Galleries are overwhelmingly visual. But people are not – the brain understands the world by combining what it receives from all five senses. Can taste, touch, smell and sound change the way we ‘see’ art?
Tate Sensorium is an immersive display featuring four paintings from the Tate collection. You can experience sounds, smells, tastes and physical forms inspired by the artworks, and record and review your physiological responses through sophisticated measurement devices.
The experience encourages a new approach to interpreting artworks, using technology to stimulate the senses, triggering both memory and imagination. On leaving, you will be invited to explore the rest of the gallery using the theme of the senses as a guide.
Tate Sensorium is the winning project of IK Prize 2015, awarded annually for an idea that uses innovative technology to enable the public to discover, explore and enjoy British art from the Tate collection in new ways.
Small but mighty exhibition
Get ready for your senses to be tantalized
Artworks from the Tate collection
Tate Sensorium features four twentieth century British paintings from Tate’s collection of art. Flying Object and their team of collaborators have selected artworks that play with abstraction in different ways, all of which can be appreciated sensually in terms of their subject matter, use of shape, form, colour, style and your own imagination. Here are the four paintings that feature in Tate Sensorium.
Francis Bacon Figure in a Landscape
The taste of edible charcoal, sea salt, cacao nibs and smokey lapsang souchong tea bring out the painting’s dark nature, and the wartime era in which it was painted – while a hint of burnt orange connects to flashes of colour and blue sky.
Smell evokes the setting, Hyde Park: there’s grass, soil, and an animalic, horse-like scent.
Audio mirrors the smell and taste, while referencing the colour palette and the painting’s visual texture; mechanised, industrial sounds are suggested in the subject matter.
David Bomberg In The Hold
The audio brings the viewer into the painting, through two distinct planes of sound.
The first reflects the geometry of the painting: acute angles, jagged sounds, reflecting Bomberg’s quest for ‘pure form’. The second evokes the subject matter – a ship’s hold.
The smell stimuli work in a similar way. The first scent is abstract: shrill, bringing out the blue colour. The second smells like the ship might: diesel and tobacco. Low concentrations of the second scent are present in the first.
John Latham Full Stop
An Ultrahaptics device creates touch sensations on the hand in mid air, using ultrasound. These are sequenced with the audio.
The artwork plays with positive and negative space, and the tactile-audio stimulus translates that as presence or absence.
The sound especially emphasises the painting’s black and white duality.
The two senses work together to create a sense of scale, and of roundness, but also reference Latham’s use of spray paint, and his iterative theory of mark making.
Richard Hamilton Interior II
Smell stimuli create a sense of a mid-century home and the impact of big brands by recreating the original scent of Pledge.
The central character is brought to life with the scent of vintage hair-spray, and a glue/ solvent smell hints at the collage process. The audio brings the viewer into the acoustic space of the central character.
Some of the objects depicted can also be heard, while sounds of paper and paint again suggest the creative process.
Technology and the senses
Touchless haptics work by using focused ultrasound from an array of speakers that vibrate on the visitor’s hand. This will create a sensation of touch, and no gloves or special equipment is needed. Touchless haptics use technology developed by the company Ultrahaptics.
Directional audio uses ultrasound waves to direct very precise sound waves across distances in a very precise manner. Listeners outside of the audio area will not be able to hear it, while for those inside the channel, the effect is similar to listening to headphones. Directional audio systems will be provided by Hypersound.
Flying Object collaborated with International Flavors and Fragrances working with a selection of perfumers to create bespoke fragrances. The fragrances have been created using IFF exclusive raw materials combined with scents of life captured using IFF R&D Nature Inspired Fragrance Technologies™.
Master chocolatier and food inventor Paul A Young has developed an edible product that stimulates a haptic taste experience in response to the textural, painterly qualities and potential meanings of a specific artwork.
Visitors will be given the option to measure their body’s response to the experience using wearable devices. These wristbands measure electrodermal activity, a measure of perspiration, which indicates how calm or excited wearers are. Tate Sensorium will be using E4 wristbands, provided by Empatica, who offer medical quality sensing.
Lighting equipment is kindly provided by Rosco
Tate Sensorium was developed by Flying Object, a London-based creative studio, winners of the IK Prize 2015. Flying Object collaborated with a core team of experts to bring the experience to life:
- Audio created by Nick Ryan
- Scents designed by Odette Toilette
- Chocolates created by Paul A. Young
- Scientific input and mid-air haptics design by Dr Marianna Obrist, Damien Ablart and Dr Carlos Velasco at the Sussex Computer Human Interaction Lab, University of Sussex
- Lighting design by Cis O’Boyle
- Interactive theatre design by Annette Mees
- Human interface development by Make Us Proud and team
- Guide to Tate Sensorium voiced by Tamsin Greig
Special thanks go to our partners, without whom the experience would not be possible:
- Mid-air haptic system supplied by Ultrahaptics and the University of Sussex
- Fragrances and expertise supplied by IFF, International Flavors and Fragrances
- Directional speakers supplied by Hypersound
- Measurement wristbands supplied by Empatica
- Headphone equipment supplied by beyerdynamic
- Lighting equipment supplied by Rosco
- 3D printed scent containers designed by Stuart Baker at Makerversity