Cyborg: a documentary (2023) | CPH:DOX

March 18th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Carey Born; Documentary with Neil Harbisson, Moon Ribas, Adam Montandon, Ophelia Dero, Manuel Munoz; UK/US/Spain/Germany 2023, 87 min.

Colour-blind artist Neil Harbisson is the subject of a new documentary premiering at this year’s CPH:DOX, that raises the lid on the relatively new phenomenon of cyborgs: people whose physical capabilities are extended beyond the norm by mechanical elements built into the body. And Harbisson – whose life has changed since he merged into a cyborg existence – now claims to be at the cutting edge of making mankind ready for space travel.

Harbisson, now in his late thirties, was born with achromatism, a rare form of colour blindness. So his parents sent him to Dartington Arts School in Devon where he studied piano and met his partner and collaborator Moon Ribas. They promised to ‘exchange their eyes’ and went on to save trees in Malmo. She witnessed Neil starting to use ear phones designed by product designer Adam Montandon, which helped him to “read” colours.

This first feature documentary for Carey Born then shows how Neil is now able to experience all his senses thanks to an antenna drilled into his brain, although the legality of this process is still shrouded in darkness. At the CEN SES (Centre for the study of Senses) in London. Professor Ophelia Deroy explains the process of antenna implementation that enables Neil to build up a ‘memory’ bank. There are colour identifications, with blue being the most tranquil one, and violet the most violent. According to Neil “These perceptions became my feelings”. The visual and auditory cortex interact and Neil sees a sinfonia of colours.

Neil and Moon make an unorthodox couple. They are now doing up a basement in Barcelona where Moon sleeps on the grand piano. The reason for this is a threat by an unnamed person, who wants to kill the self-proclaimed “First Cyberborg”. But this has not stopped the duo from talkings this further. They have developed a “Solar Crown”, a device enabling them to guide the sense of time, controlling and stretching the perception of time and age, leading to time travel. Their promised ‘eye exchange’ has yet to happen but the two have meanwhile developed a communication system called “Bluetooth”: each of them have a Bluetooth in their mouth, communicating via morse code.

Harbisson is well known for his global exhibitions raising the profile of his colour- scored paintings, transpositions of sound, music, voices and colours. But sometimes there are limitations: during a televised discussion he was proud to share how new device could help him to read the time. Whereas his opponent just pointed to his wristwatch.

Clips from ancient SF films bring some comic relief, and DoP Matthew Akers stays close to the – very happy – couple, who strong emotional bond very much supports their work. Born evokes the spirit of Harbisson’s motto “Design yourself” but she still leaves enough space for the audience to question Harbissons mission on earth in a film that oscillates between wonderment and ridicule: what if he is right after all? AS

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