[Yasmin] synaesthesia

Guto Nóbrega wrote: … I would like to introduce myself to this list and put some questions on this topic of synaesthesia, mainly motivated by the article of Sergio Basbaum (commented on this discussion).

… I am Brazilian artist, researcher and teacher doing Ph.D. at the Planetary Collegium program/ University of Plymouth – UK. My studies are pretty much focused on the interrelation of the observer, artist and the artwork (in a form of a technical object), which I consider as being a interconnection of organic nature.

In the course of my research I have developed the artwork Breathing, which involves a simple robotic system connected to a plant via electrodes. The title Breathing came after the observation that the best way of dialogue (more significant from the point of view of the experience) with the whole system was through the act of breathing (a video of Breathing can be watched online).

I bring this artwork for the discussion for some reasons, one of which is that my research concern resonates with that of Basbaum, as he describes at the end of his article (Consciousness and Perception: The Point of Experience and the Meaning of the World We Inhabit); “what I’ve been looking to understand is the kind of perception that is being shaped in our present technologically saturated environment”. In my specific case I try to investigate this kind of perception through the creation and experience of technological beings (creatures).

The point I would like to make is that, in principle, Breathing seems to lead to a break with the hegemony of the eye as mediation of reality, as it leads the observer to other sensorial experiences, predominantly the one that informs our sense of being alive, as it involves an essential feature of human beings, namely, the act of breath.

However, the phenomenon experienced is, in Flusser’s terms, that of a “technical apparatus”. In the case of “Breathing” it is a hybrid of an artificial and natural organism. For Flusser all technical apparatuses are “black boxes that simulate thinking in the sense of a combinatory game”, they are already system of programmed/ programmable scientific concepts.

In that sense I would like to ask: would the technical apparatus always impose its embedded logic and make impossible any attempt to perceive the world it takes part of beyond its own programmed concepts? Is that possible that a shift from the hegemony of the eyes to a more holistic embodied form of perception would offer ways to overcome the limits of a recursive logic present in all technological structures and the possibility to see creatively, beyond the black box? Would be this “in between” Basbaum (as you have commented in your last msg), a necessary position (no too close, not too distant) to experience the phenomena emergent from a world mediated by technologies?

I look forward to people’s ideas and comments.

All my best,

Guto Nóbrega

Hervé-Pierre Lambert wrote:

Dear Sergio,

As an artist, does your work have anything to do with synesthesia, or art cognition?

Does it exist in Brazil as in Europe a tradition of metaphorical synesthesia, like in the so-called symbolist poetry (Baudelaire, Rimbaud) or in the novel (Huysmans) or later in the Dutch poetry?

Do you have any recommendations of ethnologic studies, I mean ethnologists who really studied synesthesia as metaphor or as neurological phenomenon in Amazonian tribes.

I used to work a little bit on Narby hypothesis and Narby effect. Do exist special reports written by ethnologists on relations between ayahuasca and synesthetic impressions, apart from Classen?


sergio basbaum wrote:

Dear Herve,

Thank for your interest in my work,

(Please forgive me for writing such a long reply, but the questions demand it…)

As an artist, my own work gravitates around sound (I have musical background and play and compose what is more or less understood as “Brazilian jazz”), technology and images (I have a bachelor degree in cinema). This double background was probably what has lead me into synesthesia, although when I was younger and used some forbidden substances I had some synesthetic experiences, and I still fell a light “vowel-to-color” synesthesia, and some synesthetic feelings about music also.

However, the works I’ve done in the last years — they’re not many, since we have to work a lot at the university and there’s not enough time to develop certain projects — are related to the impact of technological mediation in our societies. So I prepared a performance which I have presented several times, with 90 phrases of 10 seconds projected on a screen, in order to make a presentation of exactly 15 minutes discussing what I name the “omnicalculability”of our times; and I did also an interactive video — with the colaboration of Giuliano Obici, who has written some Pure Data code — called “Meus passos nunca foram dados”, what is very hard to translate to English, since in Portuguese “Data” and “given” can be related to the word “dados”, but in French could maybe work: “Mes passes ne seront pas jamais donées”; it is also a discussion of art in technological societies during a walk in a park in Amsterdam. This has also been presented sometimes in Brazil and indeed there are some images, abstract textures, mixed with Luciano Berio’s sounds which can be thought of as synesthetic.

I wouldn’t say there’s something in Brazil similar to what Symbolists or Huysmans have done. However, I do think that the works created by Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica in the 1960s, 70s and 80s do open the paths to supersede the domination of the eye in modern art, and to bring back not only the body as a whole, but the many senses. I usually use these works to discuss how modernity has severed the senses (Jonathan Crary has written beautifully about it), but that separation was so artificial that it could not last long, so along the 1950-60s mixed-media and multimediatic works start to emerge, and and it is possible to connect all this already to the emergenge of a digital culture (Oiticica called his works, for example, with names which ressembled a data base: “P1”, “P2”). British author Guy Brett mentions the very syncretic sensoriality and the presence of the body in Brazilian culture as relevant for both Helio and Lygia have done what they did. So, the paths opened by HO and LC, if not synesthetic in the terms of the Symbolists, or maybe those of the American film-makers of the 1950s (John and James Whitney, for example), are synesthetic in terms of bringing the senses together in a body experience in which they cannot be separated at all (“The senses translate each other without the need of an interpreter”, as Merleau-Ponty once said).

A very interesting case is the composer Jorge Antunes, who has written an amazing little book called “A correspondência entre os sons e as cores” (“The correspondence between sounds and colors”), issued in 1982, and which presents his own theory of such correspondences, in terms of ressonances of optical and visual nerves. I loved this book when I read it, and my work certainly is indebted to it, although I took different directions later. And composer Flo Menezes has dedicated some works to the colors, very recently.

In the contemporary Brazilian digital culture, something seems to be happening, related probably to the way by which digital apparatuses make it very easy to translate sounds in colors and vice-versa. It is interesting that every month I receive emails from students that are looking for my short book, which is not available anymore, unfortunately.

About ethnological studies, the best works I’ve found so far come from Classen and Howes. They have been developing a very beautiful series of books, written or edited by them, dealing with the senses. Howes has a beautifull article called “Hyperesthesia, or, The sensual Logic of Late Capitalism”, but this has nothing to do with Amazon tribes. Classen’s chapter about the Desana are the most explicit reference to synesthesia I came through up to now. She quotes works by G. Reichel-Dolmatoff about Amazon groups as her main reference on these topics. As for Ayhuasca and other chemicals indeed we have many people doing research about this here. Large works including the contribuitions of different authors are now being issued bringing together the efforts of many researchers. All content is probably in Portuguese, but I can find out more about these books if you may be interested. I have a personal friend, Marcelo Mercante, who is an anthropologist who has been working for years with a sect called “Barquinha”, in the South-Amazon, who are ayhuasca users.

Last year, we’ve staged a symposium about the sincretism of the senses. Dave McConville, who is in this list has been with us, along with the people from the Plannetary Collegium, directed by British artist and theorist Roy Ascott, and some Brazilian authors. Some interesting discussions happened, on many topics around the sensorium.

best vibes from Brazil


Feb 10, 17:21
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