Art Culture

Exploring Synesthesia and the Bridge Between Art and Spirit with Nat Girsberger

Nat Girsberger is a Swiss, multi-media artist, who is able to “hear in color” through her gift of synesthesia. Specializing in design, installation and album art, this Brooklyn-based creative is able to make the unconscious, conscious through colorful collage, and works of art that tickle the imagination, and inspire higher realms of being.

“My collages encapsulate the past, present and future to defy the limits of what we perceive. I use retro material that I carefully select to hand-make collages, applying an instinctive, ‘automatic’ process of selecting and arranging. This traditional, analog approach, in conjunction with using vintage imagery, allows me to understand myself as but a construct of my past experiences. Grasping how a confined reality, agreed upon by a collective unconscious, has come to exist then leads to its artistic defiance. I challenge the result of our conditioning by setting my collages in the future. Like the unconscious, this dreamlike realm of time knows no barriers of what is possible, and therefore, frequently clashes with what we selectively perceive. I attempt to find a place where I can defy gravity and explore our planet and solar system. The visual outcome is connected to the core of our truly surreal existence. I create a more satisfying way of existing as a being of the present – a present in which I am quite capable of embracing my inner multiverse.”

Nat Girsberger, artist statement

We recently had a chat with Nat about her work, process and upcoming tarot deck, and thoroughly enjoyed this insightful interview!

Exploring Synesthesia and the Bridge Between Art and Spirit with Nat Girsberger

Nat Girsberger

Your collage work truly feels like a portal into the astral plane. The colors, textures, and composition take you right into a dream state, and are so inspiring! Can you please share how you first fell in love with the medium of collage, and what it means to you?

“Intruders of the Night”, Digital Collage

Thank you so much. I fell in love with collaging because it feels very meaningful on both a personal and universal level of existential questions. That’s all I want to think about, the core of existence, so collaging drew me in.

Collaging on one hand is a direct access point to the unconscious realm for me. The process of layering mirrors the way our psyche stacks experiences, piece after piece. I also love the connection to what Carl Jung defined as the collective unconscious, which I get to tune into by using vintage found material. The material is already charged rather than empty, and I get to work with that energy and color. Furthermore, the mode of the universe is expansion and contraction, constant change. This mode gets adapted by my collage process of selecting and arranging, leading to a physical expansion of the material (covering floors and walls in my studio with ripped out pages) until finally the time comes to reduce and to create and integrate the information into a final piece. That feels like getting to the bottom of everything, if that makes sense.

With the result, I get to playfully defy the limits of my personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, and the current laws of the universe. It’s infinitely rewarding to challenge the boundaries of rationalism and create new worlds, because it shows me the great potential to construct our own reality. It also hints that there’s lots beyond our immediate perception, and beneath what the ego is accustomed to. I love the medium so much. I could go on and on.

You identify as a synesthete, which means you have a visual reaction to sounds. How did you first discover this gift, and when did you begin channeling it into your art?

“Vision Road”, Collage on Paper

I first discovered it in a different expression, I also have colors for numbers, letters and people. My mother and sister have that too so it was talked about early on. I actually didn’t know that I had the sound one until not that long ago –– it’s weird to put this into words because I never thought that my experience of sound was any different from anyone else’s, if that makes sense. My friend, who is a PHD student doing research on synesthesia figured I might have sound touch synesthesia. So I went to extensive testing and learnt more about it and I have been able to be more conscious of it since, so that I can use it for my work, specifically the album covers I make. However, in some sense I think synesthesia has always been part of my imagery because it’s just a sensitivity to colors and playing with them to express myself. So again it’s hard to separate my creativity from that because it’s always been linked — just like my synapses of sound are linked to the ones of color perception.

Which colors do you connect with most during an experience with synesthesia? How would you describe the way you’re able to feel and experience the rainbow?

“Sun and Rising”, Digital Collage

I’m a lot less biased in this realm than usual. It’s a very objective experience and there’s no one color I like to hear more than others. It’s not necessarily seeing the color but feeling it, actually hearing it, if that makes any sense at all. It’s just there you know. However it can get incredible (and overwhelming at times) when there is a color explosion happening. That happens when I listen to bands like Beirut, which is an amazing experience full of rainbows and colors beyond it. With my body reactions to sound, it can get difficult and almost painful for certain sounds. I get overwhelmed quickly in settings that are too loud/ where there’s too many people, and I blame it on my synesthesia, ha.

Do you feel that the particular feelings colors are believed to be connected with (in the spiritual sense of the chakra system, ceremonial magick, etc.) are resonant with your own experiences?

“Close Your Eyes”, Collage on Paper

I think the color association to feelings a) depends on one’s personal unconscious, one’s own experiences with colors and what lies hidden in the psyche. So basically your unconscious associations matter when it comes to colors and that’s also why you have preferences. For example, I don’t use red in my decorating or clothing. I just don’t like it there, but I like to use it in work, and this may be related to some sort of unconscious trauma.

b) I think there are definitely some associations within what Carl Jung defined as the collective unconscious. I am still learning about those. I do very much feel that certain colors are more supportive to my environment.

This is definitely a continuous exploration for me.

What does the process for making musically-based collage art involve?

Album Art for THE COMET IS COMING, at Impulse Records / Universal Music Group.

I listen to the music and get a sense of the prevailing colors, bodily feelings and I try to get absorbed in the subtext of the music as well, listening to unconscious motivations with my inner ear. With those in mind, I start to let my own unconscious (that at this point is a sponge for the song’s unconscious) pick pieces of ripped magazines that match the scheme and my physical reactions, first expanding into a big chaos. I’ll listen to the music the whole time during this process and then I start to assemble. The music creates a transient realm that then gets collapsed into an integrated form by the final composition..

How do you feel, discover and create the specific tones connected to your pieces? Are there any particular instruments you find yourself drawn to?

Honestly it’s very much intuitive. It’s an oceanic feeling and a process that is very much in the moment — a very connected experience. The tones happen naturally when I let them and don’t overthink. When I think too much I hate the result. That can be frustrating at times because I have to be in a place where I can let my inner world emerge naturally — that’s why I meditate and do yoga before working. Mostly, I have an easy time diving into the realm though. I play the piano and sing but I remember that I wanted to play the harp at one point as the tones are very clear to me. I also love the ukulele and the inbetween tones of almost any instrument.

What type of soundscape most inspires your creative process and/or what are some of your favorite songs (or musicians) to create to?

I like indie folk/rock and classic rock mostly but I’m also into classical music and more worldly sound. I love Beirut, a lot of classic rock (that inspired my medium actually) like The Beatles, Pink Flloyd, Led Zeppelin etc. I also love The Avett Brothers, Mandolin Orange, First Aid Kit, Beach House, Buena Vista Social Club, the Fleet Foxes, the Xx, Fourtet, and so many more. On the classical side I love Debussy, Schumann. I’m such a spotify addict. Music can make or break my day.

You mention that your process is a type of “automatic-collaging”, similar to automatic writing. Do you feel as though most of your work is “channeled” and if so, do you ever receive specific messages or does it feel more abstract?

Absolutely, I think we all have that ability if we just let it happen. It feels very abstract and it kind of just pours out of me because I gave up resisting it after a while. Basically, the collage happens after the expension at that very moment that I think ‘today, it’s just not gonna happen’. When my ego gets out of the way, it finally makes room for the energetic process. I think we all have a connection to the universal part within and can allow it to teach us. However, in my way it’s mostly imagery rather than specific messages, kind of like dream imagery or the way we think in images.

What is your personal connection to the mystical realm, and how has it affected your path?

“Perspectives”, Collage on Paper

I believe and have experienced what I call our universal interconnectedness. I like the word consciousness a lot more than god or divinity, because those often get associated with dogma and I’m not a fan. But in the end it’s all the same to me, that meaningful inner spark that we all have that stems from one universal source. I don’t think that there is one universal truth but that it is constantly evolving with us, consciousness therefore changing. This goes along with my belief in freedom and being free to find our own truths. I have been very much into connecting to the mystical and deeper, existential realms from a young age on, through rituals, meditation, breath techniques, dreams etc. etc. There’s so much for us to learn and it’s what I really care to think about.

You’ve also mentioned you’re currently working on a tarot deck, which we are so excited to learn more about! Can you please elaborate on what the deck will be exploring, and what inspired the work?

Thanks so much! I’m really excited to make the tarot deck, which is based on the Marseilles Tarot. The deck will be about tuning in to find the answers are already there, and growing to expand our full potentials beyond the walls of our physical body. It is both for people seasoned in the tarot and beginners that don’t take it as seriously. I want to make tarot accessible to everyone, because I think it carries value for all – it carries as much meaning as you let it. It’s also just a beautiful object that is made with a lot of love.

When can we expect to see the deck released into the world?

I’d say it will be out in around 3-4 months.

Which cards in the major or minor arcana do you relate to most, and why?

The high priestess. She manages to align the unconscious and conscious realms, which is my dream for the planet. I am also a fan of ‘the fool’ and hope I can have his energy to approach every new situation with. And the star — this card was made for artists I feel.

Do you have any advice or wisdom for creative minds looking to go within and explore the relationship between art and spirit?

“Core Consciousness”, Digital Collage

To evolve as a human being and let your art be inspired by that. To find a mindfulness practice like yoga and meditation. To do things that are unrelated to art and then see what happens, rather than only focusing on the craft (however do focus also). To read wisdom books and philosophy and cherry pick from them to start to create your understanding of the world, what works from you. With that, start discerning your purpose –– why do you think you are in this world and what do you want to enhance, contribute, intensify etc? Once you get that clarity, create art accordingly, and during the process, make work about finding it.

What can we expect to see in the future? Do you have any fun events, or gallery shows coming up?

I have another solo show coming up in Brooklyn that I’ll share more about soon. I’d like to take my recent Manhattan exhibit ‘Close your Eyes’ abroad and I’m talking to a few gallerists in Switzerland (where I was born and raised). I’m also working on an immersive 3D installation with performance artist Domenica Garcia. Once my tarot deck is out I’d like to organize a reading, so more about that, soon.

How can we learn more about your work?

I’m pretty active on Instagram @natgirsberger and I have an email newsletter that you can sign up for on my website where I share some exclusive thoughts and special offers. I also share pieces of my process on my websites blog section natgirsberger.com/collageblog.

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