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Tate Sensorium

30 August 2015 | Imogen Greenberg

Tate Sensorium is an immersive display at Tate Britain that asks whether taste, touch, smell and sounds can change the way we ‘see’ art. Curated by Flying Objects with the Tate, it attempts to challenge and change the way you experience art in a gallery. With timed slots and just four people admitted at a time, it’s fast become the most coveted ticket in town, especially as it’s free. London Calling headed down there to see what all the fuss is about...

Stepping in to a dark room and putting on a biometric bracelet and headphones is an unusual way to start any art gallery experience. But Tate Sensorium doesn’t stop there, taking you on a sensory experience designed to change the way you experience art. It incorporates all five senses in to the specially curated gallery, which pushes the traditional experience of galleries in to the world of technology and science.

There are only four paintings in the exhibition. Visitors are guided through the space, and given instructions on how to get the most out of the experience, what to smell, taste, touch, and when to listen. But the guide is clear: this is your experience, and it is about how your senses react. As such, each visitor is given the data from their biometric bracelet at the end of the journey, so they can see how their body physically responded to the paintings and the stimuli. My chart shows a strong physical reaction to smell, in sharp and alarmingly dramatic peaks.

Without giving too much away, the sensations have been carefully selected, and a lot of thought has gone in to how to evoke visitor’s imaginations. But it is not explicit, telling you what you should be feeling and seeing. Instead, abstractions were taken from details in the painting, inspirations and ideas expressed by the artists, and the movements that inspired them. It is also notable that all of the artworks chosen play with abstraction in some way and are open to interpretation. So there is no narrative, just a series of sounds, smells, tastes and touch that may or may not resonate with your own reading of the painting. As with all sensory experiences, some will react more than others.

It’s best if you don’t know too much before hand, because it is the surprise that elevates this experience. But do try and discuss your experience with the other three people on the timed visit with you once you’ve left. My reaction consisted of very low-level responses with sharp peaks at irregular intervals, whereas the person next to me had a much more level reaction. The individuality of responses suggests why the data is being gathered throughout the project, and analysed by scientists from The University of Sussex. This project was the winner of this year’s IK Prize, awarded for ideas that use innovative technology to enable the public to explore, discover and enjoy art in new ways. Flying Object, who proposed the project, has worked with a huge number of people to create the components of the experience, and to make this both a visitor attraction and an academic study.

Whilst it’s not totally novel, and visitors of the National Gallery’s Soundscapes exhibition might feel they’re in familiar territory, Tate Sensorium pushes the experience much further and it’s far more intense. The idea is also that you take the intensity of this experience and transfer it to the brightly lit permanent galleries. Customised based on your responses to the Sensorium, the team suggest paintings in the permanent display which might inspire your sense of touch, taste, smell or hearing, now the Sensorium has alerted you to the importance of senses other than seeing. You could try listening to the crashing waves in The Deluge, by Francis Danby or feel the optical waves of Bridget Riley’s Hesitate, rather than just seeing them. Undoubtedly this is experimental, but your reactions might just surprise you, especially when the science does the talking and your data is presented to you at the end.

The Tate Sensorium is at Tate Britain until 20th September. Tickets are free, and available on a first-come first-served basis from the Information Desk. Access is limited to 4 visitors at a time. Tickets for 10.15-14.00 will be released at 10.00. Tickets for 14.15-17.45 will be released at 14.00 each day.
 

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