This month’s Spotlight on Science looks at the intersection of synesthesia and art. Carol Steen discusses her own synesthesia and her journey to understand it, how synesthesia has impacted her art, and the increase in synesthesia awareness and research. Her article, “Visions Shared: A Firsthand Look into Synesthesia and Art” (Leonardo, June 2001) was one of the earliest first-hand accounts of synesthesia and its role in art, and her story helped inspire Wendy Mass's award-winning novel, A Mango-Shaped Space. Steen has since co-written a chapter for the Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia, and continues to create art from her synesthetic visions. Read the article for free on our SOS page.
You write that you first learned about synesthesia in 1993 when Richard E. Cytowic was in the process of bringing it back into mainstream science. Your article was published seven years later, in 2001. In 2003, author Wendy Mass wrote a young adult novel about an artistic and synesthetic girl named Mia, called A Mango-Shaped Space. Ten years later, Oxford University Press published the Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia, and just last year, your article was cited in an extensive paper titled "Color Synesthesia: Insight into perception, emotion, and consciousness," published in the journal Current Opinion in Neurology. How has the rise in awareness of synesthesia, and the accompanying increase in research about it, impacted you? Has it affected your art, or your artistic process, at all?
In 1993, we didn't have computers. Well, a few people did, but for most of us computers didn't exist. More importantly, even if you had a computer, you were still isolated. Early in 1995 I would make long trips by subway to the one branch of my college where they had a computer lab. In a very small dark room on the top floor of an old NYC building were about 20 small screened computers. I could use them if a class was not being held, or if, with permission and providing I was very quiet, there was an available seat. I remember one day I sat in this room and learned I could ask a search engine for information about synesthesia. I did and waited for the answer. It gave me 35 “hits”—seventeen of those were duplicates.
"Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957," an exhibition currently showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, focuses on how Black Mountain College (BMC) became a seminal meeting place for many of the artists, musicians, poets, and thinkers who would become the principal practitioners in their fields of the postwar period.
Historically, “queer” was the slur used against those who were perceived to be or made to feel abnormal but beginning in the 1980s, the word was reappropriated and embraced as a badge of honor. Queer edited by David Getsy is centered on writings that describe and examine the ways in which artists have used the concept of queer as a site of political and institutional critique, as a framework to develop new families and histories, as a spur to action, and as a basis from which to declare inassimilable difference. The first post in our series celebrating Pride Month features an excerpt from David Getsy's Introduction to Queer.
The activist stance of ‘queer’ was developed as a mode of resistance to the oppression and erasure of sexual minorities. Importantly, however, it was concurrently posited as a rejection of assimilationism proposed by many in gay and lesbian communities who aspired to be just ‘normal’. Since its formulation in the crucible of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, ‘queer’ has an ongoing political and cultural currency that continues to prove catalytic to artists and thinkers. It signals a defiance to the mainstream and an embrace of difference, uniqueness and self-determination. Still contentious today in LGBTI politics and culture, the defining trait of ‘queer’ is its rejection of attempts to enforce (or value) normalcy. Within artistic practice, queer tactics and attitudes have energized artists who create work that flouts ‘common’ sense, that makes the private public and political, and that brashly embraces disruption as a tactic.
The daguerreotype, invented in France, came to America in 1839. It was, as Sarah Kate Gillespie's book The Early American Daguerreotype shows, something wholly and remarkably new: a product of science and innovative technology that resulted in a visual object. We're celebrating World Photo Day with an excerpt from The Early American Daguerreotype.
Originally a French invention, daguerreotyping—a photographic process that produces extremely detailed images—reached American shores in the fall of 1839. A daguerreotype is a direct-positive image on a silvered copper plate. Historically, the plate was polished until it had a mirror-like surface, then was treated with lightsensitive chemicals. The plate was then fitted into a camera and exposed to the subject. Once exposed, the plate was developed above a box of mercury fumes, and the image was fixed in a bath of hyposulfate of soda. The finished product was then washed and dried. Because the surface remained sensitive, it was placed under a plate of glass and usually put in a case.
Shannon Jackson, the Director of Arts Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley and Marianne Weems the Artistic Director of The Builders Association performance group join us for our latest “five minutes with the author”, discussing their book The Builders Association. The book details the performance history of the award-winning group.
First published in 2002, Douglas Crimps's Melancholia and Moralism is a collection of his addresses and essays spanning fifteen years, through the identification of AIDS and the rise of homophobia. A nuanced meditation on queer politics and activism, the book serves as a reminder of the challenges society still faces, especially in light of the tragedy in Orlando.
Now that the election is over, we're looking back at one of the most bizarre topics that surfaced from the campaign. Days before the election, Wikileaks released a batch of emails containing a note from performance artist Marina Abramovic to Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta, and set off a strange chain reaction of accusations that tied Clinton and Podesta to the occult and Satan worshipping from the alt-right. James Westcott, Abramovic's biographer and the author of When Marina Abramovic Dies writes this post to clear the air.
BREAKING FAKE NEWS —Clinton’s campaign manager participates in occult ritual with bizarre Balkan satanist…
Of all the crazy tales fabricated in this election, this one might have been the most insane. Not just for the paranoid conspiracy posited by the alt-right—Clinton’s satanic network—but for the fact that a performance artist, Marina Abramovic, found herself tossed into the hollow core of the nation’s election news cycle. Enduring decades of obscurity in a tiny artworld niche, Abramovic may have been elevated to A-list celebrity after her MoMA performance The Artist Is Present in 2010, but to now show up on the alt-right’s radar is a whole other level of fame.
Though the exhibition "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957" recently closed at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Vincent Katz, editor of Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art, tells us how we can learn more about the small school in North Carolina where the course of art history changed forever.
Yayoi Kusama, the most famous Japanese artist to emerge after World War II, rose quickly in the art world exhibiting with superstar artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Though Kusama may not be as well-known as Warhol and Oldenburg, her work has recently gone through a resurgence in scholarly interest along with a series of major exhibitions. Midori Yamamura's new book Yayoi Kusama: Inventing the Singular strays from the biographical and emphasizes how her work influenced the art world.
In honor of the Lunar New Year, we share images from China's Vanishing Worlds by Matthias Messmer and Hsin-Mei Chuang capturing poignant scenes of landscapes and lifestyles in rural China. These photographs depict how the New Year is celebrated in China's countryside, far from Beijing or Shanghai.
A traditional almanac [huangli, sometimes also called a peasant almanac] shows lunar dates and solar cycles and offers advice on what is proper or improper to do on a given day. For instance, it might be appropriate to offer sacrifices to the gods, engage in animal husbandry, marry or make wine; but road-work, in contrast, would be inadvisable. In the past, such calendars were profusely illustrated, as shown in the pictured example from 1949. During the Cultural Revolution, the Communists condemned such calendars as a symbol of the Four Olds. Today, only elderly people in rural areas still refer to such calendars before engaging in daily activities. They usually purchase them in the market around the Chinese New Year.