One of the amazing researches presented this year at EMAC was authored by Bertil Hulten (University of Linneaus, Sweden). This research, entitled « The Influence of Smell and Vision upon Touch » was carried out at IKEA in Sweden and aimed at studying the behaviour of consumers (especially their purchase patterns) when their senses were triggered.

Bertil started explaining the difficulties he faced when trying to convince IKEA to accept the idea of this experiment. The Swedish retailer was indeed opposed to any kind of scenery around its products. According to the IKEA philosophy the products must be functional an this is the only characteristic and this is the only feature that deserved to be brought forward. Bertil had to fight to impose the changes required by his experiment: vanilla-smell candles, taking glasses out of their boxes and exhibiting them on a mate and the worst of all, shutting off some lights to create a cosy atmosphere.

The experiment was carried out in the “glasses” department and the main research hypothesis was that consumers who touch the glasses will exhibit a higher probability t purchase those very glasses.

The experiment was carried out on a 2-week period of time and an increase of 30% to 60% in sales was achieved. Several research hypotheses were confirmed:

–         the longer the clients stay in the store the higher the probability that they purchase

–         the longer the consumers stay in the store the higher the probability that they touch the glasses

–         those customers who touch the longer the glasses are those who purchase them the most


The brilliant young synesthetic artist and author has fitted the dark overcoat with different colored LED lights that glow in the places she has chronic pain from fibromyalgia. For synesthetes, pain can have color. The stunning art piece, called “Sympathy Pains” is fitted inside with metal cones, elastic straps and unevenly weighted bags of rice sewn in to recreate her uncomfortable experience. Pressure sensors dim the lights when the jacket is tied tighter and more pain is inflicted on the wearer, as if the light gives some relief to the experience.

Ms. Firman, a Pennsylvania native, is now thousands of miles away from her jacket in the UK, but finds herself thinking about it from time to time as she manages the chronic condition even while delighting in her colors. I also love Ms. Firman’s depiction of what synesthesia looks like to her in her series, “That Which Cannot Be Said With Words.” It’s an important update, a digital age update, of Kluver’s Form Constants, to my mind. Form constants are geometric patterns which are recurringly observed during hallucinations and altered states of consciousness as well as synesthesia.

In 1926 Heinrich Kluver drew up a diagram of what the synesthesia looked like in subjects he induced with peyote, a psychoactive drug. He put them in four categories: lattices (including honeycombs, checkerboards and triangles); cobwebs, tunnels and spirals. Though he noted the colors were bright and saturated, the chart he produced was nothing of the sort. Ms. Firman’s work captures the astonishing light that appears in synesthetic “photisms” or what neuroscientists call the forms we see and suggest their motility as well.

Kluver’s Form Constants have interesting shapes but none of the color, light nor motion of Ms. Firman’s work.

A self-described “creative international hobo,” Ms. Firman earned her MFA last year in visual studies at the University at Buffalo. She has a BA in Art: Commercial Design, Photography/Electronic Media from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. She is now the Artist in Residence at Westbury Studios, Milton Keynes, England, after just having been the International Artist in Residence at Digital Art Studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Though she finds inspiration all around her, Ms. Firman often uses synesthesia as a platform for her work.

“Synesthesia provides a consistent and unique interface with which I perceive the world,” she told me last week in an email. “It offers connections to science as research continues to discover and redefine what synesthetes experience. It also places me into an inquisitive, open community of scientists, musicians, artists, writers, and a wide range of curious and descriptive synesthetes who provide inspiration and friendship”