Ilaria Cinelli







By expressing my colours, I felt completed, and I felt at home during the mission. In this context, enhanced sensory has helped me to cope with monotony, stress, abstract thinking and decision making. Through art, we might end up learning a new type of medicine!

SUBMISSION: The art not-art of synesthesia

Operational stressors of space or those of extreme environments lead to psychological alterations which include sensory monotony, cohesion, motivation and resilience. Art is shown to stimulate abstract thinking while letting the crewmember free to take the initiative in expressing feelings or emotions. This, in turn, is found to be beneficial for boosting creativity and decision making in isolation.


Synesthesia is a natural condition in which the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to simultaneous involuntary stimulation of a second sensory or cognitive pathway. The art not-art of synesthesia was produced during an analogue mission at the Mars Desert Research Station in winter 2018.


Up to date, little is known about synesthesia in space and analogue missions. This artwork is not limited to communicate feelings and emotions, but it shows the potential benefit of synesthesia as a coping mechanism to isolation, specifically to sensory monotony and abstract thinking.   


The energy flow and physical sensations, experienced when on extra-vehicular activity (EVA), are painted on a spacesuit. The energy body flow is one of the most representative sensations of the inner-well being on EVA. Indeed, the spacesuit acts like an interface that diminishes natural sensation in relation to the surrounding environment, leading to sensory/perceptual deprivation. Then, physical sensations are painted because of the feeling of pain and cold redirect energy body flow and focus of the mind.   


The painted colours are those seen through synesthesia on EVA where letters and numbers are associated with colours. Here, priority is given in representing the primary colour of a small number of words due to the limited type of colours available on the mission. The selected words are those whose meaning is the most representative of an inner state of energy and emotions. Hence, the green colour is the energy; the white colour is the purpose; the yellow colour is the light; the light blue colour is the heat; the grey colour is the pain; the blue colour is the cold, and the red colour is the force.


The spacesuit was painted in about a week. It is easy to see how the operational stressors of isolation have been impacting the technique, although very elementary. This artwork proves the significance of arts in isolation, where a crewmember with a scientific background is expressing synesthesia.