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Diary of a Non-Synesthete

As an artist, the life of someone with synesthesia – a condition which can basically be described as a mixing of the senses – is at worst intriguing and at best desirable. The ability to see the world differently is something inherent in all artists, but the ability to literally and consciously perceive the world in a way which is altered from what is seen to be ‘normal’ is something of great personal intrigue.

For me, synesthesia acts as an automatic form of artistic expression. I hope this statement isn’t offensive to synesthetes – I just mean that the inherent fundamentals behind the condition are able to describe a way of perceiving the world that can inform our understanding of reality. This is the very reason why artists wish to communicate their ideas, so something that does this anyway will always have the potential to inspire. But how can this inspiration be exploited in order to achieve something with artistic merit?

The problem lies in the fact that art can be seen as metaphoric – a tool which can be utilised to describe a sensation. Synesthesia, on the other hand, is a literal experience. With this in mind, I seek to embed the literal in my work, but by using foods with metaphoric connotations applicable to the condition.

A reasonable starting point is nutmeg. Yes, nutmeg. Whole nutmeg, when freshly ground, contains myristicin – an organic compound which induces psychoactive behaviour, allowing one to synthetically alter their perception of the world. This inherently allows a parallel to be drawn with synesthesia as, while there is an artifice in utilising chemical substances, they can nevertheless allow a non-synesthete to visualise sound, to touch colour and to hear scent.

Myristicin Meter (2013) Nutmeg on canvas. A way of describing the hallucinogenic effects of nutmeg.

Here, I have used the intrinsic characteristics of nutmeg and created a piece based on the sensation of eating. I suppose, in that sense, my work can be seen as describing the idea of synesthesia, and a tension exists between the condition itself and the fact  I cannot acquire it.

Let it be said, however, that being a non-synesthete has its own set of advantages with regard to my practice. It provides me with something unattainable, and the desire for something that is unattainable is a source of creativity – a go-to point when a particular avenue of enquiry is exhausted. I am also able to thoroughly regard all elements of the condition without specific physical attachment, which would have an influence on my overall intrigue.

Synesthesia is a way of seeing the world. In this way, it is similar to art: I just hope that what I create are coherent devices that synthetically create an experience akin to synesthesia, to raise awareness of the condition and, in turn, allow it to be applicable to the reality of a non-synesthete.


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