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Cyber Venezia

The Bearable Lightness of Being NEIL HARBISSON


Imagine being born and raised in a black and white world because of a congenital quirk. After trying to understand what colors look like -- without success -- you might feel less than happy about being different.

Yet, if you believed that human ingenuity held promise and that breakthroughs are always possible, you might have cause for optimism. It might be possible to rely on sound waves, as opposed to light waves, to "hear" colours, rather than see them. You could listen to energy and rethink your space, your home, your face, or that of others.

It could make for a powerful story, and this one is told with disarming simplicity. If the greatness of an artist is his ability to communicate something universal and innovative based on the limits of personal experience, perhaps from a personal problem, then the story of Neil Harbisson is truly extraordinary. He is an artist and musician, born in Belfast on 27 July 1982, whose colour blindness allows him to see only shades of gray. He is the first person ever to wear an Eyeborg (a cybernetic eye) that "translates" colours into sounds, which was developed in collaboration with a researcher from the University of Barcelona. An exciting project, which Harbisson presented successfully around the world, translates colour into sound and vice versa: "sound portraits" (your face has a sound, apparently) and "Sonochromatic" digital art (images which constitute a sort of musical score in colour for the first hundred notes of music). In a word, it is cyber-art, an artistic medium that was presented in Venice last year during the Visual Arts Biennale and included interactive performances.

In 2012, the year of the Architecture Venice Biennale, Harbisson is launching "Cyber Venezia", a project whose first chapter is" The Sound of Burano".  "I began to depict, or to 'paint in sound' Venice itself, exploring it with patience, respect, and artistic and scientific curiosity, starting from the colourful houses on the island of Burano. It is very impressive. This is not an arbitrary association of colours, but the result of a complex study." Previewed at Palazzo Loredan – Istituto Veneto di Lettere Scienze Arti, and the Giudecca 795 Art Gallery during Art Night Venice on 23 June, Cyber Venezia will continue in various phases, and the first results of its work in progress can be experienced throughout the run of the Architecture Biennale, which also offers the other artistic productions by Harbisson. As in 2011, Harbisson is available to the public by reservation to render their "Sound portraits", pointing his Eyeborg at various parts of the face and writing the resulting notes on special 360-line paper. Since 2005, he has created sound portraits of various celebrities, including Charles, Leonardo Di Caprio, Nicole Kidman, and Woody Allen, among others.

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