In Sight: Multi-sensory Inception, Production and Reception Relative to Art

21 October 2017


In todays contemporary work, both philosophy and academia stretch our understanding and perception of how the brain receives artwork when viewing or embodying it – how it is seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted or even how a sixth sense can embody a work of art. Rather than that of the past where art was acknowledged as mere observatory, neuroscience proves the human experience encounters art using more than one of the senses for a multi-sensory experience. Philosophies and perspectives from the artists unique experience, memory, and viewpoint around politics and curreant movements of the time indeed influence their creations, forming a wholistic expression of work to be interpreted as such by the viewer. In this essay we will look at different approaches to creating works from differing artists around the globe who have created multi-sensory pieces. We will hear about the philosophies and perspectives which influence the unfolding works and production relative to art and the brain, and how the works influence the senses in turn, for engaging in and receiving what is on display or being performed by the artist.


Artists using various material, objects or sound in their work relative to the senses enhance the natural instincts of the human vessel for a full embodied experience given the moment we begin to explore it. Artists are often inspired by nature or mother earth as a muse herself. Ernesto Neto is one of these artists. Neto was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1964, is a sculptor, multimedia and installation artist. His works are “a combination of ephemeral environments inspired by nature, knitted by men and assembled as art. It is stunning to our eyes, but must be completely experienced: walked into, perceived, scented… Works, unlike conventional architecture, are meant to be experienced as nature: his materials beg to be touched. “ (The Culture Trip 2016, para 2) Not only does Neto incorporate sight and touch, but scent has a strong presence in his work for an enriching multi-sensory experience. “the artist both references and incorporates organic shapes and materials – spices, sand and shells among them—that engage all five senses, producing a new type of sensory perception that renegotiates boundaries between artwork and viewer, the organic and manmade, the natural, spiritual and social worlds.” (Tanya Bonakdar 2013, para 1)


Ernesto Neto’s specific use of touch is also one such way artists engage in ideas of phenomenology and philosophy as well as the senses. There is an understanding the subconscious may not conceive but inherently understands as every fibre of the being is brought into the present moment via these artworks. This importance of acknowledging the present unfolding moment is inherent in the artists influences and philosophies when he was interviewed by Nicola Anthony in 2013, “His speech itself seemed organic and autonomous, taking him off on a tangent when the stimulus or the situation lent itself…We can never really touch the present because as soon as it is here, it is gone. Neto described how touch is so important, leading to his experiential sculptures that are ‘now’. Through them, he attempts to bring us as intimately as he can into contact with the present moment. “ (Nicola Anthony 2013, para 6)


Acknowledging the present moment and an affiliation with nature has also sparked and inspired works in artist Eliane Radigue in early inception stages. Such was the case with her Occam series, when she founded a concept that was resigned to memory for nearly two decades, “the image nearest the possibility of this perception: the ocean…We can see the greatest wave to the smallest on the beach.” (Tom Howells 2017, para 14) Her thought provoking pieces infused by a connection with buddhism and the art of zen and meditation, have had strong affects on the observer/listener’s attention, leading a visceral kind of stillness to be experienced, evoked through works of lengthy repetitive, simplistic, drone-like playing with full orchestra sounding the unfolding moment. “Her compositions – extremely long, extremely quiet, utterly brimming with life – are minimalism at its very finest and most literal. It is work that demands patience and attention: tectonically modulating suites that are both haunting and transcendent and crushingly beautiful all at once.” (Tom Howells 2017, para 11)



Carol Robinson performing for Eliane Radigue’s


Club Cataract Kampnagel

Photo by: Jann Wilken


In her synthetic composed pieces, in particular using the American ARP 200, she relates the production processes with regard to nature as well as time much like Neto did. “I could change the sound from the inside. To explain it visually, you could imagine a mountain turning into a cup, but so slowly from one state to another; it takes time by nature.” (Wyse 2011, para 11) Meditation, nature and the present moment infused in sculpture and sound are a strong theme between artists in this discussion. Perhaps another strong point of infused inspiration relative to these works is the direct level of engagement the audience are encouraged to embody and engage in. “Neto brings a delicate and meditative sensuality to his sculptural landscapes, claiming the human body as an artistic site by encouraging participatory engagement.” (Guggenheim 2017, para 2)


Furthermore, almost as if mental telepathy is transmuted into sound or indeed music, works of art composed with the influence of nature are received by patrons much in the way artists are infused by the essence of it in early inspired stages of production. “When it works it’s because it allows a shift to occur in the listener, wherein the subject of the music becomes your own phenomenological experience. Good drone work is about the way you perceive it: how your focus shifts when a layer you didn’t even notice before suddenly leaps to the forefront in a way that makes you question whether it happened in the mix or in your own mind.” ( Matt Carlson 2014, para 1)


Aristotle notes the relationship to the senses being instinctual, looking closely at the effects of the sense of touch, and hinting at the power of phenomenology in works relative to the senses also.

Touch reaches in man the maximum of discriminative accuracy. While in respect of all the other senses we fall below many species of animals, in respect of touch we far excel all other species in exactness of discrimination. That is why man is the most intelligent of all animals.” (Aristotle 2001, p 20)


This instinctive animalistic interconnection of nature itself and the infusion of it in artists work indeed stimulate the brain when receiving or participating in multi-sensory works. It is now evident in the exploration of additional senses being explored in art. Australian Aboriginal artist Djon Mindine explains a lost sixth sense relative to art which has been present in their culture since the beginning. A lot of art is about the sublime, or raising you to higher emotional levels…. The best art does that automatically… It gives you a shiver. It gives you a joy that you don’t understand. It just happens. That’s called the Sixth Sense. It leads you to imagine, so that one sense activates the other senses.” (NITV 2016, para 2)


Alongside Aristotle’s philosophy of touch being the heightened sense to bring us to an instinctive perception with great speed, Mr Mundane brings our attention to the strong sense of extended sight or this inherent knowing, or sixth sense if you will. “In art, sight is the sense most utilised. When other senses are evoked, the perceptive experience is invariably heightened. Deaf people can write music, and performers dance in silence. The sixth sense is that of the mind – of the imagination, a feeling beyond the physical, and more to do with memory and creativity…” (NITV 2016, para 5) He derives at other senses relative to this sixth sense, heightening our perception of knowing in receiving art and our brains capacity to receive art in a multitude of ways, “The so-called sixth sense is something pre-Renaissance, pre-rationalist: beyond the usually considered ‘five senses’: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. There are, in fact, seven senses – equilibrioception (sense of balance) and proprioception (sense of body position), which are now commonly accepted physiological senses.” (NITV 2016, para 6) Furthermore Neto also heightens our perception, imagination and the way in which we receive his art via the influences of nature, the present moment, and this sixth sense. “These environments remind the visitor of the body’s interior, something that is definaitely ‘organic’. The viewer enters these rooms and literally gets in touch with the work by pushing and pulling the materials while walking through and exploring the space. The fabric almost feels like a soft skin that necessitates a ‘physical’ relationship with the audience. In Neto’s work, active ‘interactions’, where tactile sensations assume a leading roles, are designed to provide a more intimate relationship between the artwork and the viewer.” (Gallace & Spence 2014, p 113)






Ernesto Neto, The Island Bird, 2012, polypropylene and polyester rope, plastic balls. Photo- Nicci Yin. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Ernesto Neto

The Island Bird 2012

Materials: polypropylene and polyester rope, plastic balls.

Photo: Nicci Yin

Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery



Relative here, phenomenology has a nice link stretching multi-sensory works, culture, time and philosophy. Artist Olafur Eliason of Denmark is inspired by phenomenology, time, space and co-production. His impact on a changing culture relative to the times and how we experience space using the senses in his work are evident in his piece entitled ‘The Cubic Structural Evolution Project’ in 2004, where he gives his audience a participatory role in creating works together using lego blocks to form models using both sight and touch to experience and embody the work. “It seems necessary to insist on an alternative that acknowledges the fundamental connection and interplay between space and time and ourselves. Because models are comprised of two fundamental qualities: structure and time, one way of drawing attention to our co-production of space is a close examination of models. “ (Elliason, O 2007, para 3)




Olafur 2

The Cubic Structural Evolution Project 2004
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Photo: Danielle Devery 2013




olafur 1

The Cubic Structural Evolution Project 2004
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Photo: Danielle Devery 2013


He also relates this work to time and space with a strong theme on culture and the active role we have in choosing what we create collectively. “And it is a more dynamic conception of phenomenology, of course, that has been a source of inspiration in my work. To me the greatest potential of phenomenology lies in the idea that subjectivity is always susceptible to change. I like to think that my work can return criticality to the viewer as a tool for negotiating and reevaluating the environment—and that this can pave the way for a more causal relationship with our surroundings. Whereas earlier decades looked to phenomenology as a sort of formula that constitutes our surroundings, I think the 1990s showed that it can instead be a tool for negotiating these surroundings. It offers an inquisitive, explorative approach to the world that allows for multiple perspectives on artworks, subjectivity, and experience. “ (Eliasson, O & Robert, I 2007, para 5)


He has a similar way of connecting his work to nature as does Neto and Radigue, influencing the interconnection in the way in which his artwork is received much as it is produced. Olafur said, ”My works in general discuss the notion of a reality being constructed, that ideas such as ‘nature’ or ‘science’ are models for how we perceive reality. So the notions of ‘construction’ and ‘models’ are very present in all my work. I have always put an effort into exposing the way my work has been constructed, so as to suggest that there are not any universal values connected to human experience. Actually I would argue that there is no ‘nature’ but only ‘culture’ and that as we experience so called ‘nature’ we also cultivate or constitute it.” (Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation 2013, para 4)

To conclude, artists discussed in this essay have influenced our natural instincts and knowing, and our sixth sense through multi-media, installation and performance, and an embodiment of their various works presented. With simplistic observations of nature and impulsive knowing and inspiration in the early inception stages, the present moment, philosophy, phenomenology and the artists multi-sensory experience, audiences have thus been able to engage in and receive works from a wholistic perspective, derived from the artists inspirations. Artists have influenced the way audiences have experienced their art, thus culture itself. These artists works and inspirations are strong examples of how multi-sensory works are perceived in the inception and production stages, likewise the way in which they are received.
















1. The Culture Trip 2016, ‘The Art of Ernesto Neto: A Trip Into The Ludic’, The Culture Trip, viewed 21 October 2017,<>

2. Nicola Anthony 2013, ‘What Is Silence Is It More Solid Than a Stone‘, blog post, 4 January 2013, viewed 21 October 2017, < >

3. Tom Howells 2017, ‘Cave Story: ShivaFeshareki is taking Eliane Radigueand Lee Gamble Deeper Underground‘, Fact Mag, viewed 21 October 2017,


4. Wyse, P 2011, ‘Eliane Radigue’s Brave New Worlds‘, The Guardian, 17 June, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

5. Gallace A & Spence C, 2014 ‘Sculpture and Touch’, Ashgate Publishing, England

6. Aristotle, 2001, ‘Aristotle’s On the Soul: and, On memory and recollection’, in J Sachs (ed), ‘On the Soul’, Green Lion Press, the University of Michigan, pp. 20-25.

7. NITV 2016, ‘Sixth Sense Art Feast Soul and Senses‘, SBS, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

8. Tanya Bonakdar 2013, ‘Ernesto Neto Biography‘, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, viewed 21 October 2017


9. Guggenheim 2017, ‘Collection Online: Ernesto Neto‘, Guggenheim, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

10. Eliasson, O & Robert, I 2007, “Take Your Time: A Conversation,” In Madeleine Grynsztejn (ed), Exhibition catalogue, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; London: Thames & Hudson, pp.51-61, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

11. Eliasson, O 2007, ‘Models are Real,’ Your House, the Library Council of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, pp.20-25, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

12. Smith, D 2013, ‘Phenomenology’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Metaphysics Research Lab, Centre for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University, CA

13. Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation 2013, ‘Olafur Eliasson the Cubic Structural Evolution Project’, SCAF, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

15. Jorinde Reznikoff 2017 ‘Occam Ocean Von Eliane Radigue Carol Robinson Im Gespraech’, Jorinde Reznikoff, Artist Stories, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

16. Matt Carlson 2014, ‘Golden Retrievers Matt Carlson on Eliane Radigue and How to Make Successful Drone Music‘, Self Titled Mag, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

17. Tura 2015, ‘Concert 4 Occam Eliane Radigue’, Tura Program: Scale Variable 2015, Tura, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

18. Steve Smith 2013, ‘A Composer, Not Easy to Peg, Is Heard Through Others’, The New York Times, September 23, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

19. Museums & Galleries of NSW 2015, ‘At Home: Djon Mundine‘, Museums & Galleries of NSW, viewed 21 October 2017, <>

20. Perfume Polytechnic 2015, ‘“I Wanted to Touch You with the Smell”: Ernesto Neto’s Immersive, Cross-Sensory Installations’, blog post, March 25 2015, viewed 21 October 2017, <>




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