titled "Brain on Fire," the exhibit is a testament to her ability to triumph over these physical challenges in order to create her "brainpaintings." She makes her pictures with the help a sophisticated computer program developed by the psychology department of the University of Wuerzburg, with technical equipment provided by the biomedical engineering firm Gtec.
"[Brainpainting] enriches my life, makes me creative again, and more alive," Pfüetzner says in a video posted recently on YouTube. "I've always loved colours, so brainpainting not only gives me back indulging in them, but it's also a challenge."
To create one of these works of art, Pfüetzner must be hooked up to a special electrode-laden electroencephalogram device (called an EEG cap) in front of a pair of monitors loaded with the intendiX program, according to CNET. She focuses on the tools that flash on her screen, and by counting flashes she causes a spike of brain activity that the computer recognizes and uses to select the desired paintbrush or color. The resulting works are filled with bright, multicolored swatches and overlapping geometric shapes.
"Brain on Fire" runs from July 12 through July 25 on the small Scottish island of Easdale, where Pfüetzner's daughter lives. In her YouTube video, Pfüetzner explains that the remote isle helps her concentrate on her work.
"Here I can find peace and creativity," she says.
According to Yale Medical School, ALS is a "relentless," incurable disease with a mortality rate of 50 percent after three years for patients diagnosed under the age of 65. Six years into her diagnoses, Pfüetzner says on her Startnext page that her brainpainting project allows her the "opportunity to show the world that the ALS has not been the end of my life."
Clarification: A previous version of this piece said Pfüetzner 's software was developed by biomedical engineering firm Gtec. In fact, while Gtec provided equipment, the software itself was developed by the University of Wuerzburg.