interdisciplinary research studio-lab

MEDIATIONS OF SENSATION: Sensory Anthropology and the Creation/Evaluation of Multimodal Interactive Environments

Project Description:

Mediation of Sensation explores the artistic/scholarly potential of the cross-talk between new media and sensory anthropology. The artistic design, development and ethnographic evaluation of the project was informed by interdisciplinary collaboration between artist/researchers Chris Salter, Concordia anthropologist Dr. David Howes and a team of professional artists/emerging researchers in anthropology, design, food studies and digital media. The central objective was to design large performative environments that hybridized cultures and develop the aesthetic potential of the non-visual senses. The project resulted in two internationally touring artistic works (Atmosphere and Displace), over 9 publications, 23 international conference presentations/ talks and training of 6 MA and PhD students.

Anthropological knowledge has traditionally been created and delivered through text, talk and (occasionally) visual means (image/film). MoS sought to enact anthropological knowledge of sense experience (particularly non visual sense experience) directly through the development of two large scale immersive artworks informed by detailed studies of sensory ethnography and sensory history. Mimetic realism, or ethnographic verisimilitude was not the aim of this project. Anthropological knowledge was created not through the representation of cultural modes or ways of sensing but through the performance and enaction of such knowledge.

The international touring of the sensory-installations in cross cultural and institutionally variant contexts provided a rich testing ground for the documentation and data collection of new forms of “sensory reception.” Howes and Salter elaborated on this methodology in the context of documenting audience responses to both Atmosphere and Displace arising from the research. These methods, which involved sensing along with the research subjects and paying minute attention to the differential sensory registration of the experience, represent a significant refinement on conventional sensory ethnography (e.g. Pink 2009) by virtue of its emphasis on reflexive and collective dimensions of experience and encounter

Artistic Results of Research:


Multi-Sensory Participatory Installation
Atmosphere is a series of ephemeral, sensorial-architectural environments derived from the Mediations of Sensation project that combine RGB LED light, barely perceivable sound, infrared heat, and haze. A series of vertically suspended lightweight panels constructed of focused channels of RGB LED’s at the bottom and top, linked together by thin monofilament, gradually change color and opacity over time, the result of shifting qualities of artificially produced haze in the environment. At the same time, small infrared heaters suspended in the area produce changing climates that are not visible but still present to the bodies of visitors who near the panels. Exploring what architecture critic Mark Wigley calls “an architecture of atmosphere,” a sensuous climate of ephemeral yet tangibly felt effects, Atmosphere proposes an ephemeral, almost volatile non object that emphasizes the temporality and changeability of public encounters with our increasingly technical environments.

Displace 1.0

Displace 1.0 is a performative environment that was originally presented at the annual American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting, held in Montreal, Canada in November 2011. The presentation of Displace at the AAA exposed anthropologists to techniques of research-creation and their impact on the field of sensory design. The piece intermingles multiple sensory phenomena in order to heighten and transform our habitual modes of perception. Over a 45 minute period, groups of six visitors progress through a sequence of environments. At first, these environments intermingle gustatory and haptic stimuli and gradually convoke all the senses inside intense, almost hallucinatory spaces where flickering color, sound, tactile vibrations, and fleeting tastes and scents merge to a point of saturation. The aim of Displace was to create a space between art and anthropology where contemporary art practice can be informed by advanced research in sensory anthropology, and vice versa. Sensory anthropology is dedicated to charting the varieties of sensory experience across cultures. Co-PI David Howes and his team have documented a wide array of ways in which the senses are distinguished, ranked, mixed and deployed and enjoyed in different cultures. Displace 1.0 mirrors this anthropological experience by offering an embodied, technologically augmented series of environments designed to open a crack in the conventional Western sensorium and transport the visitor into a parallel sensory world.

Displace 2.0

Displace 2.0 is a performative sensory environment which took place in the building of the recently dissolved platform TAG in the Hague for the 2012 TodaysArt festival. Displace 2.0 puts sensory experience in the foreground. Groups of visitors progress through the three floors of the space, encountering a series of environments and experience sensory actions that intermingle the senses of smell, taste, sight, sound and touch.

Displace 3.0

The third iteration of Displace, Displace 3.0, took place within the context of GlowNext, in Eindhoven, Netherlands, the largest light art festival in Europe. Visitors to the exhibit encounter two environments, both in continual transformation in terms of vision, hearing and smell.



Displace 3.0, GlowNext, Eindhoven, Netherlands, November 2013

Atmosphere_Glassmoog, Glasmoog Gallery, Künsthochschule für Medien, Cologne, Germany, June 2013

Atmosphere, Quebecor Building, Art Souterrain, Montreal, Canada March 2013

Displace 2.0, Todays Art, The Hague, Netherlands, September 2012

Displace 1.0, AAA/ Hexagram Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technologies. Black Box, Montreal, Canada, November 16-20, 2012

Atmosphere, Gallerie FOFA, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, January 2011


Salter, Chris. 2016. “Indeterminate Acts: Technology, Choreography and Bodily Affects in Displace.” In Transmission in Motion. Ed. Maaike Bleeker. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Salter, Chris. 2016. “Sensing Digital Art: Aesthetic Acts Beyond (the two) Synesthesia(s).” In Digital Synesthesia. Ed. Katharina Gsoellpointner, Romana Schuler and Ruth Schnell. Berlin/Zürich: De Gruyter/Birkhäuser.

Salter, Chris. “Sensorium.” 2015. In Alien Agency: Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Salter, Chris and David Howes. 2015. “Mediation of Sensation: Designing Performative Sensory Environments.”Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus. Volume 11, Number 3. Fall.

Howes, John David. 2014. “Introduction to Sensory Museology: The Senses and Society.” 2014, vol. 9, no 3.

Howes, John David. 2014. “The secret of aesthetics lies in the conjugation of the senses: Rethinking the museum as a sensory gymnasium.” In The Multisensory Museum: Cross-
Disciplinary Perspectives on Touch, Sound, Smell, Memory and Space. Eds. Nina Levent and Alvaro Pascual-Leone. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

Howes, John David. 2014. “Multimodality and Anthropology: The Conjugation of the Senses.” The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis. Ed. Carey Jewitt. London: Routledge.

Howes, John David et al. 2015. ”Mixed messages: Engaging the senses in art.” In David Howes and Constance Classen. Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society. London: Routledge.

Salter, Chris. 2014. “Atmospheres of Affect.” In Timing of Affect: Aesthetics, Epistemologies, Politics. Eds. Marie-Luise Angerer, Michaela Ott and Bernd Boestel. Chicago: U Chicago Press.

Howes, John David. 2013. “The Social Life of the Senses.” Ars Vivendi, vol. 3, no. p. 4 – 23.

Howes, John David. 2012. “Revisualizing Anthropology through the Lens of The Ethnographer’s Eye.” Handbook of Visual Culture. Eds. Ian Heywood and Barry Sandywell. Oxford: Berg.


Salter, Chris. “Art, Experiment and Techno-Science.” Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art. Gdansk, Poland. January 2017.

Salter, Chris. “Interfacing the Senses: Some Notes on a Research Program in New Media, Sensory Studies and Techno-scientific Art.” Department of Interface Cultures. Kunstuniversität Linz. Linz, Austria. June 2016.

Salter, Chris. “Alien Agency or How Do Artists Work With Responsive Matter.” Spektrum: Art | Science | Community Space. Berlin, Germany. June 2016.

Salter, Chris. “Alien Agencies: Resonances, Tissues and the Sensorium Turned Inside Out.” Keynote Address. Presumed Autonomy Conference: Literature and the Arts in Theory and Practice. Stockholm University. Stockholm, Sweden. May 2016.

Artist Talk. “Mediations of Sensation.” Information Design/Information Arts Department. Tama Art University. Tokyo, Japan. April 2016.

Salter, Chris. “Research-Creation and the Senses.” “Art/Research/Experiment/Event: Perspectives on Perception/Action.” University of Tokyo. Tokyo, Japan. April 2016.

Salter, Chris. “Alien Agency: Research-Creation and Experimental Life.” ENSAD Lab. ENSAD. Paris, France. March 2016.

Salter, Chris. “Art, Research and the Future Imaginary.” University of Aalborg. Aalborg, Denmark. March 2016.

Salter, Chris. “Research-Creation: Theories, Methods, Acts.” Connecticut College. New London, CT. October 2015.

Salter, Chris. “Alien Agency – Techno-Science, Art and the Limits of Knowing.” Black Mountain College – Educational Turn and the Avant-Garde Symposium. Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwartige Kunst. Berlin, Germany. September 2015.

Salter, Chris. “Mediations of Sensation: Designing Performative Sensory Environments.” Department of Digital Media. University of Applied Arts. Vienna, Austria. June 2015.

Salter, Chris. “Alien Agency: Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making.” Faculty of Media. Bauhaus University. Weimar, Germany. May 2015.

Salter, Chris. “Non-Representational Sense Making and Sensory Ethnographic Methods in Displace – an AAA Inno-Vent Revisited.” Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) 2014. Washington, DC. December 2014.

“Performing Sensation.” Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB). Barcelona, Spain. December 2014.

Howes, John David. “The Sensorial Revolution in Material Culture Studies.” Canadian Anthropology Society, Toronto, May 2014.

Salter, Chris. “Sonic Atmosphere: Towards a Cross Modal Dramaturgy: From Sound Device to New Forms of Stage Practice.” International Colloquium UQAC, Chicotimi, Quebec. March 2014.

Salter, Chris. “Research-Creation: Theories, Methods and Practices.” Visiting Researcher Series: Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst/Institut Design- und Kunstforschung. Basel, Switzerland. January 2014.

Howes, John David. “The Race to Embrace the Senses in Marketing: An Ethnographic Perspectiv.” Ethnographic Practices in Industry Conference (EPIC) 2013, London
(Royaume-Uni), September 2013.

Howes, John David. “Èxperiencing Collections: Display, Performance and the Senses.” Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds Conference, International Union of
Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Manchester, UK. August 2013.

Szanto, David. “The Mangle of Gastronomy: Performing Taste.” Canadian Association for Food Studies Annual Conference, Victoria, BC, Canada. June 2013.

Salter, Chris. “Mediations of Sensation: An Experiment in Sensory Anthropology.” ISEA 2013, Sydney, Australia. June 2013.

Salter, Chris. “Atmospheres of Affect.” International Symposium “Timing of Affect.” Kunsthochschule für Medien. Cologne, Germany. May 2013.

Szanto, David. “Food, Design, Power, Self. “ History Dept. Seminar Series, Bishops University, Lennoxville, April 2013.

Howes, John David. “Sensing the City.” The Sensory City Workshop/ABC CCA Montreal, Montreal, Canada. March 2013.

Salter, Chris. “Mediations of Sensation: Art, New Media, Anthropology, Technology.” Visiting Artists Series: Columbia College, Chicago, USA. February 2013.

Salter, Christopher, « Sensory Experience/Sensory Anthropology », Lunchtime Colloquium Series: Medical Museum-Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. December, 2012.

Salter, Chris. “Entangled: Performativity, Art and Material Agency.” Speaker Series: Department of Medienwissenschaft. Universität Regensburg. Regensburg
(Allemagne) , novembre 2012.

Salter, Christopher, « Research-Creation with the Senses », Per.Spice: Forum for Artistic Research/Forum für künstlerische Forschung, Berlin (Allemagne) , novembre 2012.

Salter, Christopher, « Research-Creation and the Mediation of the Senses », MEDEA Speaker Series: C3-Malmö University. Malmo (Suède) , octobre 2012.

Salter, Christopher, « Displace: Art and Sensory Anthropology Meet Each Other », Bright Collisions Symposium, The Hague (Pays-Bas) , septembre 2012.

Howes, John David, « The Sensual Revolution in Cognitive Linguistics », Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media & Technology (CIRMMT), Interdisciplinary Speaker’s series, Montreal, juin 2012.

Salter, Christopher, « Alien Agencies: Research Creation and Nonhuman Ethnographies », Experimental Crossings: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Interdisciplinarity in Arts
Practices. Maastrict University, Maastrict (Pays-Bas) , février 2012.

Howes, John David et al., « The Politics of Perception: Social Orders and Sensory Codes », Ecole française de Rome, Rome (Italie) , janvier 2012.

Salter, Chris. “Performing Sensation.” American Anthropological Association, Montreal, Canada. Novembre 2011.

Howes, John David, « “Re-visualizing Anthropology,” Sensing Cultures: Practice, Performance, Display », American Anthropological Association, Montreal, novembre 2011.

Howes, John David and Salter, Chris. « Between Art and Anthropology: Entangled Sensations », American Anthropological Association, Montreal, novembre 2011.

Salter, Christopher. « Alien Agencies: Performativity, Materiality and Transformation », Performativité et effets de presence seminar. UQAM., Montreal, octobre 2011.

Salter, Christopher. « JND: Perception and the Threshold.” A Conversation with Brian Massumi and Chris Salter », FOFA Atmosphere Colloquium, Montreal, février


“Écoute et goûte, c’est la Redoute.” Marion Gerbier. Voir. November 20, 2011.

“AAA/Displace.” CBC Daybreak. CBC/Radio Canada. Montréal, QC. November 2011.

chris salter + tez + david howes: displace 2.0

Chris Salter + LabXmodal: Atmosphere, FOFA Gallery


Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Sociéte et Culture, Appui aux Recherche-Creation.


November 2010-November 2013


Labxmodal (Concordia University)– Chris Salter (PI), Matt Tremblay, Harry Smoak, David Szanto, Florencia Marchetti, Olga Zikrata, Elio Bidinost, Shannon Collis, TeZ (Maurizio Martinucci),

Centre for Sensory Studies (Concordia University)– David Howes (Co-PI)