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CONTENTS

/Introduction......................... 1

/Sensory Processing.............. 9

/Nature................................... 15

/Liminality & Ritual.............. 19

/The Body............................... 23

/Materiality............................ 29

/Phase I.................................. 51

/Phase II................................. 53

/Phase III............................... 55

/Sensory Ethnography........... 57
Back home, the city was in atrophy.
The forest was also in the business of
decay, but instead of waste it gave way
to newness, which in turn gave way to a
network of organisms in symbiosis--not
recalcitrant, but accepting of their role
INTRODUCTION in the ecosystem.

Tuliniemi, Kuopio, Finland

62 ° 53’1.981 N
27 ° 13’9.657 E

As a child I spent my summers


detached, somewhat, from the fervour The forest revealed itself to me in
and noise and encroaching spaces of lessons: on the value of experience,
the everyday. Time was measured in on the importance of pace, on the
the sinking shorelines of the Fire Gulf- need for pure sensory interactions.
-a place named after its own death To me, the forest is a representation
and verdant rebirth--in moments of temporality, physicality, and at its
instead of hours, or schooldays, or root, connection between all living
schedules. organisms.
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With the age of the Anthropocene and the introduction of mass
information networks across cities, modern humans are experiencing
the effects of sensory overstimulation and artificiality in the face of
digital landscapes, virtual legacies and the intangibility of information.
Maladaptation caused by perceptual imbalances are due largely
to a society-wide loss of nature connectivity and related cultural
heritage. This project aims to combine methods used in sensory
anthropology and the material dimension of installation art to explore
the potential for nature-based solutions to sensory overstimulation.
In order to create an environment for consideration and disruption
the installation plays on aspects of liminal rituals as described
by anthropologist Victor Turner. The experiential landscape
incorporates Turner’s three phases of the liminal ritual through
audio-visual means; introduction into an experience, the liminal, or
disruptive phase, and the reintegration into the initial environment.

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In The Thunder Tree: Lessons from
an Urban Wildland (1993) Robert M. Pyle wrote
about the “extinction of experience”, a society-
wide phenomenon in Western, urbanized
countries that has been characterized by the
loss of meaningful nature-based experiences.
The loss is punctuated by a lack of community
identity brought about by a separation from land,
heritage and physicality, replacing it instead
with digital landscapes, virtual legacy, and
intangibility.

Mass-produced imagery, instant information,


and global accessibility favour surface over depth.
Digital replacements of natural experienes are
popularized, and legacy becomes an individual
preoccupation instead of encompassing all the
elements that work to create functioning, healthy
ecosystems.

The modern experience is becoming more


fragmented and decentralized from a sense
of communitas, drawing us away from issues of
environmental concern and towards a digital
realm of uncontained exchanges of raw data--
information that our internal filtration system isn’t
capable of processing in excess.

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The purpose of the project is to
experiment with the fluidity of our systems
of perception by creating a moving-image
piece that merges the liminal experience
and perceptual mediation. Consisting of a
projection on a three-dimensional organic
surface, the video relies on pure sensory
experience; recognition of the stimuli that
trigger personal memory identification
when faced with a journey of sounds,
textures and and digital disturbances.
By ritualizing the act of sense-making,
and creating a sense of disruption and
exposure, the virtual realm can afford us
the ability to sidestep the artificial filters
that challenge our perceptual balance.

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SENSORY
PROCESSING

Sensory data is being accumulated, analyzed and accepted into the framework of your
consciousness at all times. The Dunn model describes this constant exchange of information as
contained within a neurological threshold; that which is perceived and fits within the threshold
is incorporated into the system, which is based on a self-regulating continuum of behavioural
construct.

Our neurons use networks of memory to pick up the related emotions, thoughts and actions
in correspondance to new and remembered stimuli. This structure of perception builds on
itself incrementally, shaping and re-shaping its own morphology each time it incorporates new
sensory patterns. The process solidifies and corrodes like a cliff transmuting its form under the
influence of the elements.

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Compatibility between the learned patterns of
perception, our genetic parameters for sensing
and the actuality of the external stimuli we
are exposed to determines our capacity for
sensory health and mental balance. In cities,
the compatibility between internal and external
worlds of perception becomes pathologically
eroded by the very affordances that urban
life provide--claustrophobia, sleeplessnes and
deteriorating mental health all stem from an
overstimulated brain.

“The numbing and erasure of sensory realities are


crucial moments in socio-cultural transformation. these
moments can only be glimpsed at obliquely and at
margins, for their visibility requires an immersion into
interrupted sensory memory and displaces emotions...
sensory and experiential fragmentation is the form in
which this sensory history has been stored and this
dictates the form of its reconstruction. There can be
no reflexivity unless one passes through a historical
reenactment of perceptual difference.”

The Memory of the Senses: Historical Perception, Commensal


Exchange and Modernity
C. Nadia Seremetakis

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Polluted transfers of experience

Consider the movement, the impositions,


the electric signals thickening the air. The
millions of lives unfolding themselves
on the streets, unnoticed, unannounced.
These lives flattened and made loud
online.

You are in the thick of mechanized


sounds, smells, tastes, sensations. You are
wading through data. You are fixed in a
loop of somatosensation: adapting, but not
quickly enough, to the spin of the world
around you.

The city is an machine in constant


movement. Its spaces, increasingly
overloaded, compressed, weigh on your
psyche. These spaces follow you home:
coat you in a blue light pollution and
squeeze into your sleeps. The city you
know runs on intangible steam. It heats
up around you, bakes your receptors into
complacency, leaving you searching for
the source of the phantom pressure.

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NATURE:

defined as...

that which is not:


man-made,
materialized,
imposed,
deliberate,
artificial,
a whim of human action.

that which is:


related to “wilderness”,
thoughtless,
constant,
ever-changing,
in harmony,
living.

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in the digital era...
transfers of
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EXPERIENCE 18
LIMINALITY & RITUAL
“Given their place in modern, complex,
industrial, urban life, liminoid genres
de not reflect, nor de they connect us
with, the rhythms and cycles of life and
land.”

Victor Turner and Contemporary Cultural


Performance
Graham St. John

Sociologists Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner


first introduced and refined the concept of liminality in
the context of society, space, place and ritual. Gennep’s
theory, later built upon by Turner, described liminality as
the “space in between”, as applied to processes of change,
the building of infrastructure, and ritual rites of passage.
Turner later extrapolated the theory to include wider
social contexts, creating an over-arching worldview of the
transformative potential for disrupted patterns of thought
and sensation in individuals and societies alike.

Turner went on to divide the process by which individuals


or cultures transition from one ideology or state of being
to another. The three phases of liminal ritual, denoted as
separation, liminality, and reaggregation, can similarly be
applied to the world of perception as related to the cultural
phenomena that determine its limitations.
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“The
meaning of
memory, but flow
sensory from it in an
perception, active ritual
and nostalgia sensation
do not exist and sense-
prior to making
experience, rituals.”
The Senses in Self, Society, and Culture: A Sociology of the Senses
Vannini, Waskul, Gottschalk
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“THE BODY”

Anosognosia
ano·sog·no·sia | \ ˌa-nō-ˌsäg-ˈnō-zh(ē-)ə
/an inability or refusal to recognize a defect or disorder that is clinically evident

/often used to describe medical phenomena where a patient retains a limb but
refuses to acknowledge it; the opposite of a phantom limb

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The virtual body, a manifested body of
potential order and chaos, exists in the space
between mind and matter--it represents the
unconscious in all its nonacted processes. The
virtual body suspends itself over the threshold
of perception, linking past, present, and future,
as well as that which is immaterial with that
which we can reach out and touch.

Built with the brick and mortar of memory--


sensory glue, our hierarchy of perception is
determined by the filters of society and the
proposed importance these denote. Our cells
hold a lifetime of patterns that determine how
and to what extent we are influenced by the
living systems around us.

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SKIN-

Skin projections reveal the exchanges of information that occur between humans and
their environment: we alter the environment as it alters us in turn.
SCAPES
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MATERIALITY

The material informs the process, and the


process transforms the material. This exchange
of information is symbolic of the constant
exchange of information between a sensory
system and its environment--between humans
and the images, sounds, tastes, scents and
feelings they seek out.

The physicality of the material creates a three-


dimensional viewing environment. Perspectives
change the experience of the video, while the
video changes the surface qualities of the wood
by digitally altering its properties.

The projection layers the digital over the


material, the abstract over the concrete,
a virtual condensation of reality over the
corporeal, visceral version found in nature.

Thermoforming wood is a symbiotic act


intended to bring the viewer to consider the
artificial/natural dichotomy.

The internal qualities of the plywood, its


breakability, thickness, smoothness, grain and
notches define its potential for shaping. The
shaper, in turn, responds to the qualities with
their own entropic methods of force, heat,
pressure and time.

The textured quality of raw wood speaks to


something organic and natural--rooted in our
ancestry and part of the greater infrastructure
of life on Earth. The process of changing
the natural sheets into a specific shape is
an ode to growth patterns of birches in the
wild: responsive to their surroundings, their
proximity to water, the nutrients of their soil,
the sum of infinite external stimuli.
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Surface study 1: Surface study 2:
forest floor on live vine & stone wall Moss and foliose lichen on stone table

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Surface study 3: Surface study 4:
barren lot, trees and houses on stone table, air-conditioning unit farmhouses and sky on plywood, plaster, branches & wall

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Surface study 5: Surface study 6:
watercresss, moss on stone table and live vine star-moss, curled snow lichen on branches & plywood sheet

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Surface study 7: Surface study 8:
birch leaves, pine trunk on plaster, plywood & wall dead leaves, coral reef on plywood & branches

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Surface study 9:
dry bamboo, sky, on plywood & wall

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Surface study 10: Surface study 11:
leaves, squamulous lichen on wall & branches tree stump, mushrooms on wall & branches

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Surface study 12:
driftwood, water reeds on plaster, plywood, wall & branches

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Surface study 13: Surface study 14:
birch tree and foliose lichen on brick wall wheat fields and sky on plywood, plaster & wall

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I
PHASE I
The first phase of ritual practice considers the n
t e
separation of the subject/viewer from their surroundings,
and an integration into the new ritual experience.
This is acheived primarily through familiar visual and
auditory cues, in this case: the sound of crowds, busy
environments, cityscapes, advertisements, vehicle noises.
In this phase, reality becomes suspended in the face of
disruptions to the forced familiarity--the subjects is eased
into the journey. This will eventually allow them to be

g r
open to a restructuring of their understanding of what is
being represented in the moving image. The layering of
sounds, textured surfaces and projection are inteded to
create an immersive state.

at
io
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n 52
LIMIN-
PHASE II

The liminal phase is a period of absolute agitation, seeming disorder, and sensory confusion.
As described by Turner and Gennep, “ everyday notions of time, space and identity are
suspended.” The introduction of nature-based images and sounds at this stage allow for a
re-imagining of the subject’s immediate priorities. Nature is enhanced both “on screen” and

ALITY
before our eyes.

“During the liminal phase, ritual participants engage in mimetic activity reenacting the crisis
motivating the ritual. In so doing, the structures of everyday social life are both given a
mythical explanation and justification and also challenged, or to use van Gennep’s terms, in
the liminal phase “structure” and “anti-structure” are simultaneously enacted.”

The Rites of Passage


Arnold van Gennep

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RE - IN
PHASE III

-itiation
The final phase creates an atmosphere of
reintegration or reinitiation of the subject
into their previously occupied space (both
physical and mental). Integral to this phase
is the added element of appreciation
for the beauty and sensory stabilization
mediated by nature.

With this comes recognition and


confrontation of the subject’s own
predisposition to urban chaos and its
consequences. The numbed organism re-
awakens to the same scene, but retains the
disrupted mindframe brought about by the
experience. There is a “sensory cleansing”.

The structure of the moving image peters


out of chaotic framing and into the calming
sounds and sights of the forest, which
acts as a symbol of deep thought and a
meditative state. The experience ends
full-circle, with the city making its re-
emergence among the foliage.

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SENSORY
ETHNOGRAPHY

“Films do not need to pipe in smells, waft breezes across the audience, or chill the room to have
the audience members feel those various sensations. Our brain’s natural synaesthesia will do it
automatically when we are totally immersed in the filmic world, our mirror neurons firing in
sympathy with what we see and hear.”

Sensory Ethnography Lab, Harvard

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In Heritage, Museums and Galleries, Carol Duncan writes of the
art museum as a ritual, a constructed setting that engages the
senses and becomes both a personal and social ceremony.
Duncan also speaks of the liminal quality of museums,
which she considers create a “state of exaltation through
contemplation of, engagement--perhaps even a sense of
communion--with, works of art...”

The art-viewing ritual, as much as the nature-based


ritual, has grown its roots out of the soil of transcendental
experience. Both of these rituals rely on an environment of
change that motivates people to seek truth, understanding,
or an explanation for the systems at play around them.
Contemporary social structure often lacks the corner stones
of ritual contemplation, especially in relation to nature,
identity, and the human relationship to place and ecology.
For inhabitants of major metropolitan areas, forays into
nature have decreased, connectivity to the surrounding land
is minimal, and raw exchanges of experience--not filtered
through digital means or artificial speeds--are rare.

The study of the this relationship between human being


and environment has been touched upon by nearly every
conceivable field of study--from neuroscience to the social
sciences-but is perhaps best explained through sensory
ethnography.

Heritage, Museums and Galleries


Carol Duncan

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The Taskscape

For the indigenous people of Lapland, the Saami, the forest acts
as a microcosm of reality. It contains within its boundaries all
possible processes of life, death and perception; it is at once a place
of mythological importance and immediate relevance. According
to oral tradition, the Saami believe in the power of the forest to
expose archetypes in humans, and through ritual practices transform
practicioners by creating an environment for renewal. The sensorium
plays an important role in this transformation, tying together centuries of
tradition with contemporary views on biological information processing.

Anthropologist Tim Ingold coined the term “taskscape” with his work
The Temporality of the Landscape, whereby the environment inhabited by a
person or group of people directly determines the cultural perspective
and subsequent culturally transmitted behaviour of the individual or
group. The term unifies the understanding of nature and place in relation
to perception and human action, and the engagement that communities
have with their surroundings. According to Ingold’s theory, perceptual
hierarchy is determiend by a person’s immediate surroundings, and what
they chose to expose themselves to.

These “taskscapes”, or cumulative potentials for thought and action, can


be used to explore and modify the way contemporary societies think and
act in the face of shrinking connection to the nature that surrounds their
cities.

The Temporality of the Landscape


Tim Ingold
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consider the texture of your sensorium, the sound
of a memory, the private ecology that makes up
your system of perception. Consider the hierarchy
of your senses, their role in your cultural heritage,
and how your worldview has been shaped by your
response to the environmental stimuli around you.
Now consider your habits, rituals, and significant
experiences, and the filters through which you see
them as you try to fit them into a configuration of
self-understanding. The resulting ethnography is a
complex map into the patterns of perception that
make up human identity.

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