The TEDxPeachtree team spoke with some of the upcoming speakers at TEDxPeachtree on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 at the Rialto Center for the Arts to dig beneath the surface of their biographies. In this edition of Beyond the Bio, we spoke with Siana Degitz, music curator at Shaded Sound.” Here’s what we found:

Can you give a high level description of synesthesia?

Being startled tastes like rusty metal and grapefruit juice with the shock of a tongue on a 9-volt battery. Alicia Keys’ voice sounds deep red dipped lightly in brown. A baby’s cry flutters in light blue; I can feel it behind my right eye.

This is synesthesia — a blending of the senses where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway simultaneously produces an involuntary, automatic experience of a second sensory or cognitive pathway. From the Greek, syn means “together” and aisthesis means “sensation.”

One belief is that synesthetes experience a cross-wiring between brain areas that, for non-synesthetes, are normally segregated. Synesthetic responses vary from person to person. Most report that their experiences are pleasant or neutral and non-obstructive. Rarely, some express that their daily experiences can lead to sensory overload.

Who or what inspired your love for sensory art?

The colors I while singing were too beautiful to keep to myself. I would get lost in them and was so frustrated that my friends couldn’t see them. I would try my hardest to explain it all, but it took the sketches to bring some sort of guidance to my “verbal illustrations.”

It seemed something like a chart I was pointing to “in this top-right corner is the chorus in dark orange and then it shifts down here to the middle into the grey during the verses.” It felt something like the sound-color visualizations were all too excited to be brought to life in a sketchbook. I was overwhelmed with these color responses, so bringing them “to life” was the obvious thing to do after years of thinking this was all normal.

I didn’t have any inspiration. I just got tired of trying to find the right words to describe what I saw. They didn’t do much justice.

You’ve traveled the world exhibiting your art. What is the greatest impact that synesthesia has had on your life?

I have learned to trust myself a lot more. When I say “trust myself”, I really mean my colors. And it sounds crazy, but there’s a pattern to these things and I’ve slowly learned to just accept it. I’ve also learned that people really want to feel, but our attention spans so easily allow us to miss our own needs.

Emotion-Color has helped me acknowledge how I’m feeling, where otherwise, it was simply to easy to ignore. My feelings now are in color, whereas when I was younger, I had to squeeze them into words that I sometimes could never get quite right. I’m not afraid for someone to find my journal and peek through it now. The colors probably wouldn’t mean a thing to them, but they’re a representation of my journey in life, except in color form. This is freedom in such a new way.

Because of emotion-color synesthesia, I’ve found that many people don’t like to be alone, and I don’t mean physically, but emotionally. When my sketches turned into paintings, I witnessed the quietest, most closed people open up about their connection with specific paintings and the emotion they represent.

Cross-culturally, it has been extremely rewarding to see people “face” these emotions/memories/thoughts that could otherwise just be ignored. It’s beautiful to see people slowing down and considering their hearts in the midst of everything happening in and around them. Through exhibiting my art around the world, I’ve learned that people want to feel and connect, but sometimes just don’t know how.

Are you a full time Sensory Artist? If so, did you receive backlash when expressing to loved ones this was the career you wanted to pursue? How’d you handle that backlash?

I am a full-time Sensory Artist. I didn’t receive backlash from anyone. Friends of mine wouldn’t be shocked if I’d end up on the moon one day. Nothing is too far-fetched for me, so this wasn’t much of a surprise. My mom kept calling it “schizophrenia” for a while, though!

How’d you end up calling Atlanta home?

My mom lives here. I needed a break from living in China for nearly five years. I moved to Atlanta and then left again, shortly thereafter, to go to Germany.

What I didn’t know was that my then-boyfriend was going to propose. (I don’t think he knew it either, haha!) But we became engaged in Germany and had our wedding in Atlanta this year. The Art scene is everything I need in my life right now. So, we call Atlanta our newest home now!

Where were you when I-85 crumbled?

I was actually working at the time at a nearby coffee shop. I totally thought it was a joke. “How can a bridge just collapse? Pshhhhhhhh!” Yeah…It’s funny how quickly news spreads around the world. That was crazy!

How can those who don’t experience synesthesia produce sensory art?

This is an amazing question. I’ve actually been thinking about this myself. I feel a great representation of sound-emotion could be produced by listening to a song and drawing/sketching/painting how that song makes you feel; thoughts, ideas, memories that are jarred, they can be as abstract or as definite as one would like. Acknowledgement is the goal of the sensory art production though. It’s what takes it from the heart to the canvas. Lay out your colors, choose a song. Get everything prepared, including your mind (just relax). Play the song, start with a color representing what is coming up and continue to choose colors and forms that represent what you’re feeling.

Acknowledgement, as I have learned, is so important. And the representation only has to mean something to the person who created it. If no one else understands it, that’s totally okay. Music/sounds can trigger past memories, thoughts, ideas, etc. It is time well spent and moments greatly reflected (and recorded)! This is sensory art — expressing the senses through art.

Beneath the surface we all want: purpose.

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