MFA Student Tahira Karim to Present at Universidad Complutense, Madrid

Beyond Vision
Illustration of exhibit Design Beyond Vision, Tahira Karim

MFA Transdisciplinary New Media 2nd year student Tahira Karim will give a talk on Image Memories and Sensory Recall: the ability of multi-sensorial fine arts to aid in perspective expansion.

The conference will be held at the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain by the Global Knowledge Academics: International Congress on Arts and Cultures on November 28 and 29, 2019.

We presently live in a world where… with the current advances in technology and media, time seems to go faster. We meet many more people in our day to day lives. And we are flooded with seas of images everywhere we turn. Though it is common knowledge that we prioritize our sense of sight, to cement this point, most of us will spend an average of 6-8 hours daily in front of a screen (Fisher, 2019). So what amongst these seas of thousands of images captures our attention? This is a question for artists, it is a question for writers, it is a question for teachers. For architects. And going back to that question, what really sticks out for us in our futures?

We know through the analysis of data and self-reflection that we as humans are spending more and more time in front of screens, we also know via data, that the youth today are spending on experiences (Morgan, 2019). Full bodied sensorial experiences like travel, gourmet meals, sky diving, flying, spa days, and other immersions (Heckstall, 2017). Because in a world that is moving so fast, what we have, that stays with us, are our memories of ourselves with others and if with only ourselves, experiences that are tailored for us and which reflect ourselves or help us grow.

Currently in Canada there is a large trend of youth participating in sky diving and other extreme sports (Westhead, 2019). In France, many more youth are partaking in leaving town to go hiking in scenic areas with fresh country smells, and songs of birds (Mabilleau, 2017). And in Peru, the youth are partaking in innovative and experimental food experiences as well as reviving old festival and cultural traditions (Vargas, 2018).

In Cusco for example the revival of the Pachamama (an old Incan tradition of celebration of the mother earth by way of natural, respectful offering) and in which incense is burned, natural items gathered and offered to the mountain, and drinks taken in memory of the past and the now has become extremely popular again both with tourists and with local persons, most especially the youth (Ontiveros, 2019; Morales, 2017).

Our experiences create our memories. All of these experiences I’ve just mentioned affect our visual sensory pathway, but more-so they also affect such sensory pathways of smell, touch, taste, and hearing. And because these experiences affect many sensorial neural paths at once, we can recall these memories, also, through various neural pathways. For example the smell of incense can bring back my memory of a Pachamama, the sight of mountains or of mounds of potatoes can also bring back those memories, and that particular drink that I drank at those mountains may also pull at these memories. Due to being able to recall thus via various pathways, we are able to access these memories in a deeper and more visceral way.

Illustration of brain and olfactory connection, Tahira Karim

Now of course we do use all (as many as possible) of our senses at various points through the day. The problem is that we often do not take the time to fine tune our sense of touch, taste and smell, as much as we hone our hearing, or our sense of sight in a fully conscious way (Classen & Howes, 2003). Thus taste, smell, and touch are often “forgotten” senses.

When we begin to train and fine tune all of our senses, they can add levels of new perspective, and enjoyment to our experiences (Max Planck, 2015). With this idea of fine tuning our senses I am going to further expand on the sense of smell which tends to be one of the forgotten senses.

In embryo stage (for example a 6 weeks old fetus) (Mayo Clinic, 2019) small bones, cartilage, blood vessels, nerve endings, and air chambers are forming. By the time our nose is developed and functioning, it contains around 10 million olfactory receptor neurons and olfactory receptors that bind to various odor molecules. Cilia and olfactory receptors reach the limbic system (old part of the brain) via neurons. And the olfactory bulbs and cortex directly link to many parts of the brain all at once including the thalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala. The nose is in fact the only sense organ to connect to so many parts of the brain together. This coupled with the information above that the nose connects deeply with the oldest part of the brain means that new memories around scent are fully formed memory in an instant (Ray, 2018; Herz, 2008).

I will delve further into the basic implications of this knowledge in regard to the multi-sensorial through some examples. To start with, I will discuss a “Werther’s Original”, a smooth caramel candy. For many youth in Canada, this candy would remind them of childhood. The sound of the wrapper being opened might trigger a reminder of older aunts and uncles who always carried these candies around. The taste of this candy is warm, sugary, and buttery, drumming up feelings of comfort and memories of family gatherings. And it’s vanilla caramel scent reminds of coziness, and home. This small sensorial experience is nostalgic, and being able to access it via various sensory pathways has allowed the accessing of deeper memories.

This may seem rudimentary, but if we think about our memories as a collection of experiences and images, and we work on our sensory training, this new way of thinking can be a catalyst for collecting memory images (via all our senses) that are both more powerful and which can be accessed via many more pathways, perhaps even changing the way in we approach and experience life.

As another example, take the retrospective exhibit “Pixel Forest” (2016) by Pipilotti Rist. This exhibit was multi-sensorial in nature, with various large screen videos to watch, cushions to use, and a digital light seaweed “forest” to walk through (Azarello, 2017). This exhibit allowed for visitors to experience Rist’s work via visuals, audio, and tactile means, together. Naturally in experiencing the exhibit the visitors were able to connect to the work in a deeper way, and now memories of certain audio, visual, and tactile materials and mediums will re-access this exhibit and Rist’s work for these visitors, in the future.

Random International’s “Rain Room” is another multi-sensorial art work, and one in which visitors can enter into a room of rain and walk around without getting wet because motion sensors and mapping cameras that turn off the water, follow their movements (Lohman, 2012). When “Rain Room” came out, it became a rather sensational piece that allowed visitors to use touch and movement, sight, and the sound of the rain in a multi-sensory experience. Whether visitor feelings were of awe, or of game, for all visitors they have various pathways (audio, visual, and tactile) to reconnect with and remember the “Rain Room”.

In the arts these concepts around the multi-sensorial and its expansions are gaining traction as more museums and galleries are exploring and pushing sensorial exhibitions, with exhibits such as so being recently experimented with and shown in the Tate with the Tate Sensorium in 2015 (Davis, 2015). Where the Tate selected five paintings, and gathered a team of curators to work with various artists and designers to create tastes, sounds, and smells, for these paintings to then test if the paintings gained nuance and were more affective with viewers.

In April 2018, the Smithsonian put on a show Design Beyond Vision with curators Lipton and Lipps (Lupton & Lipps, 2018). They worked with a huge team of artists and designers to put on a multi-sensory exhibit in which viewers could access the pieces through their five senses. The show was a huge success.

As museums and galleries, as well as artists and curators delve deeper into the multi-sensorial and the nuances of sense training and multi-sense-pathway works and exhibits, perhaps a shift in perspectives towards a more nuanced outlook of art and life will occur. And perhaps a re-sparking of imagination will occur and ripple out.

Tahira Karim – References

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