“Sensorium: Embodied experience, technology, and contemporary art”

This week, I am exploring intersections between HCI and digital art research, and encountered this book edited by Caronline Jones, titled “Sensorium: Embodied experience, technology, and contemporary art.” The book was published in 2006 by The MIT Press. Some HCI folks may be delighted to find familiar authors such as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, and Sherry Turkle.

According to Jones (2006), the sensorium is “[t]he subject’s way of coordinating all of the body’s perceptual and proprioceptive signals as well as the changing sensory envelope of the self.” In short, it is an art’s research framework, which parallels HCI’s shifts from user-centered to actor-centeredness, to understand human agencies in a technological world. Human senses are taken as fundamental media in which we interpret our world. Many of the artwork described thus emphasized active participation through interactive multi-sensory media, rather than passive viewing (e.g., using a traditional painting).

Although I would like to see more of a societal purview in the framework, I find the sensorium approach in art refreshing. HCI is a field which emphasized the collection and analysis of empirical data, which contains past and preexisting patterns, and use it as indicators of future events. But there are shortfalls as I had more than often refrained from reading too much into the future as these are difficult to substantiate. “It is difficult to predict, especially the future,” as Niels Bohr warned. On the other hand, the sensorium approach provides much room for predictive experiments (which are also embodied and situated), which I believe is complementary to HCI’s more rigorous but retrospective methods.