Leonardo Reviews ©2014 ISAST LEONARDO, Vol. 47, No. 5, pp. 515–526, 2014 515
Editor-in-Chief: Michael Punt
Managing Editor: Bryony Dalefield
Associate Editors: Martha
Blassnigg, Hannah Drayson,
Dene Grigar, John Vines
A full selection of reviews is published monthly on the LR website: <leonardoreviews.mit.edu>.
Reviews Panel: Allan Graubard, Amy Ione,
Anna B. Creagh, Annick Bureaud, Anthony
Enns, Aparna Sharma, Boris Jardine, Brian
Reffin Smith, Catalin Brylla, Cecilia Wong, Chris
Cobb, Claudia Westermann, Claudy Opdenkamp,
Craig Harris, Craig J. Hilton, Dene Grigar,
Eduardo Miranda, Elizabeth McCardell, Elizabeth
Straughan, Ellen Pearlman, Enzo Ferrara, Eugene
Thacker, Florence Martellini, Flutor Troshani,
Fred Andersson, Frieder Nake, George Gessert,
George K. Shortess, Giovanna Costantini, Hannah Drayson, Hannah Rogers, Harriet Hawkins,
Ian Verstegen, Jack Ox, Jacques Mandelbrojt, Jan
Baetens, Jennifer Ferng, John F. Barber, John Vines,
Jonathan Zilberg, Jung A. Huh, Jussi Parikka,
K. Blassnigg, Kathleen Quillian, Lara Schrijver,
Martha Blassnigg, Martha Patricia Nino, Martyn
Woodward, Maureen A. Nappi, Michael Mosher,
Michael Punt, Mike Leggett, Nameera Ahmed,
Ornella Corazza, Paul Hertz, Rene van Peer, Richard Kade, Rob Harle, Robert A. Mitchell, Roger
Malina, Roy Behrens, Sonya Rapoport, Stefaan
Van Ryssen, Stephen Petersen, Valérie Lamontagne, Robert A. Vonlanthen, Wilfred Arnold,
Will Luers, Yvan Tina and Yvonne Spielmann
Art and the Senses
Francesca Bacci and David Melcher,
Editors. Oxford University Press, London, U.K., 2013. 676 pp. Trade, paper.
ISBN: 978-0-19-923060-0; 978-0-19967497-8.
Reviewed by Amy Ione. Email: <ione@ diatrope.com>. doi:10.1162/LEON_r_00872
Art and the Senses is an excellent sourcebook on the relationship between art and our senses. Comprised of over 30 chapters and coming in at over 600 pages, this compendium is, to my knowledge, the first to broadly tackle sensory perception in relation to artistic endeavors. Indeed, it offers an extraordinary overview of the subject. Moreover, despite covering a broad spectrum of both qualitative and quantitative material, the book is quite accessible to a generalist reader like me. Topics include the neuroscience of sensory processing in the body, cultural influences on how the senses are used in society, interviews with practitioners about their work, artist papers about their projects, and case studies (e.g. a blind artist). The majority of the papers are easy to read, although I did find a few of the articles a bit technical.
Given its length, Art and the Senses works best as a reference tool. One impressive (and appreciated) component is the cross-referencing from paper to paper, a feature too often excluded from anthologies. Readability is further enhanced by a useful index (23 pages), well-chosen illustrations and the book’s overall organization. Early exteroceptive and interoceptive senses.
I appreciated the examples that clearly expressed the ways in which art is multidimensional. For example, the Alexis
Wright phantom-limb photographs, discussed by Siân Ede, offer a means for us to see the missing limbs of phantom limb subjects and to sense how the nonexistent sensations “feel.” The paper on “mirror neurons” hovers around this kind of empathy. Gallese also adds: “Creativity is a distinguished feature of the human condition that I am afraid can hardly be reduced to the functional properties of specific populations of neurons, mirror neurons included” (p. 461).
As a whole, the inclusion of artists, scientists and humanists provides many contrasts and counterpoints. For example, I found that Rosalyn Driscoll’s chapter, “Aesthetic Touch,” in which she discusses how haptic experiences enrich and enhance visual perception and her own efforts to develop art that people with all abilities can touch, provides a nice counterpoint to the scientific research on touch. Bacci’s chapter, “Sculpture and Touch,” follows up on
Driscoll’s discussion of her method by pointing out that “Driscoll regularly suggests that the public use a blindfold to first encounter her sculptures haptically before doing so through sight” (p. 143). chapters set the stage by examining historical attitudes to and views of the senses. These foundational essays are followed by thematically based groupings that probe current projects and present contemporary research: Early essays cover touch and corporeal senses, as well as the chemical senses of taste and smell. Auditory experience and vision come next. The final chapters offer more of a potpourri, or perhaps a multisensory theme, with articles on synesthesia, multisensory work, dance and architecture. Some topics, film being a good example, fall into more than one of the above categories. The interspersed interviews are a nice touch, as they offer a change in rhythm and tone. These include a conversation between Francesca Bacci and Italian contemporary art critic Achilee Bonito
Oliva and two interviews by David
Melcher (one with Brazilian artist and photographer Vik Muniz, and another with jazz musicians and educators Greg
Osby and Skip Hadden on the mystery of representation).
Since our senses provide perceptual data, I think each reader will experience the essays quite differently, and the content is likely to stimulate both subjective and critical reactions. I found myself fascinated by the way the writing piqued my awareness of my own “body space” and reminded me of my biases. I also liked the way the book’s multisensory focus interfaced with the contemporary interest in networks and interactions in the arts, sciences and humanities. In some cases I found the information from beyond my normal scope spoke to old conundrums. For example, several of the articles about music reminded me that it is easy to simply like music without having any educated understanding of basic musical notation and auditory research. As a naïve listener, I know much of the resonance of music is more opaque to me than it is to others with knowledge of the finer points. Nonetheless, I recognize that musical sounds impact me deeply. Thus, I particularly appreciated the essays on musical topics.