Monday, August 18, 2014

Synesthesia Suit, making of

This suit is one that I wanted to make to represent the neurological phenomenon of synesthesia, or a mixing of the senses.

Common forms of this include seeing letters and numbers in color (color-grapheme), seeing numbers or days of the week taking up allotted physical space, or hearing colored shapes/geometric figures. No two forms of synesthesia are exactly alike, and it seems that almost any combination of the senses could occur. This sounds very exotic, but many with synesthesia do not realize - sometimes for their whole life - that they can see/taste/hear/feel things differently than anyone else. The neuroscience behind it is a little complicated, but research has pointed to the limbic system being involved (the limbic system is also the seat of emotions, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, olfaction and often unconscious brain processes). If you’d like to read more about the subject, a good, non-scientific read is The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic. Another interesting text is The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About A Vast Memory by A. R. Luria. Although this text is better known for its documentation of the subject's seemingly endless memory, the subject also had very, very complete synesthesia. If you prefer videos, this TED talk by Daniel Tammet also covers some details of living with synesthesia:

After reading The Man Who Tasted Shapes I was intrigued by a case listed in the book of body posture synesthesia - a very rare case where a boy would have a specific body posture for each word. This combined with documented cases of dancers and others with kinesthetic synesthesia (usually some motion to some sort of visual effect) inspired me to make a body suit that represented synesthesia. 

One synesthesia bodysuit.

The body suit is nude, so that more attention is called to the decorations. I wanted to use only primary colors, because synesthetes often see in very basic colors, or only in a certain range (red to white, or yellow to blue for example). 

Detail of red fuzzy spots on my leg.

I also wanted a variety of textures to show the wide range that can be felt (the man who tasted shapes, in Cytowic’s book, could detect pointy, earthy, smooth (like glass), among other very specific, detailed sensations). I stuck to basic shapes and geometric figures in the suit (lines, circles, rings, lighting bolts) because visual stimuli are often limited to such simple figures. 

Lightning armpit!

Lastly, I added the blue sleeve because I wanted fabric that would change shape as the body moved, thus connecting body motions to the silhouette of the bodysuit. 

I don't really have a good picture of this - I might upload one later.

Looking at the bodysuit, I’m not quite sure if someone who has synesthesia would ever see the body like this. But as a visual/physical representation of the phenomenon, I don’t think it is too far off target. 

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