Sensory Entanglements: New Cross Cultural and Cross-Disciplinary Directions in the Creation and Evaluation of Multi-Sensorial Experience

Principal Investigator
Chris Salter, Research Chair in New Media, Technology and the Senses

David Howes, Sociology and Anthropology / Centre for Sensory Studies
Constance Classen, Centre for Sensory Studies
Marcelo Wanderley, Director, Interaction Design and Musical Instrument Laboratory, Faculty of Music, McGill University
Jennifer Biddle, National Institute for Experimental Arts, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Project Description

Sensory Entanglements will make an important contribution to indigenizing the humanities, social sciences and fine arts through collaborative, creative, practice-led research. The research team is radically intercultural and transdisciplinary: First Nations/Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, artists, innovators and activists. The team will collaborate across otherwise policed disciplinary and identity boundaries in order to generate a unique, experimental research-creation laboratory. This expert collective seeks to elicit, interpret and experimentally model Indigenous ways of sensing as expressed through art and analyzes the distinctive forms of sociality they support. Collective research will take shape across all the phases of the research project, including cross-cultural, interdisciplinary workshops on multi-sensorial dimensions in new media art practice; the design and building of the experimental multi-sensorial installations, intercultural ethnographic and sensory research on audience “reception” and the development of original data, sensory ethnography and writing up of research findings (conference papers, symposia, monograph).

The Indigenous members of the team include

Cheryl L’Hirondelle (waynohtÃaw) is a community-engaged and award winning Indigenous interdisciplinary artist, singer/songwriter and new media curator. Her creative practice is an investigation of the junction of a Cree worldview (nêhiyawin) in contemporary time space.

Brenda L. Croft, Gurindji/Malgnin/Mudpurra peoples (curator, arts writer and photographer). Croft currently holds a named chair as Australian Research Council Indigenous Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, COFA, UNSW. She is formerly Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia, recently curator of ‘Stop(the)gap: international Indigenous art in motion’ and recipient of the 2013 Deadlys Award for Visual Artist of the Year.

r e a is a self-defined “artist, curator, activist, academic, cultural educator.” Her work works across and between new media, experimental photography, cinematography, installation and sculpture. She is the previous recipient of many international grants and has exhibited in major international venues including the Venice Biennale. She completed a Master of Science in Digital Imaging and Design, at (CADA), New York University in 2004.

Aims and Scope

The senses mediate our relationship with the world and each other. But we rarely reflect on how they do so or the role of culture in shaping our ways of sensing. Sensory Entanglements is an innovative research-creation program exploring the ways in which different cultural, social and technical ‘ways’ inform the sensing body. The research team is composed of Canadian and Australian First Nations/Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and designers, anthropologists and music technologists working with new gestural and haptic interfaces, among other media. Our aim as a team is to constitute an intercontinental, experimental, transdisciplinary laboratory to achieve two objectives:

(1) research and empirically document new collective, intercultural knowledge about and through the senses and;

(2) use research-creation practice as a testing ground for exploring the affective, cognitive and bodily impact of sensory difference (i.e., the fact that different cultures “sense” differently).

In order to accomplish these objectives, the project has three phases:

1. Development of a sensory archive pertaining to select Indigenous cultures of former Commonwealth countries Canada and Australia through a sensory analysis of the historical and anthropological record regarding those cultures.

2. Use of the archive to develop two-three multisensory, portable, immersive environments that explore all of the senses also using living stories and new body-based technologies such as haptics (touch) and sensor-based gestural interfaces along with smell, taste, proprioception and other sensory modalities.

3. Exhibition and sensory ethnographic evaluation of the research-creation component of the project in three contexts in Canada, Australia and the US (art gallery, Indigenous art center and the American Anthropological Association’s “Inno-vents” conference program).

The works will be developed and evaluated using both iterative design and sensory ethnography methodologies. (Cheryl L’Hirondelle, r e a, Brenda Croft) and graduate students across three universities in computer based art and design, engineering, music technology, anthropology and sensory studies. With the project, we seek to intertwine archival and historical research, lived intercultural stories, new technology and new methods derived from sensory ethnography to enable a frontier creative-arts/design research platform for exploring how sense based research-creation might serve the purposes of Indigenous artists and community members. The project will provide radically counter-archival possibilities (beyond text and film) and emphasize the importance of sensory modalities at risk today.

Outcomes include the artistic works deployed in international contexts (anthropology conference, Indigenous art and university based galleries), a scholarly monograph, conference presentations and training of graduate students between art, social sciences, engineering and the artistic humanities.

“Sensory Entanglements” is generously spported by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the period 2015-2019