Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Multisensory engagements...Reflections

Having rambled on un-academically about Alex Rhys-Taylor’s observations, I have obsessively spent the past couple of weeks pondering over how to take his research findings further. I have become fascinated by how adopting a multi-sensory approach to empirical research leads to a fuller picture being generated of the phenomena at hand (in an urban context or otherwise).
Various researchers from the field of neuroscience and psychology hail the stimulation of all five senses as being responsible for a number of biological and cognitive developments. Willis (2012)[1] states that multisensory stimulation has the ability to magnify memory storage and retrieval, as information from each sense is stored in a different part of the brain, different ways of reviewing the same material leads to the creation of more nerve cell circuits to connect the similar pieces of information. Thus, individual’s with a multisensory experience of phenomena are able to access, retrieve and thus articulate their memory of that experience more clearly and cohesively.

As an avid art researcher, I am intrigued as to how developing a multisensory approach to art leads to art spectators to potentially being able to articulate the ineffable. Or as Mos Def puts it, "good art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can't articulate".

A quick definition – immersive installations are a space which has been recreated for an artistic purpose, typically created in order to augment a particular concept or theme. The immersive element of installation art was first encountered in the 1950s, with the most famous example being that of Walt Disney’s Disneyland, designed to immerse the visitor in a cartoon-esque alternative reality. Fast forward sixty years and artists are using immersive installations as a means to often more complex and interdisciplinary ends. Take the Helen Storey Foundation’s Eye & I installation for example, a room within a room with specially trained actors pulling genuine emotions[2]  behind eye slots to bewildered spectators. Or even Thomas Hirshhorn’s current exhibition at the South London Gallery, Gramscian inspired destruction made out of cardboard and box tape. We can understand, according to the descriptions on the artist’s websites, what the themes and concepts behind each installation piece are, but are these the same overarching themes and concepts experienced by the spectator themselves, if not, how can we maximise the spectators experience? Will educating a group of purveyor’s prior to entering an immersive installation art exhibition? Or does this detract from the impulsive interpretations that frame spectators understandings?

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