Last night, artist Neil Harbisson visited Brown as the latest featured speaker in the Student Creative Arts Council’s lecture series. Sharing his unique perspectives on sensation, perception, art, and cyborgism, the artist delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking speech.
Harbisson began with an autography of his life and transformation into a cyborg artist. He was born with achromatopsia, a form of colorblindness, meaning he could only see in grayscale. After years of being barred from, but constantly reminded of, the world of color, he began to explore possible solutions. Finally, after deeply researching the relationships between sound and color, he developed his first prototype: an antenna with a sensor that would transduce light wavelengths into sonic frequencies that would be played into headphones. The model and hardware were cumbersome, and the adjustment was difficult for Harbisson; however, after some revision and expansion of the sensor’s library of color-pitch relationships, he began to hear more and more of the distinct colors that others see every day.
In 2004, the artist decided it was time to make his development permanent; after numerous design refinements and a controversial surgery, an antenna was implanted into his skull. Equipped with his new appendage (which came complete with WiFi connection), the artist began life as a cyborg. From there, Harbisson began creating art centered on his deep, personal, and sensory understanding of the relationships between sound and color. His work took the form of “sound portraits,” “color scores” (pictured below), “color concerts,” an exploration of the dominant colors of various capital cities in Europe, and even a “human color wheel,” in which he compiled his list of all of the possible human skin colors.