We thought we'd seen it all when we released issue #166 aka the Tech special a few weeks back and profiled the work of AR, VR and AI artists... But apparently not.

In our search for our monthly inspirational icon to introduce to the advertising industry, we stumbled across Neil Harbisson, a Catalan cyborg artist, who has an antenna permanently attached to a chip at the back of his skull.

Installed to relieve his visual condition known as achromatopsia - which causes him to see the world in various shades of grey - the device, often referred to as his 'eyeborg,' allows Harbisson to detect colours and convert them into sounds. 

shots caught up with Harbisson to find out what constitutes cyborg art, how he discovered this movement and what he thinks the future holds for technology merging with the human body.



How do you define your artwork and yourself as an artist?

I see myself as a cyborg artist which means creating a new sense through the application of body part(s) to redesign your own perception of reality. I define my work as cyborg art, so I see my antennae as a masterpiece; it's part of the artwork really.

The thing with cyborg art is that it has two parts. The first involves the art of creating your own sense but the issue with this is that the artist is the only audience to experience the art because I'm the only one viewing and hearing the colours. But then, cyborg artists also create external artworks that reveal the experience of the new sense they’re making – which is the second part of the process.

How did you get to where you are now?

When I was studying music, my teachers encouraged us to experiment with electronics in music. Instead of creating electronic music, I was fascinated by the idea of becoming an electronic musician. Rather than just use the technology, I became the technology by applying the antennae – my instrument – to my body. I then create external artwork through this new sense.


What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

The fact that you can keep exploring reality through different senses. At the moment, there’s lots of interest in AI technology, but I’m more interested in AS – which stands for artificial senses and relates to sensual art. With more senses, you can express yourself in more ways. It’s a new way of exploring reality – in the past, you travelled to different places to explore new environments, but now you don’t actually need to move that far. You can just add a new sense to your life and everything becomes new again so you can experience reality through a new layer.

What’s a typical working day like for you?

Each day is different. There’s no monotony. I do different art projects and I also give lots of talks. I travel a lot with projects, like I’m currently collaborating with a restaurant in Girona where people can literally eat sounds. We’ve created a rotating plate that allows you to hear the sound, so people can ask for a song and effectively, eat it. I’m also designing the sense of time in New York, which involves placing circular crown-like organ into my head, which will radiate heat depending on what time of day it is. It will give me an automatic sense of time but it could also alter my perception of time. If this happens, then I should be able to control my perception of time by making the heat go faster or slower around my head which could allow me to enjoy the sensation of time travel.

Tell me something about your job that few people know. 

When I have a plan or an idea that I’m sure I will do, I try to do the opposite and not do it. Instead I try to think of what I’d do next and do that. I believe that if you can imagine it, it already exists in your mind, so instead I don't do it and move on to the next thing.

How important is social media in the role that you do?

I try to simplify my use of social media to just one platform otherwise I find it overwhelming. Now I’m focused on Instagram. For a long time it was Facebook, but I feel Instagram is a better way of sharing my experiences. I switched over when Instagram allowed me to use non-square pictures. Initially, you could only post square images, which I couldn’t do – some images need to be rectangular and I had a personal thing against squares. But now I find it a much simpler platform; it’s a way of sharing audio visual experiences with other people.


If you could name one person who has inspired you so far in your life, who would it be (and why)?

Moon Ribas (below, explaining her artwork). She’s my childhood friend and we’ve always inspired each other. We’re both cyborg artists; she feels earthquakes and has a sense that she calls the Seismic Sense which means she can feel when there’s an earthquake in the world, as she feels the vibrations through her body. She says it’s like having a second heartbeat, because there’s earthquakes every 8-12 minutes worldwide which she can feel in her body. 


What’s one thing that you strive to do in your career?

Share my experiences and hopefully inspire other people to design themselves. I am basically designing myself and redesigning my perception of reality to get closer to nature. I think we should be able to design ourselves instead of redesigning the planet. I think it makes much more sense to change ourselves instead of the planet. We should be able to add night vision to our sight rather than depend on artificial light and waste a lot of energy.

What are the biggest challenges that you’re seeing in your industry and how do you plan on overcoming them?

The biggest issue is society and some people's concerns that merging with technology isn’t natural and that it’s against God. Their criticism can feel quite negative which is annoying but it's not something I can overcome. I’m trying to normalise cyborgs so people can understand that becoming the technology doesn’t have to be a negative or a scary thing. It can help us to better understand our relationship with the planet. There’s still a lot of fear around the development and use of technology but I’m not creating a new reality; I’m sensing a reality that exists but that my body can’t sense. 


Harbisson charging himself up through a power socket. [Photograph by Dan Wilton.]

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far in your career?

To break the rules and to follow my intuition, even if that means breaking my own rules. My antennae was not allowed to be initially implanted into my head. I tried to do it by the book and went to a surgery to get it done but they wouldn’t do it, so I went somewhere else. We all create and live by our own rules but it does help to break them. You'll surprise yourself if you do something that you weren’t planning.

I used to be anti-technology, so the idea of merging with tech was completely foreign to me. But then I contradicted myself and by doing it, I have found myself closer to nature than before. 


Harbisson mixing realities.

What do you do to stay inspired?

Enjoy the moments when I’m waiting for something and I’m not distracted by anything else, as that’s when inspiration hits. Sometimes not doing anything is already something. Flying is the best place for me to think; I don’t read, I don’t listen to music and I don’t watch films so I’m not receiving any input and my brain has to create its own input. When my brain isn’t concentrating on anything, it’s so boring that it creates another reality just by thinking. My brain entertains me if there’s no external entertainment – and that’s when ideas, inspirations and projects come to life.