Day 3, stream 3


Histories and Futures of Electronic Art


Chris Salter


Chris Salter: Hexagram/Concordia University, Canada

Jennifer Biddle: National Institute for Experimental Arts, College of Fine Arts, UNSW, Australia

David Howes: Concordia University, Australia



“Mediations of Sensation” was a three year, Quebec funded research-creation project whose aim was to explore the possibility of cross-talk between the creation of media environments and sensory anthropology. Sensory anthropology is dedicated to charting the varieties of sensory experience through analysis of the distinctive ways in which the senses are socialized and their deliverances imbued with significance in different cultures. As cultural historian Constance Classen observes: “When we examine the meanings associated with various sensory faculties and sensations in different cultures we find a cornucopia of potent sensory symbolism” (Classen 1997). Within the first year, students in design, computation arts and humanities undertook a survey of literature in the anthropology of the senses. Out of this survey emerged a focus on the Tzotzil of Mexico and the Desana Indians of Colombia, which informed two large-scale artworks Atmosphere and Displace, both of which played with designing and composing environments with elements of taste, smell, vibration, vision and sound. These works were presented both in Canada and internationally, the first presented within the context of the American Anthropology Association’s annual meeting in Montreal in 2011. Mimetic realism, or ethnographic verisimilitude was not the objective of this project. Rather, the critical aim was to design large performative environments that hybridized cultures and begin to develop the aesthetic potential of the non-visual senses. With the increasing and future interest in new media arts in practices of “embodiment,” “enaction” (Noe 2006; Varela, Rosch and Thompson 1991) and “sense experience” (Jones 2007), this panel features key participants from MoS (Salter, Howes, Martenucci and Smoak) along with Australian anthropologist Jennifer Biddle. The panel will present MoS as both a conceptual and material practice case study which demonstrates the complex interdisciplinary entangling between anthropologists, artists and designers seeking to create new kinds of anthropological knowledge and experience.



David Howes is Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal and the Director of the Centre for Sensory Studies. He is the co-author of Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society (2013, with Constance Classen), author of Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory, (2003), and editor of  The Varieties of Sensory Experience (1991), Cross-Cultural Consumption (1996)  and Empire of the Senses (2005). He has carried out field research on the cultural life of the senses  in Argentina, Arizona, and Papua New Guinea. His other research interests revolve around medical anthropology, psychological anthropology, legal sociology, and cross-cultural jurisprudence.


Jennifer Biddle is ARC Future Fellow and Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), UNSW.  She is founding Coordinator of the PhD program in Visual Anthropology/Visual Culture at COFA, a leading national program specializing in practice-led Indigenous and Asia Pacific research.  She is a visual anthropologist of Aboriginal art, language, emotion and culture.  Her interdisciplinary research and writing spans theories of embodiment, sensory formations and radical cultural aesthetics;  narrative, trauma, memory and predicaments of occupation;  language and poetics, translation, experimental ethnographic writing, anthropology and literature;  intercultural ontologies, glocal formations, postcolonialism. Her first book breasts, bodies canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience (UNSW Press) provides a groundbreaking analysis of the ‘feminisation of the Dreaming’ in the Papunya Tula Aboriginal art movement.   Her current ARC Future Fellowship Remote Avant-garde: Experimental Indigenous Art undertakes an ambitious, multifaceted comparative analysis to identify how experimentation is enabling art to communicate directly with global audiences and markets.  In 2012, in partnership with desArt, she co-convened the first national forum on experimental art practice in Desert arts Same but Different: experimentation and innovation in Desert Arts, a now annual event, see:


Chris Salter is an artist, Director of Hexagram-Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology and Associate Professor for Design + Computation Arts. Salter studied economics and philosophy at Emory University and received his Ph.D. in the area of theater with a second concentration in computer-generated sound from Stanford University. After collaborating with Peter Sellars and William Forsythe/Ballett Frankfurt, he co-founded and directed the art and research organization Sponge (1997-2003). His solo and collaborative work has been seen at major international exhibitions and festivals in over a dozen countries including the Venice Architecture Biennale among many others. He is the author of Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (MIT Press, 2010) and is currently working on a follow up Alien Agency (also for MIT Press).