In 2007, former English teacher Heide Pfüetzner’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with ALS. Instead of seeing the debilitating diagnosis as an ending, Pfüetzner transformed it into an artistic beginning. What began as a creative outlet has culminated in a crowdfunded art exhibit called “Brain on Fire”.
Pfüetzner’s ALS progressed following her diagnosis. Eventually, she was only able to move her eyes. Before her diagnosis, she “…had never been fond of technical equipment, and despised working with a computer.” This feeling changed when Pfüetzner began to see technology as a way to fully experience life regardless of her ALS. She began working with German-based intendix, which specializes in brain-computer interfaces. You may be familiar with brain-computer interfaces from hearing about technology that allows people with mobility impairments to control computers with their minds. Intendix does this and much more. It allows people like Pfüetzner to use their minds to paint.
Wearing a cap that senses brain signals, Pfüetzner can paint on her computer in her preferred “semi-abstract” style. She enjoys engaging with the technology, expressing her creativity, and tackling the challenges painting with a computer presents. Of course, Pfüetzner did not stop with creating a few paintings. The more you learn about her, the more you realize a running theme in Pfüetzner’s life: keep going. She took her painting one step further by starting a crowdfunding campaign on Startnext to exhibit her work. The campaign raised $6,500 to cover the costs associated with printing, framing and displaying Pfüetzner’s art.
Pfüetzner continues to work with researchers at intendix and at the University of Wurzburg to develop similar technologies. It is wonderful to see how accessibility technology has advanced from addressing basic needs to complex ones–like the drive to create. Pfüetzner’s exhibit, titled “Brain on Fire” will be shown in Scotland until July 25th. Heide Pfüetzner summarizes her project best on her Startnext page: “For the first time, this project gives me the opportunity to show the world that the ALS has not been the end of my life…An international audience will not only see the new possibilities of a groundbreaking invention and a new art form, but a woman who does not give up, but keeps a stiff upper lip. A tough cookie!”