… Where’s the sense in multisensory art?

Tate-SensoriumIt used to be known as ‘synaesthesia’; now ‘crossmodal perception’ is the scientific term for the ability of one sense to stimulate another. Experiments by Oxford University psychologists and researchers in New York have found links between reactions to sound and smell in the part of the brain known as the google_ad_height = 90; ‘olfactory tubercle’. It may sound like a plug of mucus in a brass

instrument, but apparently it’s highly sensitive. When one researcher banged his coffee mug down next to the laboratory mice src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> whose olfactory google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; reflexes he was testing,

​ their smell cells jumped.

Artists, always looking for new angles, have played with crossmodal possibilities for years. But

Park Biennial by infusing the upholstery of a Nissan Sunny
with the designer perfume of a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, and in April this year, for the odour-themed exhibition I’m Here But You’ve Gone staged


by the Fiorucci Art Trust in a Sloane Avenue townhouse, Mary Ramsden sprayed a black and white room with the scent

of google_ad_height = 90; Panda Sex. I can’t give a nosewitness account, but according to a report in the Evening Standard it

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smelt of baby wipes and posh candles. If that’s what turns pandas on, it’s no wonder they have difficulty breeding.

Now public galleries struggling with


the problem of ADHD-afflicted visitors who’ve lost the ability to focus on
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one thing at a time are

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hoping crossmodality could be the answer. Last summer at Tate Britain the special exhibition Tate Sensorium offered visitors a multisensory tour of

Latham by an ‘Ultrahaptics’ device using ultrasound waves to puff spurts of air, and the sense of taste in front of the Bacon by a ball of chocolate that exploded in the mouth into a gritty mix of edible charcoal, cocoa grains and sea salt, evocative of Bacon’s dingy earth palette but rather more exciting.

As we listened, sniffed, felt and munched our way through the darkened rooms, our reactions were recorded on wristbands using lie detector technology to measure electrodermal activity through perspiration. The trouble

was that the technology had no way
of google_ad_width = 970; telling what exactly was getting us in a

sweat. At the exit we were handed readouts of our reactions to the different works. My personal graph
traced a level line of phlegmatic indifference to Hamilton, Latham and Bacon – without a blip for the chocolate
– but went completely
haywire in response
to Bomberg. This led the Sensorium to conclude that

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my /* xin-1 */ “strongest physical reaction was to sound and smell within The Hold”. It didn’t entertain the possibility that my excited response might have been to the visual stimulus of the painting, the only one of the four works selected to reward sustained //--> optical exploration.

There’s a growing assumption in our multimedia age that looking


at pictures is no longer enough. In the 17th century,

successful in making people look at the paintings? Here’s a conversation The Jackdaw’s sound recordist overheard in the ladies’ toilets.


Process Overview:

1: “Did you go to the cinema?”

Girl 2: “What cinema?”

Girl 1: “The one with the film where all the artists talked about their


Girl 2: “Oh no! You mean I missed the main


Laura Gascoigne