from Requesting Your Presence
by Lissa Tyler Renaud
Thinking about synesthesia—the inter-relatedness of the senses, literally and figuratively—goes all the way back to the ancient world. But it was Baudelaire who suggested the particular sensory combination of “perfumes, sounds and colors” that are coming to life in this show. Baudelaire wrote his poem Correspondences [Correspondances] in 1857, and it has served as an anthem for synesthetic perception ever since:
Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes let slip a confusing word or two;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which watch him with knowing eyes.
Like prolonged echoes becoming one in the distance
In a deep and shadowy confusion of identity
Vast as night and vast as light —
Perfumes, sounds, and colors answer
one another, correspond,
There are perfumes as fresh as the skin of a child,
Sweet like an oboe, green as a meadow—
— And others, corrupt, rich, triumphant,
expansive as infinity itself,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of soul and senses.
Here, when the senses are inextricably intertwined, it allows for a profound experience of Nature, vastness, infinity, the soul.
Ideasthesia—a term only recently coined, and the name of this show—also encompasses notions of the unified senses. And it knows Baudelaire’s “forest of symbols,” too—as a “network of associations.” But Ideasthesia brings thought into relation with the senses. That is, it proposes that sensations are a function of concepts, and contexts. An idea is “activated,” and “evokes” perception, or experience. This is important because it suggests a natural, biological basis for the unity of mind (idea) and body (sensation). It suggests the healing of the proverbial mind-body split.
And this is an especially good time to have an integrated mind-body—what kinesiologist Mabel Todd called in the 1930s “the thinking body.” Because big questions at the fore in arts criticism circles just now are: does the critic have a body? Does the viewer have a body? In other words, are you only participating in this exhibition’s goings-on with your mind?—“from the neck up”? Or from the neck down? Is your thinking dis-embodied, or your body un-mindful? Are you participating with your full, subjective self? From your thinking, sensory self? And to that last question, thanks to ideasthesia, now you can answer, “Yes.”
For “Ideasthesia,” Wolahan daily edited the viewers’ words and voices into an environment of sound that shifted each day. Played in the gallery each day, it mixed with the voices of the viewers present. The first influential experiment of this kind was by avant-garde composer, Alvin Lucier. In 1969, at Brandeis, he recorded his I am sitting in a room text, played it back into the room, re-recorded it, and repeated this until the speech was unintelligible and the acoustics of the room itself were what was left on the tape. Experiments of this kind also went on closer to home: at Berkeley’s legendary Blake Street Hawkeyes of the 1970s, avant-garde performer Bob Ernst taped himself and then layered musical sounds and his own live voice over that. Thanks to the poet for this Meridian show, now you are part of that history.
(the complete collection of audio files can be found at the bottom of this page)
At this show, all of the artists—painter, perfumer and poet—collaborated with each other, and in turn, with its visitors. Hence all of one's senses co-operated with each other and also with the visitors' thoughts. So: it was a very collaborative event we had here.
We’re seeing (another) surge in the do-it-yourself (DIY) and “maker” cultures. Now that everything can be manufactured and digitized, people like to make things again. Handicrafting, woodworking, designing, inventing and tinkering: all can be found at the cutting edge right this minute. Right this minute is a terrific time to have a DIY art exhibition that asks you to fiddle around.
Technically, this show’s visual component overlapped with some version of the art + technology sensibility—but what a charming, low-tech technology it employed! The lowly pencil + the beloved overhead projector. Together, they did everything we needed: the pencil registers the artist’s barest thought and impulse; then, after visitors to the gallery arranged Brown's drawings (reproduced on transparencies) and settled on an at times compounded image, the projector gave it light and size. Staunch in its simplicity; each of the five flights - Birth, Breath, Flight, Known and North, were projected in huge size on to one of SOMART's walls. Each flight of drawings was accompanied by its own perfume, mixed by MIKMOI.
Owen Brown’s work for “Ideasthesia” has several points of contact with Kandinsky’s (d. 1944). Kandinsky was a true synesthete—sounds, shapes, and colors were viscerally entangled for him—and he spent his life trying to give this experience to the non-synesthete, through painting, poetry and the theatre. So he was interested in the question: what do feelings look like? That is, early on, he stopped painting “things,” and started painting feelings, impulses, intuitions, insights, and other intangibles. Kandinsky’s and Brown’s interests also overlap where there are images of organisms one might see under a microscope, and the kinds of natural life forms that have interested artists from the Art Nouveau to Surrealism. However, where Kandinsky’s kooky creatures are hyper-present, psychedelic, and purposeful, Brown’s strike me as romantic, wistful, and seeking.
Brown’s lines seem to trace the path where something has just vanished, or where it’s about to emerge. Whatever it is, the colors tell me it is playful, or sweet, or insistent. See how this line swoops, that one swaggers. Whispers are becoming sound, and vapors are becoming solid. Suggestions of objects are flying, floating, drifting, pushing, skipping: an animal, a kite, a sea polyp, a hieroglyph, a cartoon, an earthquake, an eyelash. Now a line maps a boundary. To what? All those spaces are waiting for you to fill them with yourself.
When you are ready to show it, the artist is eager to stand and admire your artwork.
[Note: a number of Ideathesia drawings are still available for purchase. They will be posted to our store in December.]