Neil Harbisson suffers from achromatopsia – or complete congenital color blindness, and until meeting Adam Montandon, a cybernetics expert who was giving a speech at the art school which he was attending at the time, he only painted in black and white. Montandon had the idea of creating a way to harness the frequencies at which different colors reflects light; violet vibrating at fastest rate, red the slowest.
The first design for such a device only enabled Harbisson to hear six different frequencies and analogously, 'see' six different colors, but after a some time of research, the Eyeborg system was developed that allowed him to 'see' 360 colors.
Harbission is able to discern the differences in the colors on the paint palette in front of him by wearing a headset integrated with a digital camera connected to a backpack containing a computer which slows down the frequency of the light waves to the frequency of the sound waves. The translated tone is heard through an earpiece.
“I used to paint rather literally,” Harbisson said. “I would stand in front of something and just paint what I saw immediately before me. Now I’m doing more abstracts and being much more free and liberal with my art.”
His paints all have samples of the color on the outside of each tube in addition to the name written on them to help with his auditory memory of each color.
Color sound frequencies used with the Eyeborg
Harbisson is also the first person to be officially recognized by a government as a cyborg. A picture of his passport, which can be found on his web site, shows him wearing the device which he wears in daily life.
Some of his latest work involves representing capital cities in Europe as a square made up of two triangles of different colors. "In Monaco, it was azure and salmon pink; in Battislava it was yellow and turquise; and in Andorra it was dark green and fushia. I wanted to go to cities because people used to tell me that cities were grey and drab. But they are not. They are very colourful.”
A discovery channel documentary about Neil and the Eyeborg is set to premier in the fall of 2009.
More work from Neil Harbisson
Images Copyright Neil Harbisson
Article about Neil from Times Online