Sound of Color is a collaboration with cyborg artists Neil Harbisson, Moon Ribas and Pol Lombarte to reveal nonfiction aspects of Arctic sea ice through new senses.
In 2019, while I was on the first leg of the year-long MOSAiC expedition, I stood on the bridge of the ship looking out onto the vast Arctic Ocean and struggled to see the science in the landscape before me. When I asked the scientists to locate their science on a painting I had drawn of the Arctic landscape, unanimously, each person drew a picture of their instrument. I had to go back and clarify—draw what your instrument sees!
What this told me is that field scientists can experience the environment they are studying through their instrument; that the elemental encounter of place is mediated by machine. Locating ‘science’ in the machine rather than the environment creates a technology/nature dichotomy that parallels the brain/body divide concerning where knowledge is located.
In his book, Elemental Philosophy, David Macauly writes about the domestication of the elements and how our elemental encounters and experiences with air, earth, fire and water have become so profoundly mediated by the techniques and instruments we use to engage them. Macauly is talking about plumbing, air conditioning, water fountains, electricity and the all general ways in which we’ve domesticated ourselves in relation to the elements, but artists are showing that the inverse is also possible and technology can bring us closer to nature.
If scientists use instruments to expand the scope of human perception to measure things we cannot directly perceive, artists like Neil Harbisson—who was born with achromatopsia, complete color-blindness, and designed an optical wire implant that allows him to hear color—use instruments to expand the scope of human perception to reveal new elemental encounters with the natural world.
Neil talks about how his entire conceptual framework for beauty changed. Where phenomenology informs aesthetics informs social constructs, now, people sound beautiful (or they don’t).
“I don’t know why they say people are black or white…everyone is actually orange.” — Neil Harbisson