Synesthesia

Exhibition organized for the International Museum of Surgical Science, on view from August 15, 2015 – November 15, 2015, featuring work by Stevie Hanley.

header image: Stevie Hanley “Equipoised Bullseye,” Salvaged archery target, cups, paint, decaf instant coffee and collage (2015) [detail]


about the exhibition:
Synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which one sense perception elicits the response of another. For example, a “synesthete” might hear a color or taste a smell. For Duke Ellington, a notable synesthete, a “D” note looked like dark blue burlap while a “G” was pale satin. Other notable synaesthetes include Vladimir Nabokov, infamous author of “Lolita” (1955), and the painter Wassily Kandinsky – whose painting practice and mystical artistic philosophy were informed by his unique condition. It is speculated that synaesthesia may emerge in children engaged with abstraction for the first time. As a young brain is tasked with assigning complex ideas to words, letters of the alphabet or numbers, such characters may become “tinged” or “shaded” by a color or tone. This particular form of the condition, called “Grapheme-Color Synaesthesia,” is the most common. Some studies have suggested that in fact most of us are born synesthetes and lose the sensation around eight months old as the senses are trained and refined with experience; and while pronounced forms of the condition are rare, it is not uncommon to experience some feeling of intermingled or blurred sensory perception at some point in life.

from left to right: Stevie Hanley, “Hairy Eyeball Love,” Video (2015) [Sound component by Caleb Yono]; Stevie Hanley, “Ommatidia Quilt (Panels 1,2,3 and 4),” Magnifying sheets, Jell-O, Mylar and tin (2015); Stevie Hanley, “The Drunken Scientific Illustrator (Earplugs, Spiders, Cotton Swabs),” Gouache, color pencil and collage on paper (2015)

For Chicago-based artist Stevie Hanley, it is these moments of “everyday synaesthesia” that inform the body of work presented in this exhibition the International Museum of Surgical Science. Hanley’s practice resists the tidy compartmentalization of experiences, and presents the viewer with objects and installations that have the effect of being a number of things at once. Hanley’s visual field is fractured and reconstituted in dizzying order –  to the effect of a beautifully quilted pastel expanse or compound insect’s eye. As a theme, Hanley’s work is ambivalent – titillating and repellant. A spider crawls across a spongy, neon landscape – a bed of earplugs. While walking his viewer through the alien topography of a bizarre, brightly colored dreamscape, Hanley also manages to evoke the visceral anxiety of violation and invasion: repeated in urban legends of crickets or cockroaches burrowed deep inside the human ear.  In the same hand, an orchestra plays a quilt instead of a score. Musicians may be drawn to the texture of a note, as writers may speak to the color of a word. In “Synaesthetica,” Stevie Hanley compiles these crossed experiences as an intricate web of metonymy and double entendres.

from left to right: Stevie Hanley, “Ommatidia Quilt (Panels 1,2,3 and 4)” Magnifying sheets, Jell-O, Mylar and tin (2015); Stevie Hanley, “The Drunken Scientific Illustrator (Earplugs, Spiders, Cotton Swabs)” Gouache, color pencil and collage on paper (2015)