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Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art

The focus of this exhibition at the List Gallery at MIT is the intersection of art, technology and the senses. Part I of Sensorium runs through December 31 and features installations by Mathieu Briand, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Ryoji Ikeda, Bruce Nauman, and Sissel Tolaas.

In spite of the fairly illustrious group of contributors, the exhibit is quite uneven. There are some real clunkers in the mix, such as the mixed-media installation Opera in a Small Room by Cardiff and Miller, which combines hoaky sound and lighting effects with spoken word and a hodge-podge of old opera, rock, and jazz records to no real effect. Bruce Nauman, who is perhaps the best-known artist of the lot, also disappoints with a 51-minute infared video of his studio at night in which nothing happens save the scurrying of a mouse or two. The day I visited the 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired piece by Briand, titled UBIQ, a Mental Odyssey, was out of commission, due to technical problems, so I can’t really speak to its merits. The highlight was Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra II, which you enter one at a time and then walk down a long, dark corridor, bathed in oscillating, high frequency soundwaves, illuminated only by a red laser light at its very end. Periodically, there is a burst of disorienting sound and light, as you make your way tentatively towards the light at the end of the hallway and then return with equal trepidation to the bright, outside world. I’m sure my description sounds unpleasant, but it’s not. It’s an oddly exhilerating exploration of the intersection of sight, sound, and space, and is by far the most successful and thought-provoking piece in the exhibit. The most sensually provocative piece, however, is the horribly affecting, scent-based work by Norwegian artist Sissel, The FEAR of smell—The smell of FEAR, which is a truly daemonic bit of scratch ‘n’ sniff. It will stay with you long after you’ve left the building. You’ve been warned.


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