Report on the MONA synaesthesia show on Australian public broadcaster television

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-19/synaesthesia-festival-brings-classical-music-to-light-in-hobart/5681584

Synaesthesia-related current and upcoming arts events in Australia

MONA in Tasmania will be revisiting the theme of synaesthesia in Synaesthesia+, a musical, visual and gustatory festival of the psychological phenomenon. It is happening this weekend and tickets will set you back quite a lot.

In Perth, Western Australia PICA have been hosting an exhibition of sound art, What I See When I Look at Sound, featuring the works of artists Lyndon Blue, Lauren Brown, Matthew Gingold, Cat Hope and Kynan Tan. This show will be on until the end of this month and it is free, or at least we didn’t get charged when we went to look and listen to it a while ago.

You might think from considering the title of the exhibition that it might have the theme of synaesthesia, and indeed the works are described each as a “synaesthetic offering”, but actually I believe that the theme of the exhibition, “the relationship between looking and hearing” is actually about binding, which is a broader term that can encompass normal or average sensory perception and also some types of synaesthesia that are similar to or more consciously-experienced variants of normal mental sensory perception. I think this exhibition is about binding more than it is about synaesthesia. If a multi-sensory arts event was “about synaesthesia” I’d expect to see lots of colour and hear music and maybe see or feel letters of the alphabet, or see calendars suspended in space, and maybe even experience smells and flavours. I might look at a “synaesthesia art” painting and as a direct result “feel” motion or “hear” rhythms.The painting Upward by synaesthete artist Vassily Kandinskii or the painting Broadway Boogie Woogie by probable synaesthete artist Piet Mondrian are both pretty clear examples of what I mean by synaesthesia art. I have written about both artists previously in posts at this blog.

Binding is a term used in psychology, the philosophy of mind, neuroscience and cognitive science. It is certainly related to synaesthesia and is central to scientific understanding of synaesthesia as a phenomenon in neuroscience, but it isn’t the same thing. As far as I understand binding is about the perception of the many different sensory characteristics of an object or an event as a unified thing or event. A clear example would be the installation Filament Orkestra by Matthew Gingold. It grabs and holds attention and causes reflection even though the idea is no more complicated than (simple) sound and (plain white) light being presented (or not presented) both at the same points in time. I found the effect to be quite reminiscent of flamenco dancing and tap dancing, which I guess shows how the sensory binding of sight and sound is an engaging effect that is used in a diverse range of art forms, high arts and popular arts, modern and traditional, even including firework displays. Have you ever had the experience of viewing from an elevated location a fireworks display that is happening a distance away, and the wind is blowing in such a direction that the sound waves never reach where you are standing, so that the sight has no soundtrack? It’s the strangest thing to see (and not hear).

According to some online festival programs, tomorrow (Saturday August 16th 2014), as a part of the Perth Science Festival which is a part of National Science Week there will be a free event in the Central Galleries at PICA titled Sounds Symbols and Science at 1.00pm, which will be “a special live concert of “Cat Hope’s End of Abe Sade in the What I See When I Look at Sound exhibition”” and this will somehow involve digital graphic notation, which is a concept that very much overlaps with many synaesthetes’ experiences of listening to music, including my own at times, so I’m happy to categorize this planned event as synaesthetic, which is more than enough to provoke my curiosity.

http://www.pica.org.au/view/Sounds%2C+Symbols+and+Science/1891/

https://www.facebook.com/events/686307634740051/

http://www.scienceweek.net.au/perth-science-festival/

http://www.scitech.org.au/events/1583-perth-science-festival

Synaesthesia on Radio National

Synaesthesia festival at MONABooks and Arts Daily. Radio National. August 15th 2014.

Brian Ritchie, Violent Femmes bassist and co-artisitic director of Synaesthesia, the music festival at MONA interviewed by Michael Cathcart this morning.

The Music Show. Radio National. 16 August 2014.

Tomorrow Andrew Ford will be talking with the co-artistic director of the Synaesthesia+ weekend arts festival at MONA Brian Ritchie and composer Matthew Hindson. MONA stands for the Museum of Old and New Art and MONA is in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Another example of the personification of an object in advertising

To promote the message that receiving and paying bills through snail mail and paper is old-fashioned, personify a mailbox as a grumpy old man who wears a brown suit.

http://www.bpay.com.au/Personal/Receiving-bills-with-BPAY-View.aspx

More strong colours and psychedelic faces – just what I like

Street art mural by Vans the Omega and Beastman at 140 at the Wellington Street end

Mural by Beastman and Vans the Omega at 140 on Wellington Street in Perth

Omega and Beastman

mural by Beastman and Vans the Omega and skyscraper at 140 in Perth

blue and green view from the Wellington Street end of one40william in Perth

Last time I checked this new collaborative artwork by Vans the Omega from Adelaide and Beastman from Sydney was mostly obscured by construction in progress. In keeping with their established style which can be viewed in their earlier mural in a Murray Street carpark, there are plenty of faces and colours and swirly-whirly bits in this new piece. Love it.

 

 

Links:
http://www.form.net.au/2014/07/beastman-vans-the-omega-at-140/
http://visitperthcity.com/news/beastman-vans-omega-140

 

 

 

 

Recognizing feet and toes

Faces are special in many ways but they certainly aren’t the only body parts that are distinctive and can be individually visually remembered and recognized. Ear recognition has helped to solve at least a couple of famous crime mysteries. Hands can also be memorable and fingers exist in a variety of shapes. Hands and feet can be distinctive and subtle deformities are common. Even the humble toe can be a big deal to some people, and foot recognition is not limited to real feet because statues also need to stand on something.

Feet can also be misrecognized as something else. Is it a super-recognizer thing or does everyone get this sometime? You wake up, you stick your foot in the air out of the sheets and the blankets and there it is and you can’t help thinking “That is one horribly deformed hand” all the while consciously knowing it is just your more-or-less normal foot, but at the same time, you can see plain as day it’s anatomical heritage as a thing that once gripped more than plodded. Weird.

Balsamo, Annelise Toes. 360documentaries. Radio National. July 27th 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/360/toes/5617412

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/360/projects/pocketdocs/5092234

 

Do you have a trustworthy nose?

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25973-face-tester-can-predict-how-you-will-judge-a-face.html#.U9kjiU0cRhE

University of Western Australia researchers’ model of face gender published in PLoS ONE

Garland, Carys Face ‘model’ accurately weighs gender points. ScienceNetwork WA. July 6th 2014.

http://www.sciencewa.net.au//topics/social-science/item/2931-face-model-accurately-weighs-gender-points

The mathematical model of face gender that these UWA researchers have come up with seems like a sensible enough idea to me (and who am I to criticise?) but I’m very doubtful of just about everything stated about face gender and its relation to autism that is written in the Science Network article.

Gilani SZ, Rooney K, Shafait F, Walters M, Mian A (2014) Geometric Facial Gender Scoring: Objectivity of Perception. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99483. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099483

 

Personification at the heart of imagination in stories loved by children

The Thomas the Tank Engine stories, with railway stock who have faces and voices and dialogue and relationships and dramas, and the Wizard of Oz story, with a tin-man and a living scarecrow and curmudgeonly apple trees are just two examples of classic children’s fiction which translated very successfully to popular family screen entertainment, and both are full of objects that are personified. Many synaesthetes like myself have naturally and mysteriously developed conceptions of letters of the alphabet and numbers as having personal characteristics such as genders and personalities, as well as individual and specific colours. These synaesthetic ways of thinking formed in childhood and has become embedded in the structure of the brain. It is possible that all people once experienced synaesthetic thinking as children, but synaptic pruning did away with all that fanciful nonsense for most of us. Perhaps we were all personifying synaesthetes when we were little kids, and perhaps that explains why object personification pops up so often in children’s entertainment. To complement the winter school holidays one of our TV channels is broadcasting The Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat and viewed the whole thing and forgotten half of it, but there was some familiarity in the deep and gruff sound of the voice of one of the apple trees. Could any grown tree have a voice that is not dark and resonant? I doubt it. Irrational as it is, object personification operates according to psychological rules and relationships, and big dark brown things tend to have deep voices.

I’m sure I’m not the first to observe that popular movies are full of psychology, and the Wizard of Oz is as good an example as any. There’s the object personification in many of the characters. There’s also some interesting psychology in the way that Dorothy feels that she has known her three strange new friends for a long time, but also logically knows that can’t be true (the story is set in a dream with bizarre characters which Dorothy’s sleeping mind has created out of memories of real people in Dorothy’s real life). “Oh, you’re the best friends anybody ever had. And it’s funny, but I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?” Would face processing researchers call that “implicit familiarity” or “covert recognition”? It is actually person recognition, not just face recognition, but then again, I’ve been arguing at this blog that face recognition cannot be separated from person recognition. Faces are only memorable because they are the front windows of minds. I think Dorothy’s strange and unexplained feeling of familiarity is a nice illustration of the way that person recognition is swifter and more emotional than the verbal labeling of people with personal names and place names that we are able to do once we are able to figure out where that person fits into our autobiographical memory bank. That memory bank is quite a thing to search, so it can take a while. I like the way that the Dunning-Kruger Effect or something like it is woven into the centre of the narrative of The Wizard of Oz, the tin man not understanding his own emotional dimension, the scarecrow suddenly spouting a bit of geometrical wisdom once told he does have a brain, and the lion needing to be told how brave he actually is even though he had been through so much. There’s also a message about the possibilities of human development, effort and experience changing what we are, if we care to give it a red-hot go. That could have something to do with synapses. Of course, this story has a lot to say about the psychology of quacks, con-artists, fame and inflated authority figures, but the odd thing is, despite the many decades of popularity of this book and the Hollywood movie, great hordes of educated people in America and other English-speaking countries continue to be conned and robbed by quacks, con-artists, famous people and inflated authority figures. Yes, I’m no genius for pointing out the main message of the story of The Wizard of Oz, but if it is such an obvious message, then why does it appear to be so seldom heeded?

A friendly face in a pile of rubbish

A child noticed this during a visit to Wolf Lane in the city to look at street art murals:

A section of a discarded box looks like a smiling face

a smiling face in a pile of rubbish

 

 

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