Senses of Embodiment: Art, Technics, Media

by Mika Elo (Volume editor) Miika Luoto (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 183 Pages
Series: Art – Knowledge – Theory, Volume 3


This volume is a collection of essays that presents both theory- and practice-based approaches to questions concerning the embodiment of sense.
Exploring the opening of meaning in sensible configurations, the texts also address the medial structures – at once aesthetic, bodily and technical – that condition our access to whatever makes sense to us.
The texts show in various ways how these phenomena call for trans-disciplinary research, and how theoretical or philosophical questioning gains from the experimental possibilities of artistic research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: In Medias Res
  • Mediality of sense
  • Technics and the question of presentation
  • Bodily capacities
  • The sense of aesthetics
  • The pathic
  • Art and research
  • Acknowledgements
  • The Touch of Mimesis: Esa Kirkkopelto
  • Mimesis, touch, body
  • The touch of reality
  • The subject of touch
  • The loss and return of touch
  • The touch of the past
  • The touch of critique
  • The touch of the body
  • From Elephans Photographicus to the Hybronaut: An Artistic Approach to Human Enhancement: Laura Beloff
  • Introduction
  • Enhancement of the senses
  • Prosthetic abilities and normativity
  • The Hybronaut
  • Exploring the hybrid environment
  • Conclusions
  • An Embodied Approach to Collaborative Music Practice: Koray Tahiroğlu and James Nesfield
  • Physicality of the body
  • The Notion of Embodiment in a Group Music Practice
  • PESI Extended System_initial version
  • Data collection and conditioning in mobile instrument
  • Data collection and conditioning in position
  • System coordination and adaptation
  • Audio synthesis and control
  • Music is a part of life
  • Sensuous Knowledge: Making Sense Through the Skin: Alex Arteaga
  • Reflections on Words and Thoughts in Motion: Cecilia Roos
  • The Dancing Body and Creative Expression: Reflections Based on Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology: Anna Petronella Foultier
  • Presented Images: On Photographs and Their Various Bodies: Tuomo Rainio
  • I. Theoretical notes
  • II. Valotuksia / Exposures
  • III. Image-Bodies
  • Theses, Notes, and Images: On the Photographic Conditions of Embodiment: Mika Elo
  • Epistemocritical note
  • Footnotes
  • Retouch
  • Being, Vision, Image: On Merleau-Ponty’s Eye and Mind: Miika Luoto
  • Body and vision
  • Painting and image
  • The challenge of painting
  • The thing is there
  • Contributors
  • Bibliography

Introduction: In Medias Res

New technologies affect sense perception, our most immediate access to the world, in ways that concern not only what and how we perceive, but the very conditions of perception itself. Transforming the sense of time and space as well as the meaning of the body inhabiting a place, new technologies in fact make us aware of those conditions in new ways. For a long time, the conditions of perception were held to be unchanging and universal, belonging to a natural or transcendental order, but have now proved to be functions of complex historical and technical processes. However, since our awareness of the ways in which technologies transform our sensuous access to the world is mainly non-reflective and practical, based on the everyday use of technological devices, our experience of the changing conditions of perception is essentially a mixture of familiarity and strangeness. In theoretical discussions concerning new media this ambiguousness is manifested in the polarity between technophilic and technophobic accounts.1

At the same time, it has also become evident that we do not confront technologies merely as well-designed instruments serving us in our efforts to achieve particular ends. Especially mass media and information technology make us aware of the fact that new technologies organize and structure our experience in ways that are difficult to analyze and hard to evaluate. With reference to our perceptual life, technologies are there not simply as instruments at our disposal but, rather, as media of experience. Instead of offering us a neutral space of perception, these media situate the act of perceiving into a field determined in complex ways by technical as well as habitual, bodily and material factors.2 Hence, the technological possibilities of perceiving and communicating are defined less by clearly identifiable functions than by effects of ongoing differentiations in medial fields characterized by conflicting forces. Our immediate experience of what is called reality is, in its seeming immediacy, constituted by media that clearly exceed our mastery.

It is no wonder, then, that we have become quite uncertain as to the appropriate ways of dealing with the effects of technology on our bodily existence. Fundamental questions arise that are irreducible to the technological means-ends-schema and that also seem to exceed the limits of traditional academic disciplines ← 7 | 8 → and even scientific objectivity as such.3 It is especially the arts and philosophical thought that have been alert to these challenges. Their recent developments make evident that one of the major tasks brought to us by new technologies is the urgent need to reconsider the very conditions of experinece, starting from the notions of time, space, place, and the body.

Mediality of sense

Any discourse on these issues comes across essential terminological difficulties, starting with the words technology and medium. In English, the word ‘technology’ easily suggests the practical application of scientific knowledge. In comparison, for instance, to the German Technik, which covers the meanings of technique and skill, the word technology is often too theoretical and science-oriented to serve as an appropriate designation of the problematic at issue here. Therefore we will use here the less theoretical word ‘technics’, which refers to technical rules or methods, as well as to the theory and study of an art or process. Being also a less habitual word, it may perhaps serve better as the designation of a field that is at once familiar and strange.

More challenging difficulties pertain to the word ‘medium’ as well as its plural form ‘media’. The diversity of phenomena subsumed under the word media (both in everyday contexts and in theoretical discussions) makes any attempt at a univocal definition of media into a virtually impossible task. Depending on context, we can legitimately call media such diverse entities and phenomena as materials, vehicles, machines, tools, bodies, senses, languages and complex technological settings. In one way or another, however, all media involve at once sense perception, that is, our embodied experience, and an articulation of meaning. Therefore, what is at play in media are all the senses of ‘sense’: sense perception, meaning, and the ability to estimate, appreciate or feel something. At the same time, at play in media are also all the senses of ‘embodiment’: the technical, material, bodily, and habitual differences that in each case articulate sense by incarnating it, representing it or making it part of a system. Insofar as media articulate sense by gathering together the different senses of ‘sense’, the question concerns, generally, what we call mediality of sense. ← 8 | 9 →

What is required of any attempt to question the senses of embodiment and the mediality of sense is that the questioning itself be sensitive to its own mediality. Both the arts and philosophy have made such a requirement their own: any veritable philosophical or artistic interrogation is essentially an interrogation of the very medium of that interrogation. If the arts and philosophy have indeed been alert to the aforementioned cultural changes, this is due perhaps less to the artists’ and philosophers’ personal sensitivity than to the historical process in which the relation of artistic and philosophical practices to their traditional media has become problematic. In fact, their alertness to the transformations going on with respect to technics is in various ways coupled with an awareness of a required transformation of their own practices. This means at once that, if the questions concerning the mediality of sense call for artistic and philosophical approaches, the role of these approaches must not be defined in advance. Moreover, the signs that point to the necessity of reconsidering the very nature of both art and philosophy in the face of these issues also point to the possibility of reconsidering their relations to each other.4

Technics and the question of presentation

At the historical moment when new technical modes of reproduction gave rise to wholly new art forms, first photography and then film, the traditional notion of art was put in question. As Walter Benjamin in particular showed in the 1930s, the aesthetic categories that up until the 19th century had powerfully delimited the field of art now began to loose their immediate credibility.5 In the case of photography and film, notions like “authenticity”, “originality” and the “proper place” of the work of art proved to be questionable, because the idea of an original work situated in its own place became untenable: a photograph or a film is there from the beginning as a copy to be reproduced and reworked as well as to be distributed and shown in many places at the same time. What was at once made questionable, was the integrity of the work of art and, consequently, the governing aesthetic ← 9 | 10 → idea of the work as a unified, meaningful whole. The question now is, what becomes of art when its “work” is defined by the very relations that formerly were considered to belong to its “context”, that is, to be external or accessory, like the modes of its presentation, transmission and storage. As we now know, such questions have become even more urgent in the wake of digital technologies. And as Benjamin already clearly saw, the stakes of the problematic concern the whole of culture: the aesthetic questions are immediately also political.

According to Martin Heidegger (whose reflections on technics started approximately at the same time as Benjamin’s), the problem of technics exceeds all regional problems as it concerns the very being of beings.6 In order to approach “the essence of technics”, Heidegger argued, we must free ourselves from the instrumental-anthropological definition of technics. The reason for this is not the incorrectness of the definition, according to which technics are man-made means to ends. The definition is in fact correct to such an extent that it is able to hide the fact that there is something else at play in technics, something else that by far surpasses instrumentality and human mastery.7 According to Heidegger, the essence of technics is nothing technical. What is at issue in it, is a particular mode in which things come into presence, a particular mode of the uncovering of what is. He characterizes it as a process of “setting” or “placing” (stellen), in which everything is with reference to a total availability of being placed at will.8 To borrow Samuel Weber’s apt formula: in technics, “things are allowed to take place only insofar as they can be put in place”.9 Most importantly, this ontological demand affects not only technological or scientific modes of production and inquiry, but all modes of representation and presentation (vorstellen and darstellen), including those of the arts and philosophy.

What both Benjamin and Heidegger started to bring to the fore is the fact that no interrogation of the articulation of sense in contemporary culture can avoid the unsettling effects of technics and media. What their works also point to, albeit in very different ways, is a limit of the theoretical as such with respect to the problematic at issue. The fundamental questions brought to us by technics concerning the relation between space and place, distance and proximity, presence and absence become manifest as problems that exceed the limits of existing theoretical ← 10 | 11 → approaches and, perhaps, all attempts at pure theoretical mastery. What is common to the approaches of both Benjamin and Heidegger is their awareness of the peculiar demands that these problems put on thought as a theoretical practice. In their work, the essential possibilities of thought are not reducible to mere conceptual determination and logical argumentation, but remain connected to the performative and transformative character of discourse. The question of technics and technical media require that thinking attend in new ways to its own media and techniques, that is, language and its means of presentation. From our own historical distance we can perhaps see that, here, the question of the possible role of artistic practices in addressing contemporary questions starts to emerge.

Bodily capacities

With the rise of new modes of representation based on technical production, at first photography and film, and more recently a whole array of electronic and digital media, we have become aware of the complexity of our seemingly natural sense perception. “It is another nature which speaks to the camera as compared to the eye”, Benjamin pointed out with regard to photography.10 Today the question is, whether and how the algorithmic processes taking place on the subface11 of complex media-technological settings still “speak” to our senses? How to relate our sense experience to technological processes that do not face the body in any phenomenal sense but nevertheless significantly contribute to our sense of reality?

In distinction to traditional arts, in which the representations offered by works are distinguishable from everyday reality, new media simulate our sense perception. Therefore, they are not merely means for the transmission of information. Much more fundamentally, they extend our bodily capacities in such a way that they detach the capacity to see and hear from its bodily place. Offering us new modes of access to the world, they also organize our experience of the world in ways that unsettle some of our most basic notions, such as the unity of body and its place, or the one-way relation between the representation and the represented. While new media offer us new modes of perception, they also allow us to experience the complexity and strangeness of perception, notably its dependence upon a vast apparatus that remains beyond our control.12 ← 11 | 12 →

Today, as diverse sensations and faculties are combined in new ways with the aid of computers, the role of our sensorium and its inner hierarchies are, together with the whole notion of the body, once again undergoing fundamental changes. In the wake of recent media-technological developments, such as web 2.0, touch screen technologies as well as various mobile and ubiquitous media, the promise of infinite communicability and seamless functionality combined with relative independence from the physical environment, have become part of our everyday experience. For a long time, Western conceptions of the body were governed (and in many ways still are) by the principle of containment, according to which the body is a self-contained unit that takes its place by excluding other bodies from that place.13 This principle has become an increasingly untenable starting point for any discourse on the lived body.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
meaning access research
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 184 pp., num. coloured and b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Mika Elo (Volume editor) Miika Luoto (Volume editor)

Mika Elo is the head of the Media Aesthetics Research Group at Aalto University, Helsinki and Associate Professor in Media Aesthetics at University of Lapland, Rovaniemi. He also works as curator and visual artist. His work focuses on artistic research, photography and media theory. Miika Luoto is Lecturer of Philosophy and Performance Theory at Theatre Academy, University of Arts, Helsinki and associate researcher in the Media Aesthetics Research Group at Aalto University, Helsinki. His research work focuses on phenomenological and post-phenomenological thought.


Title: Senses of Embodiment: Art, Technics, Media
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187 pages