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Lemon and High Frequencies

Berlin artist Portrait XO's self-awareness helps her better understand others.

Portrait XO, an artist from Los Angeles now living in Berlin, Germany, has a strong mastery of the latest technology—from artificial intelligence to augmented reality—which she wields for her art. But she posits that she has not forsaken her humanity for it. In fact, she says, learning how her brain works—especially through her synaesthesia and her use of cutting-edge media—has not only helped her gain a better sense of self but also higher levels of empathy for others.

Courtesy the artist.
Portrait XO
Source: Courtesy the artist.

“Understanding how many micro differences we have in the way we perceive and process the world has helped me become even more aware of what really goes on inside myself,” she explains.

“I always felt detached and misunderstood during most of my upbringing. I never felt like I fit in anywhere and got constantly picked on for being hypersensitive," she continues. "Once I started understanding exactly how I'm hypersensitive and how my synaesthesia works, it's given me a way to experience everything more mindfully with a new appreciation for details. Being able to translate life through my senses in creative ways has increased my own levels of empathy as I gain better knowledge about how different we really are.”

It was a pleasure learning the answers to the following questions from this gifted performer and sensitive human being.

When did you first learn that you have synaesthesia?

Around 2015. I met another artist with synaesthesia named Adam John Williams. When he explained a few different forms of synaesthesia that he had, I was shocked to understand that such a word existed. I realised that it's something I always knew I had but never knew how to articulate; I assumed everyone could also taste sounds and hear flavors.

Which forms of the trait do you have?

Taste to flavors (and vice versa) and colors to flavors and sounds.

What is the value of synaesthesia to an artist—or to anyone?

I think for anyone [it helps them] to have a better understanding of how we function and perceive the world as subjective experiences. These detailed understandings of how we function as individuals help us navigate our way through life in a much clearer way.

When I found out about my synaesthesia and dug deeper to understand what was actually happening, it was like the feeling of having my ears cleaned and I could suddenly hear frequencies I was missing.

As a music artist, I learned that eating lemon while mixing music was a bad idea because high frequencies always taste like lemon to me. When I eat lemon while mixing music, I tend to cut away high frequencies too much; I think it's because my ears become more sensitive to them. Now I know not to eat lemon while mixing.

Do you think we should educate synaesthetes differently?

I would love for schools, organizations, and businesses to understand synaesthesia. It would be great especially for young kids to learn their micro-differences of how they experience the world at an earlier age. I'd love to see schools introduce some earlier tests and experiments with children that help gauge different ways they might be experiencing the world around them. This could help teachers understand why some kids might need to learn things in different ways to the standardized norm.

Where can people find your work?

All my work can be found here. And here is an audiovisual piece about my synaesthesia.

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