Synesthesia Debuts on Global Stage with Rome Installation

Synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon which occurs in the human brain where physical connections between neurons intertwine. This phenomenon — which evokes a sense of place by combining sight, sensation, movement, touch, memory, and perception — is the focus of a multisensory, interactive installation project which aims to capture these experiences.

Led by Severino Alfonso and Loukia Tsafoulia and of the College of Architecture & the Built Environment’s Synesthetic Research & Design Lab, the spherical “blob” acts as a three-dimensional cinema. The interactive installation is a living organism producing dynamic, unexpected, and sensorial experiences, never static nor predetermined.

It has been exhibited locally as well as recently at the European Cultural Center, as part of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale and exhibited in The Forum of Trajan in Rome, Italy. On April 21, it was unveiled as part of the Natale di Roma celebrations which marked the 2,775th anniversary of the founding of Rome by Romulus.

Severino Alfonso and Loukia Tsafoulia

Dr. Ignazio Marino is the executive vice president of international strategic ventures, executive director at the Jefferson Italy Center, professor of surgery at Sidney Kimmel Medical College and former mayor of Rome. He noted how the Forum of Trajan was never offered to an artist or institution showcasing a modern sculpture. “I had the idea of revealing Synesthesia in the Forum of Trajan as a symbol of the relationship between homo sapiens and the artificial machine intelligence during a pandemic.” This idea, he said, was supported by the Mayor of Rome and the exhibition’s cost was fully funded by a special grant from the City.

Illustrating the uniqueness, the event — which drew quite a bit of attention in Rome — produced a striking contrast between a modern and highly technological sculpture sitting close to the 2,000-year-old statues of Roman Senators.

“Synesthesia is a wonderful example of Jefferson’s Nexus Learning approach of active, interdisciplinary collaboration,” says Barbara Klinkhammer, Executive Dean of the College of Architecture & Built Environment, of an effort which brought together students from architecture, interior design, industrial design, fashion, textiles, engineering, and other disciplines. “We couldn’t be happier that Jefferson’s global initiatives have enabled more people to experience Synesthesia.”