Interart / Intersensorium. On the Interrelation of Media and the Senses

This panel, then, seeks to push this area further, particularly emphasizing the role of media and medialization: Brian Massumi’s and Mark Hansen’s work, for example, despite its significance, continues to employ an undifferentiated notion of “embodiment“ to describe intersensorial perception.
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Anke Finger
Chair Person: 
Christiane Heibach
Randall Packer
Cretien van Campen
Birgit Mersmann

Chair: Prof. Dr. Anke Finger
2nd Chair: Dr. Christiane Heibach

Interart Studies has established itself as a field wherein scholars from a variety of disciplines analyze the interrelation between different art forms based on historically divergent concepts of mono- and intermediality. Intermediality, in turn, denotes interrelated strategies of different media designs that generate new forms of presentation and reception modes – modes that amount to more than just an accumulation of the media involved. To cite one example: the integration of film/video in some theatre performances today merges 3-D-(the stage) and 2-D-(the screen) technologies. This interrelation not only changes the stage design, but also affects the actors’ performances as they interact with each other while maintaining visibility in front of the screen. This simultaneity demands increased attention to both natural (the co-actors) and technical media (film/video) – and, by default, the same applies to the reception modes of the audience.

Consequently, the notion of intermediality comprises media presentation strategies and intersensorial perception modes.  This new phenomenon or trend is, as of yet, barely accounted for in Interart Studies, excepting a few notable models such as Caroline A. Jones’s concept of “sensorium” that relates sensorial perception to cultural medialization. Intersensorial perception, nonetheless, is currently emerging as a prominent area in various disciplines, showcasing new phenomenological approaches.

This panel, then, seeks to push this area further, particularly emphasizing the role of media and medialization: Brian Massumi’s and Mark Hansen’s work, for example, despite its significance, continues to employ an undifferentiated notion of “embodiment“ to describe intersensorial perception. As a result, they ignore the differences of sensorial data, which anchor sense perceptions in diverse cultural contexts. Additionally, the mediated and hence culturally pre-formed character of sensual perception is mostly disregarded in favour of a concept that embraces a diffuse, immediate sensing process that seems to be ‘pre-medial’ or ‘extra-medial’. At its core, and to highlight the cultural differences of sensorial data, this panel seeks to address current research undertaken by the cognitive sciences to emphasize the intersections of interart and intersensorium as processes of perception that are interlocked with cultural formations – a triangular contamination or reciprocal process much in need of further questioning and examination.

Paper Abstracts

Unmediated Experience? Re-Mediating Phenomenological Approaches

by Dr. Christiane Heibach

Phenomenological approaches have become very prominent within the last few years.  One reason for that might be that multimedia art demands multisensory modes of perception that challenge the traditional epistemological models that focus on visual perception and inner imaginative processes. They rely on distant perception and neglect the interrelation between sensory data and their individual interpretation in the perciever’s mind. Furthermore perception is the result of the interrelation between multisensory perception and emotional, sub- and preconscious processes – and this is emphasized by some contemporary phenomenological approaches. But their concepts mostly understand physical/sensory experience as immediate, that means: unmediated. From a mediatheoretical point of view unmediated experience doesn’t exist as we only perceive through media – be it the human body or the air which transports sound waves and light or the technical media we use for communication and information distribution. The question my presentation will address is the following: How can multisensory and bodily experience be combined with concepts of media without falling back into the classical epistemological subject-object division? And what kind of perception model is needed to be able to explain the complexity of our daily multimedia environment? 

Intermedia and the Awareness of Synesthesia

by Dr. Cretien van Campen

Synesthesia has received much attention in science, art and in particular in the overlapping fields of digital art and intermedia in the last decades. Artists and scientists in these fields share a common interest in human perception. In the arts, synesthesia refers to a range of phenomena of simultaneous perception of two or more stimuli as one gestalt experience. In neuroscience, synesthesia is more strictly defined as the elicitation of perceptual experiences in the absence of the normal sensory stimulation.

About one in twenty-three persons has a type of ‘neurological’ synesthesia. Over 60 types have been reported, and people differ in intensity of the experience. The most common type of synesthesia is colored weekdays, while the type of perceiving colored letters and numbers is most studied by scientists, and the type of colored sound and music is most explored by artists.

The neuroscientific definition of synesthesia limits the number of so-called ‘synesthetes’ to 4% in the population. This number contrasts with the large amount of people who are interested in art forms that present synesthetic experiences to the public.

This raises questions like: is synesthesia genetically fixed at birth? Or is there a range of types of synesthetic perceptions in which a genetical disposition for synesthesia can be developed? How wide is that range? How do biological, social and cultural factors interact in this process? How do people develop different synesthetic sensibilities? Slightly different from the current neuroscientific view on ‘neurological synesthesia’, I will propose a view on synesthesia that also includes social and cultural interactions, which I assume will account better for individual differences in the awareness of synesthesia.

The Artist as Sensory Machine in the Post Reality

by Randall Packer

In what I have come to refer to as the post reality, we have become a society of “super-participants” – appropriating, amplifying and redirecting information via the social media. In the post reality, the super-participant feeds on user feedback, in which everything they do, think, and say is captured and processed and remixed and re-broadcast – their every sensory impulse is connected and re-connected to the unblinking eye of the electronic media.  As a result, I have concluded it is imperative in the current epoch that the artist must now find new techniques and methodologies to more fully embrace multimedia and its pervasiveness or else become ineffectual as an artist. This necessity is akin to László Moholy-Nagy’s urgent view of the gesamtkunstwerk in the early 20th century when he declared: "What we need is not the gesamtkunstwerk alongside and separate from which life flows by, but a synthesis of all the vital impulses spontaneously forming itself into the all embracing gesamtwerk (life) which abolishes all isolation, in which all individual accomplishments proceed from a biological necessity and culminate in a universal necessity." There is now the necessity for a current day gesamtkunstwerk, or gesamtdatenwerk as Roy Ascott has called it, in which the artist moves beyond abstraction, beyond representation, beyond the suspension of disbelief: the artist becomes, in effect, fully engaged as a sensory machine. To demonstrate this idea and its implication, I will organize and present a multi-sensory reading – a rhythmical, visual, textual, gestural reading – that reflects on current artistic thought concerning the artist’s role (and responsibility) in responding to and commenting on the transformative effects of the post real condition.

Sensorial Transcoding. Hypermodal Configurations of Perception and Expression in Electronic Art

by Birgit Mersmann

The novel transmedial as media-transgressing quality of electronic interart forms is reciprocally related to their growing multimodal potency. As Brian Massumi has highlighted when reflecting on the situation of media in crisis, “the digital isn’t a medium. (…) Digital technology is an expanding network of connective and fusional potential. You can take an input in any sense modality, and translate or transduce it into another.” (Massumi 2008) Drawing upon this transmedia approach, the paper studies inter/actions of sensorial transcoding as fundamental condition of digitality. 

On the basis of contemporary electronic art by artists from different cultural backgrounds (among them Golan Levin, Hung Keung, Kim Kichul), it will investigate the simultaneous translations and mutual transitions between sensory perceptions and expressions on different modal complexity levels such as speaking and writing, listening and reading, sounding and hearing, visualizing and viewing, touching and sensing. The purpose of this sensorial transcoding analysis is threefold: 1. to ponder how a new theory of digital synaesthetics can be built on the category and concept of hypermodality, 2. to explore the connectivity mode between digital abstraction and digital embodiment, and 3. to discern the universal and culture-determined components of the codification of (multi)sensory experience.

Beauty and the brain

by Prof. Semir Zeki

Subjective experiences, which have not been amendable to experimental measurements in the past can now be measured in terms of brain activity and related to the intensity of the declared experiences. This influences a new chapter in the study of the brain and its activity in relation to experiences such as love, hate, desire and beauty in addition to the study of perception, which is itself a subjective experience

The Avant-Gardes' Everyday Sensorium: On Tasting and Smelling Modernism

by Anke Finger

This paper adds to an increasing trend reinvestigating modernism on the basis of the 'ordinary' or the 'everyday'. However, based on the scholarship of Madalina Diaconu, Yuriko Saito, Caroline Jones, Cecilia Novero, John Roberts, and others, the purpose here, explicitly, is to uncover an everyday aisthetic within avant-garde movements and to highlight and examine those senses, those modes and media of perception that, in a long aesthetic and philosophical tradition, have been marginalized: the senses of taste and smell. While a Western material cultural studies focus detected many inspiring connections between modernism and consumption, corresponding analyses of avant-garde movements and their products have been burdened by an overemphasis on the visual and the auditory. Over time, they also hardly questioned the methodological angles by which a certain epistemological tradition of avant-garde scholarship has taken place. This paper, in working with select art products from Futurism (Marinetti's cookbook), Expressionism (Claire Goll), Surrealism (Guillaume Apollinaire) and a number of lesser known works and artists, emphasizes an intersensory and interarts approach to the avant-gardes and their media. It will show that the question of everyday aesthetics in modernism is invariably intertwined with the cultural habits or ruptures of everyday aisthetics and should inspire explorations into an atmospherically oriented modernism of overlapping life-worlds (Lebenswelten) that remains to be defined.

Bios of the Participants

Cretien van Campen

Cretien van Campen is scientific researcher, author and editor in social science and fine arts. He is affliated as a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research and moderator of Synesthetics Netherlands, the web community of synesthetes in the Netherlands. He is editor of the Leonardo online bibliography Synesthesia in Art and Science. His latest book is The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science (MIT  Press 2007). He has published in the fields of the senses, perception & art  and health, happines & well-being.

Anke Finger

Anke Finger is Associate Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include German and Comparative Modernism, Interart Studies/Literature and Other Arts, Avant-Gardes, Aesthetics, Media Theory and Philosophy, Interculturality and Comparative Literature. Recent publications: The Aesthetics of the Total Artwork: On Borders and Fragments (ed., with Danielle Follett, 2011); Das Gesamtkunstwerk der Moderne (2006); Vilém Flusser: An Introduction (with Rainer Guldin and Gustavo Bernardo (2011)). She is co-editor of the online-journal “Flusser Studies: Multilingual Journal on Cultural and Media Theory”.

Christiane Heibach

Christiane Heibach is a researcher in aesthtics, media and literary studies at at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. Since 2009 she is conducting her own research project “Epistemology of Multimedia”, funded by the German Research Foundation and is Research Fellow at the HfG-Research Institute. In 2007 she completed her habilitation on multimedia performing art forms at the department of Comparative Literary Studies and Media at the University of Erfurt where she worked as assistant professor until 2008. Research fields: Mediaepistemology, aesthetics of new media, history and aesthetics of intermedia and multimedia art forms, history of aesthetic communication, modern and contemporary media and literary theories.
Websites (German):,;

Birgit Mersmann

Birgit Mersmann holds a professorship in non-Western and European Art at the international Jacobs University in Bremen since 2008. From 2005 to 2007 she was a senior researcher of the National Competence Centre of Research “Iconic Criticism" at the University of Basel, Switzerland, investigating “iconoscriptures” as hybrid symbolic forms and inter-media expressions between image and writing. From 1998 to 2002 she taught as DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Visiting Professor at the department of German language and literature at Seoul National University in South Korea. Research foci include image and media theory, visuality and narration, art theory and aesthetics, contemporary East Asian and Western art, global art history, transculturality, translation studies, interrelations between script and image.

Last publications:
B.M., Alexandra Schneider (Eds.): Transmission Image. Visual Translation and Cultural Agency, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009; B.M., Thomas Weber (Eds.): Mediologie als Methode, Berlin: Avinus, 2008; Gottfried Boehm, B.M., Christian Spies (Eds.): Movens Bild. Zwischen Affekt und Evidenz, München: Fink, 2008; B.M., Das Bild als Spur. Transgressionen und Animationen, in: Hans Belting (Ed.): Bildfragen. Die Bildwissenschaften im Aufbruch, München, 2007; B.M./Martin Schulz (Ed.): Kulturen des Bildes, München: Fink, 2006; B.M., Bildkulturwissenschaft als Kulturbildwissenschaft? Von der Notwendigkeit eines inter- und transkulturellen Iconic Turn, in: Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, Heft 49/1, Hamburg 2004.

Randall Packer

Randall Packer is an internationally acclaimed multimedia artist and composer, creating works that have pioneered the integration of interactive media, installation, and live performance. His work has been performed and exhibited at galleries, museums, theaters, and festivals throughout the world. In 2001, he founded the US Department of Art & Technology in Washington, DC and was appointed as its first Secretary. Most recently, he received a commission to debut his multimedia theater work, A Season in Hell, at the ZER01/01SJ Biennial in San Jose, California. Packer holds an MFA and PhD in music composition and has taught multimedia at the University of California, Berkeley, Maryland Institute College of Art, and American University in Washington, DC. He is now on the faculty of the Advanced Academic Programs at Johns Hopkins University where he teaches the history, theory and practice of multimedia. Packer is a writer and scholar in the field of new media, most notably the co-editor of Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC.

Semir Zeki

Professor Semir Zeki is now Professor of Neuroesthetics at University College London, after having served for many years as Professor of Neurobiology there. He pioneered the study of the higher visual areas of the brain, and discovered, among other things, its colour and motion centres and hence the functional specialization within it.  More recently, he has expanded his work to enquire into the neural correlates of aesthetic and artistic experience. In addition to his published scientific papers, he is author of A Vision of the Brain, Inner Vision: an exploration of art and the brain, and Splendours and Miseries of the Brain, and co-author with the late French painter Balthus of La Quête de l'essentiel and with Ludovica Lumer of La bella e la bestia: arte e neuroscienza.  His artistic work is currently on exhibit at the Luigi Pecci Museum of Contemporary Art in Milan: Bianco su bianco: oltre Malevich (White on White: Beyond Malevich). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Foreign Member of the American Philosophical Society. He was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Biology in 2004 for his work on the brain, and founded the Institute for Neuroesthetics in London and California.