Transforming an unfavorable condition into an opportunity
On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, members of the Monaco Press Club had the privilege to partake with contemporary artist, musician and cyborg activist Neil Harbisson. At first when you meet the young artist, dressed in bright yellow pants and a deep blue jacket, and who has an antenna protruding over his head, you cannot simulate your surprise. But once you start listening to his interesting story and get to talk to him directly, you forget the antenna to discover the wonderful and creative person Neil is, and how much he has to give to humanity. It was a real privilege to meet him.
Neil Harbisson is a cyborg, a being with both organic and bio-mechatronic parts, and is known as the first person in the world with an implanted antenna he himself developed, kind of an electric eye that he calls an eyeborg, that enables him to interpret the world around him, turning colors into musical frequencies.Neil Harbisson is a cyborg, a being with both organic and bio-mechatronic parts, and is known as the first person in the world with an implanted antenna he himself developed, kind of an electric eye that he calls an eyeborg, that enables him to interpret the world around him, turning colors into musical frequencies.
Neil is originally from Belfast, England (b. July 27, 1982), grew up in Catalonia and is currently based in New York. He was born with achromatopsia, an extreme form of color blindness, meaning he can only see in gray scale. Thanks to the antenna Osseo-integrated inside his skull and sprouting from within his occipital bone, that has been permanently attached to his head since 2004, the artist is able to hear the light frequencies of the spectrum including invisible colors such as infrareds and ultra violets. We were curious to know who was the surgeon who performed such an unusual procedure, but Neil was not able to reveal his identity at this time to protect his privacy. The antenna uses audible vibrations in his skull to report information to him, including measurements of electromagnetic radiation, phone calls, music, as well as video or images that are translated into sound. His wifi-enabled antenna also allows him to receive signals and data from satellites.
When prompted on how the device changed his life, Neil said: “Color is everywhere, so everything has changed. I still can’t see color, but I can perceive it. I can experience it in a way that allows me to be a part of this reality, which I was excluded from before. Thanks to the eyeborg, I’ve made a career by combining music and Art.” Neil emphasizes he wears outfits that sound good to him! He literally wears melodies and he composes music by looking at objects. He is able to listen to art so painters become composers. In an art gallery he listens to the colors of the works. Neil affirms he can actually “hear a Picasso or a Warhol”.
This incredible artist proves that human beings have the power of transforming an otherwise unfavorable condition into an incredible opportunity, not only for himself but by extension to others.
Dancing to the rhythm of the Earth
We had the chance to meet his long-term artistic partner (they met when they were 8 years old), Catalan choreographer Moon Ribas, who since 2013 has a sensor implanted in her left arm that vibrates whenever there is a seismic movement. Moon loves to be very connected to the Earth and she applies this new sense to her dances moving at the rhythm of the seism, kind of dancing with our planet, a truly organic experience.
You may see Moon Ribas dance Waiting for Earthquakes:
Neil and Moon co-founded the Cyborg Foundation in 2010, an international organization that helps humans become cyborgs and promotes cyborgism as an art movement. The mission of the foundation is to help humans become cyborgs, to promote the use of cybernetics as part of the human body, to defend cyborg rights, and find technology solutions to diverse conditions. The foundation believes that some cybernetic extensions should be treated as body parts, not as devices. Neil affirms: “The biggest challenge for cyborgs is to be socially accepted. Society needs to accept that there are people who wish to use technology as part of their body.”
Neil won a battle with the British Passport Authority to have his passport picture showing his antenna, arguing that the antenna he had been wearing for more than 10 years, was not a piece of technology but part of his body. He affirms: “I don’t feel I’m using or wearing technology, I feel that I am technology.”
A plethora of awards
Neil Harbisson recently received the “Futurum Award” during the Gala Dinner organized by the Association Futurum in Monaco on October 27, 2015, in the presence of HSH Prince Albert II.
This prestigious prize will be added to the artist’s long list of recognitions:
- 2014 – Bram Stoker Gold Medal, Trinity College, Dublin
- 2013 – Focus Forward Grand Jury Award, Sundance Film Festival, USA
- 2010 – Cre@tic Award 2010, Tecnocampus, Mataro, Spain
- 2010 – Stage Creation Award, IMAC, Mataro, Spain
- 2009 – Phonos Music Grant, IUA Phonos, Spain
- 2005 – Best Performing Story, Research TV, UK
- 2004 – Innovation Award 2004, Submerge, Bristol, UK
- 2004 – Europrix Multimedia Award, Vienna, Austria
- 2001 – Stage Creation Award, IMAC, Mataro, Spain
“If we extend our senses, then, consequently, we will extend our knowledge. It’s really very basic.” Neil Harbisson