Neil Harbisson, a cyborg artist

by Roser Alonso

Neil Harbisson is a Catalan-raised, British-born contemporary artist and cyborg activist best known for being the first person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull and for being officially recognized as a cyborg by a government. The antenna allows him to perceive visible and invisible colours such as infrareds and ultraviolets via sound waves as well as receive images as sounds, videos as sounds, music or phone calls directly into his head via external devices such as mobile phones or satellites.

Since 2004, international media has described him as the world's first cyborg or the world's first cyborg artist, for expressing himself artistically through a new sense created by the permanent union between cybernetics and his brain. In 2010, he co-founded the Cyborg Foundation, an international organisation that helps humans become cyborgs and promotes cyborgism as an art movement. (From Wikipedia)

Cyborg passport

In 2004, Harbisson was not allowed to renew his UK passport because his passport photo was rejected. The UK Passport Office would not allow Harbisson to appear with electronic equipment on his head. Harbisson wrote back insisting that the antena should be considered part of his body as he had become a cyborg. Letters from his doctor, friends and his college were sent to the passport office to give him support. After weeks of correspondence Harbisson's antenna was included. Harbisson states that he became a cyborg when the union between his organism and his antenna created a new sense.

Color Concerts

Harbisson's first performance as a cyborg was Piano Concerto No. 1, in which he painted a Steinway & Sons grand piano with different color paints and used his artificial eye to play the frequencies of the colours. With his next composition, the Pianoborg Concerto, the piano was 'prepared', by attaching a computer to the underside, the sensor of the eyeborg being positioned above the keys. When a colour was shown to the sensor, the computer picked up the frequency and relayed this to the piano, which then played the corresponding note. Neil said 'The piano is playing the pianist, which is what I wanted to achieve'.

Sound Portraits

Portraits of people that Harbisson creates by listening to the colours of faces. Each face creates a different micro tone chord depending on its colours. To create a sound portrait he needs to stand in front of the person and point his antenna at the different parts of the face, he then writes down the different notes on a special 360 lined manuscript paper. He explains that photographs can not be used to create these portraits as colours are not the same in pictures as live. Since 2005, he has created sound portraits of, among others, Prince Charles, Woody Allen, Antoni Tàpies...

City Colours

In 2007, Harbisson started hitch-hiking around Europe to find the main colours of capital cities, visiting more than 50 countries as well as travelling around Britain. He scanned each capital until he was able represent each city with two main hues. In Monaco, it was azure and salmon pink; in Bratislava it was yellow and turquoise; and in Andorra it was dark green and fuchsia. Under the title Capital Colors of Europe Harbisson has exhibited the colours of each capital in several European galleries including Spain, Andorra, UK, and Croatia.

Colour Scores

Hearing colour also means that everyday sounds, such as ring tones or music, become associated with colours too. Colour Scores are a series of paintings where Harbisson transposes the notes of well-known musical pieces into colour