by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
There is no new way to say this. The global pandemic hit us all by surprise, it is true. It disconnected us from the people we love. Furthermore, it disconnected us from ourselves. With little to zero time spent exposed to the elements, we sat in our homes afraid and cut off.
Nina Czegledy, Canadian artist, curator and writer, isolated this issue and began to work on a project as a collaboration with Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology at York University, Toronto. Sensorium is a research centre at York University for creative inquiry and experimentation at the intersection of media arts, performance, and digital culture. On invitation from the Łaźnia Contemporary Art Centre in Poland, Czegledy curated Sensoria: The Art and Science of our Senses.
The exhibition used various approaches to present the five human sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin, through interactive art installations. The Sensoria project included workshops, exhibitions, presentations and a hybrid symposium aiming to provide “consciousness-raising information through art”. Czegledy spoke with STIR about the research process leading up to the exhibition.
Sensoria expressed the shock and trauma our physical bodies experienced during the pandemic in a multitude of ways. Czegledy draws from existing research to encourage viewers to reconnect with their own bodies. The curator said, “We perceive the world through our senses, yet for a long time the senses were treated as independent perceptual modules. Contemporary research confirmed that our senses are fundamentally interrelated and interact with each other. Moreover, our perception of visual, auditory or tactile events changes as a result of information exchange between receptors. The impact of radical changes such as the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic caused extensive psycho-emotional stress and has affected every aspect of our life from geopolitics to economies to the arts and sciences including sensory awareness.”
The new media art showcased at Sensoria dabbled with memory, visual senses, olfactory senses among others. Czegledy said, “Everybody everywhere is aware of their own sensory perception. We did our best to present sensory perception in an accessible yet unexpected way.” While selecting artists for Sensoria, Czegledy spent two years looking for works to fit into her curatorial vision. For the showcase at Contemporary Art Centre in Laznia the participating artists were Karolina Hałatek, Agnes Meyer Brandis, Csenge Kolozsvari, Artur Zmijewski, Hilda Kozari, Gayil Nalls, Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris and Guy Van Belle.
Berlin-based visual artist Agnes Meyer Brandis presented her work One Tree ID and Have a tea with a Tree at the Sensoria exhibition. One Tree ID is a biochemical and biopoetic odour communication installation. The project One Tree ID transforms the ID of a specific tree into a perfume that can then be applied to the human body. By applying it, a person can wear the characteristics of the tree he/she is standing next to, and potentially participate in the intangible communication system that takes place on the biochemical level plants use for information exchange. Through this work, the artist experimented with the olfactory, while also expanding our understanding of communication itself.
The exhibition Sensoria looked to bring the viewer back to ground zero - to remind us all of the physical nature of our reality, of our sensory experience. The light installation Ascent by Karolina Halatek was an artistic expression aligned with this intention. Ascent is a site-specific light installation that embodies a variety of archetypical and physical associations - from microscopic observations, electromagnetic wave dynamics, and atmospheric phenomena of a whirlwind to a spiritual epiphany. The sculptural artwork invited the viewer to become its central point and transforms the perception of the viewer on a sensual level.” Halatek’s installation takes inspiration from the form of a vortex or hurricane, with an upward swirl that envelopes a single viewer in a solitary, ethereal bubble of light and mist. The art installation simulated both movement and action, in a static sculptural form. The artist said, “The light and the fog create a monumental dynamic space that is participatory, the space that opens up a new dimension and directs the attention toward the bodily sensations in the explicit environment. The viewer is free to approach the work according to its own sensual response, but direct interaction can offer the potential to evoke a new perceptual imagination.”
The exhibitions at Laznia and York University form major components of the larger project adapting each showcase to its location. Curator Czegledy said, “If I am touring an exhibition, I nearly always invite a local co-curator and regional artists. The theme of the project remains the same, yet the exhibition is different at each site. This was the case with Sensoria too. Sometimes I work with the same artists on different projects, presenting different artworks from them according to the theme of that project.” Czegledy explores an amalgamation of formats through curation, using online and offline interfaces to recreate the story of the senses through a variety of modalities. She said, “Sensoria became an intercontinental, cross-disciplinary, multisite project with exhibitions, workshops on both sites and also connected by the joint hybrid symposium.
The Toronto events were co-curated with Yu-Zhi Joel Ong, Director of Sensorium, Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, York University, Toronto.”
The Laznia exhibition was on display till October 30, and the Toronto exhibition at the Gales Gallery closed on October 14, 2022.