Interview with Chang Hee Lee: Designer of Three Studies of Synaesthesia

come and experience

Hi Chang, so please tell us a bit more about yourself and your work?

I’m a designer and creative engineer based in London. I am currently investigating the potentials of applying synaesthesia in a creative context. I’m originally from South Korea, moved and grew up in Hong Kong and Beijing, and now I am conducting my PhD at the Royal College of Art (RCA) here in London! So yes, I’m very multicultural!

My work ‘Three Studies of Synaesthesia’ explores some of the inspiring properties of synaesthesia that can be used within the context of design. By displaying three experiential artefacts, people can discuss and get involved in the subject of synaesthesia. The large body of research on the topic of synaesthesia has been dominated by the field of science, and I’m trying to interpret and expand its research boundary from a designer’s point of view. The project name is literally from three studies of synaesthesia!

And how did you get into such an unusual field of synaesthesia?

Hm... I still clearly remember the day when I talked to my mother about the taste of seaweed, telling her that the taste of a seaweed sheet is rather unusual, that it tastes like “clustering purple” after storing in the fridge for a long time. Hilariously, my mother who was a middle school art teacher responded me that “the taste of seaweed is purple, but not clustering purple!”

This was not a particularly surprising thing at that time when I was about 7 years old. I thought this was a typical daily sensation that everyone can experience. Now researching this subject is like discovering my memories and inner channels.

So it sounds like you are a synaesthete? How would you explain what that means to someone who doesn’t know?

I do have a particularly clear and intense experience when I smell something. I do not experience from all the smells, but there’s a kind of particular smell, which I don’t know, that triggers this involutary experience. So I was once sleeping on my bed and woke up with an extremely clear image of sharp heavy structure covered by green piercing, and even more bizarrely, feathers! This was as a result of smelling mixed bottles of perfume and essential oils just behind my pillow (mostly used, but still with smell in it).

To briefly cover the meaning of synaesthesia: it is an unusual sensation and neurological phenomenon, such as music that is not just heard but also tasted or even felt as a physical touch!

Great, so with your personal experience, what can visitors look forward to with Three Studies of Synaesthesia?

All visitors can come and interact with three interactive artefacts. Visitors can try to taste electricity, interact with a tangible interface, and can load their angers and blow it up using a strange apparatus! Three props / artefacts are designed and planned during the research in order to study and experiment some of the provocative elements of synaesthesia. Come to learn and experience the idea of synaesthesia and its stimulating properties!

How would you describe your exhibition in three words?

Come and experience!

Why did you get involved with the festival?

There are not many events outside embracing world class academics, practitioners, while also trying to communicate with the public on such a scale. This type of event interconnects our understandings, thoughts, ideas, and inspire our public knowledge for our better society.

And why do you think the senses are important to have a festival of their own?

Senses are important, not just important, but essential as we view, experience and are introduced to the world through our senses. These accumulated experiences and information shape the textures of our mental world, and construct our foundational perspectives and understandings as a human being.

Why should visitors make the journey to Three Studies of Synaesthesia?

People without the knowledge of synaesthesia can literally learn and experience the idea of synaesthesia through interactive works, which will be fun and thought-provoking.

People who are researching on this topic may intrigued by how a designer interprets the subject of synaesthesia. Synaesthesia research is expanding its discussion and research territory from experience analysis to its potential applications. It will be meaningful to view a designer’s attempt within this research paradigm.

What else are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I will be visiting as many venues as possible to see how other people share their works and perspectives. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to both receive and share feedback from other people. I’m excited to view their works soon!

Where would you like to see the sensory practice going in the future?

From my perspective and area, I think the sensory practice and research will be expanded to countless directions. Particularly, because the notion of ‘sensory’ has a fundamental value and meaning, thus can be associated to multiple themes and subjects. For example, it can be associated to optimised sensory experience research for mass products, sensory substitution research for people with sensory impairment and sensory research in robotics. The flexible property of this subject can access various disciplines and boundaries and this makes the subject unique with extensive potentials!

And how would you like your research to develop?

Currently, I’m completing my PhD on the topic of provocative properties of synaesthesia in design study. I’m attempting to contribute and expand the current psychology and neuroscience dominated scope as a design engineer. I hope my works and research offer a new interpretation to the creative side of synaesthesia research, and wish it can facilitate the dialogue between the field of science and design!

Three words to describe how you feel about the festival?

Let’s do this!

Start your own conversation @OpenSensesUK #OpenSenses2017, this conversation initiated by Natasha Blok.