• ‘Synesthesia & Harbisson’ by Caitlin Mkhasibe | Cape Town, South Africa


    A web-based project on art-viewing and synesthesia by artist Caitlin Mkhasibe.


    Screenshot of "Andy Warhol, 'Marilyn Monroe'(1970)" Synesthesia & Harbisson series

    This artwork takes the form of an interactive HTML website that can be viewed online here.

    "I like listening to Warhol and Rothko. I can't listen to Da Vinci or Velasquez because they have closely related tones – they sound like the soundtrack to a horror film" (Harbisson, 2014). Neil Harbisson is color blind (has achromatopsia) and sees the world in tones of grey. Adam Montandon implanted an antenna in Harbisson's head that recognizes light frequencies and reproduces each frequency as a different sound. The antenna helps him hear color that he otherwise cannot see. Harbisson likes to call himself the first 'human cyborg' as the antenna works as a digital synesthesia.

    Synesthesia is a rare condition which involves the overlapping of senses. For example, a person with synesthesia might taste chocolate when seeing the colour blue, see orange when hearing an orchestra, associate February with circles or imagine 'Monday' to have a location in a small box on the left side of their periphery. Harbisson's synesthesia is constructed through technology, but he has come to associate different sounds to colours by memory. "Amy Winehouse is red and pink – for me, red isn't the colour of passion as it is for many humans, it's a serene colour. Violet, though, is savage to my ears" (Harbisson, 2014). 

    Picture 4
    Screenshot of "Diego Velazquez, 'Las Meninas' (1656)" Synesthesia & Harbisson series

    I have used Harbisson's visual and sonic experience to create a webpage that mimics Harbisson's experience when viewing an artwork. I have turned four paintings into colored circles and sound. The circles are the colors picked up from each painting and placed in the area where they are on the painting.

    Using a virtual piano program for my computer's keyboard I recorded sound by pressing the keys for the words 'blue', 'green', 'red', 'black', 'peach', 'white', 'marroon', 'brown', 'yellow' and 'pink' (according to the colors used in all four paintings). I then recorded the sound for each word. In Textwrangler, I then associated each recorded sound to a circle of a different color.

    A letterpress component accompanies the work, contrasting digital and tangible media. I printed the colors used for the webpage project and then linked each color to an associated taste (view bottom right image), making personal this aspect of the project.

    "Leonardo Da Vinci, 'Ermine' (1489-90)" Synesthesia & Harbisson series


    Caitlin Mkhasibe is a student studying New Media at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a musician (drummer), working primarily in drawing and sound.

    Artist Statement: "I bring drawing (line) and sound into my fine art practice by playing with the idea of linking recorded sounds (taken from every day life in South Africa), or, I create heavy, distorted vibrations through drumming and run the recordings through a program. These sounds become a part of a visual installation in a space. The visuals are photographic moments that have been turned into stop-motion animations. I produce atmospheric moments that do not link to a specific narrative: They are simply experiential.I one day hope to use the city of Cape Town or Johannesburg as visual playgrounds and emotive soundscapes."

    Caitlin Mkhasibe would like to thank her lecturers Fabian Saptouw and Niek de Greef from Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town for helping her complete this work.


    View Caitlin's EAS profile here.