[ISEA2020] Paper: Géraldine Piguet & Aleksandra Kaminska — Odorama V2: Prototyping Touch-Smell Synesthesia to Promote Neurocognitive Empathy


Keywords: Research-creation, Synesthesia, Perception, Inclusion, Prototype,Media, Mediation, Neurodiversity, DIY, Making, Arduino

Perception is not objective, uniform, or universal. Indeed, as we know from those with the synesthesia — a neurological condition where one sense will automatically trigger another — sensory perceptions of the world vary greatly among individuals. This opens the door to questions about which aspects of our “realities” are shared, and about individual vs collective sensory experiences of the world. Like any persons who exhibit a difference, synesthetes are often misunderstood or excluded by others. This concern was the starting point for the Odorama V2 prototype that we created and that is presented here. Using an Arduino microcontroller, we aimed to simulate a synesthetic experience as a way to promote empathy for neurodiverse perceptions of the world. Specifically, the goal was to produce a prototype that could simulate touchsmell synesthesia, and in this process, provide a reflection on the synesthetic experience, on the senses of smell and touch and, unexpectedly, the limitations of “maker” culture. Finally, we assess how the making of the prototype in itself raised awareness of synesthesia and neurodiversity, confirming the importance of community and process in research-creation methodologies.

  • Géraldine Piguet has a Master’s degree from the Department of Communication at the University of Montreal, Canada, as well as a Master’s degree in Cultural Policies and Management in Europe from Paris 8 University, France. In addition, she has been working for nonprofits for about ten years.
  • Aleksandra Kaminska in Assistant Professor in Media Studies and Research-Creation in the Department of Communication at the University of Montreal, Canada, where she is a co-founder of the Bricolab. She recently co-edited a special issue of PUBLIC Art / Culture / Ideas on the theme Biometrics: Mediating Bodies (Spring 2020), and is currently writing a book on security printing and aesthetics.