Most people have heard of synesthesia, a cognitive condition that causes the synesthete to conflate one sense for another, for example to taste colors, or perceive certain letters to light up or have personalities. But it occurred to me, as I stepped into the exhibition space for Pathless Woods, an installation work by synesthetic artist Anne Patterson at the Ringling Museum of Art, that I had always held an abstracted view of what a synesthetic experience might feel like, and never formalized those thoughts in any concrete manner.
The good news is that Patterson has done the job for us, and quite a nice one of it at that, with an installation specifically built for the space at the Ringling. Pathless Woods is simple in its component parts: light, sound, and about 24 miles of ribbon in various colors. The ribbons are hung from the ceiling in a dense grid with fields of hot reds and pinks meshing and contrasting with areas of green, blue, and purple. Video projections by Adam Larsen throw branches, falling rain, and rushing water against the ephemeral and changing scrim of ribbons, while the air is permeated by scents concocted by artist Beau Rhee. The whole scene is soundtracked with composer Michael Gandolfi’s lively orchestral work “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation.” With frequent mood changes, sometimes quiet, and sometimes punctuated by bright horns, it helps invoke in the visitor a version of Patterson’s synesthetic gifts, which happen largely in response to musical stimuli.