Uncommon Senses: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Senses in Art and Culture

Uncommon Senses
Concordia University, Montreal
April 27-29, 2000
Organized by Constance Classen, Jim Drobnick, Jennifer Fisher, and David Howes
  Uncommon Senses was a major international conference that comprised 46 panels, 180 presenters and 330 registered participants dedicated to exploring the diversity of sensory experience in art and culture. Critiques of ocularcentrism strive to deconstruct the authority of vision, but by their very emphasis on visuality tend to confirm the priority of sight over the other senses. Uncommon Senses sought to redress this sensory imbalance by bringing to the fore the cultural, political and aesthetic significance of non-visual modes of sensorial engagement.

Drawing inspiration from research on the senses in the social sciences, literature and art, Uncommon Senses posed a series of questions: What models of sensory aesthetics do non-Western cultures offer? How is technology reinventing the senses? What are the historical roots of contemporary sensory paradigms? How are the senses engaged (or manipulated) in popular culture? In what manners can difference -- whether based on culture, class, disability or sexuality -- be mobilized to counter and reconfigure hegemonic understandings of the senses?

Scholars were drawn from a wide diversity of disciplines, including art history, anthropology, cultural studies, literary studies, philosophy, sociology, communications and the fine arts. Panels examined innovative uses of the senses in art, architecture, performance and other media; sensory transgressions and redefinitions of aesthetics; the history and anthropology of the senses; technology and the future of perception; the senses inflected by gender, class, disability and cultural difference; synaesthesia and “total” artworks; and sensation in popular and postmodern culture.

The conference was accompanied by an exhibition and performance series of sensory-based artworks at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery – Vital Signs and Sentience (curated by DisplayCult and Colette Tougas) – and a video series "Sense Machines" curated by Nelson Henricks.

Plenary Speakers

Richard Schechner, New York University

Robert Desjarlais, Sarah Lawrence College
“Movement, Stillness: On the Sensory World of a Shelter for the ‘Homeless Mentally Ill’”

Brian Massumi, State University of New York
“The Parable of the Cave (Blind Version)”

Constance Classen, Lonergan College
“The Futurist Sensorium and the Cultural Politics of the Senses”

Joanna Frueh, University of Nevada, Reno
“Vaginal Aesthetics”

Jim Drobnick, Concordia University
“Corrupting the Purity of the White Cube”

Related Events

Vital Signs
The Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery
an exhibition curated by DisplayCult and Colette Tougas

Sense Machines
video screenings programmed by Nelson Henricks

performances organized by DisplayCult

Conference Program

Thursday, April 27

10:00-12:45: Plenary I
      Richard Schechner
      Robert Desjarlais

      Anthropology of the Senses I: Material Culture
      Digital Aesthetics
      Engendering the Senses: Feminism and the Body
      Exhibition Practices
      Senses of Space I

      Anthropology of the Senses II: States of Perception
      Popular Culture: Affects and Effects
      Senses of Space II
      Sensing the Sacred

Friday, April 28

      Deaf Cultures
      Embodied Reading
      Experiencing the Atmosphere
      Sensorial Strategies in Art History
      Staging Sensoriality

      Cinematic Senses
      Cuts and Caresses: The Body in Pleasure and Pain
      Helen Keller
      Philosophical Aesthetics: Sensorial Investigations
      A Sensory Primer
      Writing the Senses

2:00-3:45: Plenary II
      Brian Massumi
      Constance Classen

      Amerindian Aesthetics
      Artistic Process
      Critiques of Ocularcentrism
      Feminist Aesthetic Practices
      Making Sense of Texts
      Rasaboxes: Workshop

Saturday, April 29

      Aurality I
      Cultural Histories of the Senses I
      Feeling Difference: The Sensory Politics of Alterity
      Taste I

      Aurality II
      Cultural Histories of the Senses II
      Disability and Technology: Reconfiguring the Senses
      Sense Appeals
      The Tactility of Vision: Readings in Photography, Film and Video
      Taste II

2:00-3:45: Plenary III
      Joanna Frueh
      Jim Drobnick

      Altered States
      From the Tactile to the Embrace
      Perceptual Pedagogies
      Sociology of the Senses
      The “Total Artwork “ (Gesamtkunstwerk)
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