Year 8, n.27 (January– April 2018) Sensory Hiatus

Year VIII, n.27, January – April 2018
Sensory Hiatus

curated by Laura Estrada Prada


“Il mondo è l’emanazione di un corpo che lo penetra. 
Tra la sensazione delle cose e sensazione di sé, si istaura un andirvieni continuo: 
prima del pensiero, vi sono i sensi.”
-David Le Breton

In a world that has manifestly emancipated itself from Descartes’ disdain for bodily consideration, the corporeal has asserted its importance within all cultural and academic disciplines. With the acknowledgement of the body as a maker of meaning, sensory perception becomes pivotal. Today, the discerning of the world is necessarily a multi-sensory, a multi-disciplinary and a multi-cultural understanding of such. It is within this framework and in coherence with much needed attention to the body, that the subversion of a long withstanding hierarchy of the senses takes place.  For a long time, sight and hearing were coined the “noble senses”: the sole to provide an intellectual experience. Smell, taste and touch were for long recognized as the “lower senses”, too instinctual and emotional to be worthy of intellectual acknowledgment in the West1. This changed in the latter part of the 20th century and those lower senses have started to seep their way into cultural narratives in a more conscious and knowing way: the tacit yet shared implications of living in a world that has to be tasted, touched and smelled in order to attempt a more well-rounded comprehension2. This sensory shift provides a different understanding of contexts and circumstances in which the senses become actual subjects of reflection rather than side-effects. Through the disruption of common ways of sensing, we can trigger considerations on how experience can shape sensory perception, rather than how the senses shape experiences3. Reconsidering the value of the neglected senses of smell, touch and taste in society becomes, therefore, a multi-disciplinary practice: one where art, histories, anthropology and science might find a space of dialectical convergence. How can we talk about smells, tactile experiences and tastes? Does the “strength” of these senses lie in their subversion of a shared hierarchy, proposing themselves as elements of disturbance in the way we feel collectively? Is their evocative and emotional nature one that urges us to re-examine their “language” and their aesthetic value, one that has been mainly understood and theorized visually?

1 Classen, C. e Howes, D. Ways of Sensing, Routledge, New York, 2014.
2 Le Breton, D. Il Sapore del mondo. Raffaello Cortina Editore, Milano, 2007.
3 Bacci, F. e Melcher, D. Art & The Senses, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013.