Saturday, 16 May 2009

Synesthesia Building Bridges between Art and Science

Synesthesia is a subject that fascinates, revealing surprising truths about the human condition. Though these truths often seem illogical, to many, they appear to be obvious; some feel they are part of human nature, a fundamental aspect of our being. One of the wonderful aspects of this subject is how it brings people together in discussion, art and research. This exchange and collaboration seem a necessary part of our social engagement with synesthesia; as synesthesia has to do with the mixing of the senses, it seems only sensible that it should carry with it a demand for cross-curricular and interdisciplinary activities.

Recently, having attended the Third International Conference on Synesthesia, Science and Art, in Granada, Spain, I was impressed with the various perspectives developing in this multidisciplinary subject, as well as the number of fascinating and enthusiastic people involved. Furthermore, the level at which I observed scientists and artists engaging and collaborating left me amazed. On the final morning of the conference I briskly walked towards El Parque de las Ciencias with Ed Hubbard, a prominent contemporary scientific researcher of synesthesia. Ed, an exacting neurologist, and I, an experimental artist, discussed some of the difficulties involved in the communication between artists and scientists. Science is often thought of as arrogant in the eyes of artists; though, the scientific conviction that is often misconstrued as arrogance is one of science's greatest strengths: science is driven by the uniquely human desire to seek out and understand truth -scientists recognise that self conviction is fundamental for establishing truths and know that this conviction must come from evidence. In science, blind faith is actively avoided; for this reason, they must create new terms to explain aspects of human experience from an agreed point of view so as to simulate an objective view for the experimentation and analysis that is needed to reach conclusions. Unfortunately these are often difficult for the general public to engage with. While this is true, artists create their own terminology, which they often prefer to be open, left to subjective interpretation, something which invites public engagement.

After our brief discussion I came away with the idea that, engrained in both science and art, due to the aims of each, there are particular and distinct ways of observing the world and therefore reflecting it, creating something like a cultural divide. Interestingly, we were also discussing this with the conference interpreter. As a result, the idea of interpreting and translating became a central point in our discussion. We acknowledged that artists and scientists are both engaged in endeavours to develop, understand, enhance and expand human experience, and that, for the different points of view to communicate more clearly it is necessary to recognise and understand the fields' linguistic and cultural differences. Although this is a rather simplistic way of viewing the situation, as it is clear that within both science and art there are many diverse cultures and languages, the recognition of this idea may encourage open cross-disciplinary dialogue.

In conclusion, the subject of synesthesia inspires artists as well as scientists. Therefore, a strong desire to bridge uncommonly bridged gaps in developing human experience and understanding exists. This allows for an opportunity to examine and interpret all human experience as something interconnected. Art has a lot to offer science in its way of illustrating human experience and can often make very difficult subjects more accessible. At the same time, science, with its continuous endeavour to know the unknown and explain the unexplained, will never cease to fascinate and inspire the minds of artists.

Ed Hubbard's Home Page:
Art Work by Timothy B Layden:

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