The Sensorium of Augmented Reality

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called, Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art edited by Caroline A. Jones. This book explores the connections and implications of the techno-human interface as it is represented in select artworks by artists like Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller. However, the title is what caught my interest in relation to this week’s topic–the word Sensorium. It is a strange word, and I am reminded of something like ‘a room of the senses.’ This is not far off, as Wikipedia defines it as “the sum of an organism’s perception, the “seat of sensation” where it experiences and interprets the environments within which it lives.” This, I feel, is similar to what augmented reality (AR) technologies want us to achieve. Stuart Eve, in his article “Augmenting Phenomenology: Using Augmented Reality to Aid Archaeological Phenomenology in the Landscape,” he focuses on the embodied way that we perceive our world:

The importance of embodiment cannot be overstated when thinking about perception of the environment, and this is at the heart of using archaeological phenomenology to explore ancient landscapes. An experience is not limited to what can simply be seen from a point in the landscape, but includes what can be felt, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched; and moreover, how our sensory reactions change as we move through and encounter landscapes from our situated body. In addition, we must consider the social aspects of the experience, as the space we move through is not only a construct of sensory perception, but also of social perception (Tilley 1997, p. 11). This sensory exploration is temporal, ‘in the moment’, and so difficult to reproduce. (Eve, 583)

Computer technologies, like GIS, and AR allow us to create many possible pasts (e.g. models of past buildings), and we are able to tweak them and play with them to get a sense of what the past may have been like. AR allows the user to work in a real-world environment while being able to receive and interact with computer generated models. Unlike a virtual reality experience, AR still allows us to be in an embodied space, while interacting with virtual elements. It is a technology that marries itself to the real world, and tries to take into account as many of the human senses as it can in order to create its own sensorium through the user. It shifts our perceptions to and fro between the virtual and the real.

Although, Sensorium does not specifically talk about artists who work with augmented reality, I think that the idea in the book of a “hybrid” sensorium is at play in AR. It is as if the virtual brings its own sensorium with it when it virtually embodies our world through a smartphone, and vice versa. The virtual and the user become one–a techno-human interface of sorts.

If anyone is interested in reading more on this idea of the sensorium, I would recommend reading Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art (2006) edited by Caroline A. Jones. Lots of neat essays by artists, curators, and a few theorists.

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