On creating a multi-sensory experience at Tate

Winning the 2015 IK Prize & what we’ll do next

Imagine walking up to an artwork in a gallery and hearing the scene depicted; feeling the rain falling in the painting; smelling the dense atmosphere. How would this affect your experience of the artwork? Would the stimulation of different senses begin a deeper emotional engagement with the work? Might it be more memorable as a result?

Today we’re pleased to announce that Flying Object has been awarded Tate’s IK Prize 2015 to build an experience that explores this thought. Our proposal, Tate Sensorium — a fully immersive, multisensory installation built around key works of art in Tate’s collection — is probably the most ambitious thing we’ve attempted as Flying Object. But why do this — and how?

Recent discoveries in neuroscience have painted a new picture of how the senses work. They have shown that the senses are not isolated from one another, but act together, the brain creating a perception of the world through an intermingling of the sensory stimuli it receives. Moreover, research has highlighted how qualities normally associated with one sense (like “sweetness” in taste) can be perceived by other senses (such as audio, or touch). Our image of the world is constructed in the brain from the integration of various sensual stimuli — nothing is simply just “visual” or “audio”.

So what we want to do is stimulate the non-visual senses to impact the visual perception of an artwork, using some cutting edge technology. Quite how this is going to work, and what artworks we’ll be tickling the senses around, is something we’ll be working out in collaboration with Tate and a group of scientists and artists over the coming months.

But as a sneak peek into the technologies, think binaural audio (a clever technique for recording sound that presents a disconcertingly accurate 3D environment when played back on headphones); touchless haptics (creating feeling in mid-air using ultrasound — no, really, watch the video) and accurately filling a room with smells designed to trigger emotional responses.

The Sensorium is planned to launch in early autumn at Tate Britain. We hope to post updates as we go along — but for now, have a think about what else could be enhanced with a few more sensory stimuli, and treat yourself to a binaural haircut. (Headphones required).