Through the Prism of the Senses (Book)

Mediation and New Realities of the Body in Contemporary Performance. Technology, Cognition and Emergent Research-Creation Methodologies

This book is a vital contribution to discussions surrounding research creation and the body in relation to digital media, highlighting the ways in which new technologies confront the sensate, somatic body.

Category: Performing Arts


Over the past decades, a fundamental epistemological shift has transformed notions of performativity and representation in the arts under the influence of new technologies. Mediation has challenged both spectators’ and performers’ conventions of corporeality, embodiment, cognition, and perception. Centring on contemporary synaesthetic and multimodal works, Through the Prism of the Senses examines new theory and practice in body-based arts and contemporary performance. Three main chapters present three distinct strands of methodological enquiry, one from each author, creating a work that resonates with artistic and philosophical enquiry. This book is a vital contribution to discussions surrounding research creation and the body in relation to digital media, highlighting the ways in which new technologies confront the sensate, somatic body.

A French-language version is to be published by Presses de l'Université du Québec (ISBN 978-2-76055-148-0). This includes additional chapters in English by Erin Manning, David Howes, and Luc Vanier and Elizabeth Johnson. A Spanish-language version is to be published by Centro Editoral Universidad de Caldas.

Isabelle Choinière is an international artist, researcher, author, and teacher of contemporary performative practices which integrate new technology. She is affiliate professor and a postdoctoral transdisciplinary researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal.

Enrico Pitozzi is a professor in the Department of Arts at the Università di Bologna.

Andrea Davidson is an award-winning videographer and new media artist. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Chichester, UK.


Chapter 1: The prism of perception. Corporeality between intermedial stages and

environments by Enrico Pitozzi

Chapter 2: Seismographies of mediated bodies. A logic of creation by Isabelle Choinière

Chapter 3: The Mediated/Mediating Body by Andrea Davidson


Postface by Derrick de Kerckhove

'This is a monumental work. It has multiple authors, but they are all on the same wavelength, and there are multiple allusions to each others chapters, and the key concepts they share and seek to elaborate, throughout. Consequently, there is a very high degree of cohesion and coherence to this work. It reads like a choir sings. I enjoyed the harmonies and resonances very much. This is not just another edited collection. This work is a testimony to the power of collective – or if you prefer – distributed scholarship, which is otherwise sorely lacking in today’s academy. 

There is a growing literature on research-creation in the domain of new media art. This work represents a major contribution to that literature. What is more, it  brings the moving body into the discussion. [...] This manuscript raises the conversation to a new level, and in so doing it breaks numerous barriers, particularly through what it has to say about the integration of the arts. This work is bound to have many repercussions not only in the arts, but in sound studies, sensory studies, body studies, communication studies and HCI as well.'

David Howes, professor of anthropology and co-director of the Centre for Sensory Studies, director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC), Concordia University

'This is a totally fascinating publication. It is human behaviour that informs the forward edge of art, and it is the technologies of process and system which now inform human behaviour. Seen through the prism of outstanding creative practitioners and theorists, led by Isabelle Choinière, this ground-breaking book shows how performative art, embodying the extended consciousness of telematic systems, can lead the way into the emergence of an entirely new aesthetic canon. The move is from interaction to absorption, from multimedia to moistmedia, a kind of cybersomatic artistic transformation.'

Roy Ascott, professor of Technoetic Arts, University of Plymouth, founding-president and director of The Planetary Collegium, Transdisciplinary Space Research (nodes in UK, Switzerland, Italy, China)

'Through the Prism of the Senses provides an exhilarating, provocative reflection that challenges a traditional lexicon and mode of reasoning. Choinière, Pitozzi and Davidson each have a voice of their own. The argumentative structure of the book is carefully crafted so the reader is able to move easily from one perspective to the other and navigate between the key concepts. This exploration of our complex corporeality is not a scientistic daydream, but a thoughtful manifesto fostering dialogue between philosophy, art, technology and science. It involves collaborative and collective research, artistic creative process and theory building. The book not only offers a comprehensive view on the debate amongst critics and art theorists, but also opens up innovative paths for research-creation.

And here’s the good news: the body is not obsolete. The body is significant, expressive, fluid, evolutive, transformational, relational. And technology is just another part of the learning and living, ever-changing human environment. What does it mean for the body to be at once here in flesh and bones, and elsewhere, virtualized through its mediated extensions? Perception, sensory experience and communication are not separated from technology, they are rather seen as interdependent, mutually influential. A whole new reality is thus put forward, letting previously hidden, neglected or unnoticed layers of experience to be heard; transforming the performer’s and the spectator’s "sensory maps", stimulating imagination and creativity. We are immersed in a logic of flux and metamorphosis. In the end, the body/technology prism entails an enhancement of awareness.'

Louis Jacob, professor at the Department of Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal

'This book makes a very strong argument for the concept of an extended body that emerges through a rigorous and dedicated engagement with new digital technologies. A key claim is that our senses are "prisms" that function as "detectors" for sensations that are then "translated" into behaviours. Technology, then, increases the range of sensations we can have, and thus our perceptive and behavioural capacities are substantially enhanced. The strength of the arguments and hence the book itself, lies in the different approaches the three authors take, and the manner in which their ideas intersect throughout. In short, the structure of the document reminds us that it is crucial in our search for new knowledge that we must integrate different perspectives in a transdisciplinary manner in order to address the dilemmas we face in an increasingly complex contemporary world.

As a case in point, the writing often gets very scientific, drawing on fields of knowledge from theatre, music and dance, i.e., the traditional performing arts, to biotechnology, nanotechnology, and ideas from quantum theory and philosophy, i.e., the hard sciences and philosophy. They also draw on embedded ideas from Asian, African and North American to Latin American, Brazilian and Mexican cultures; at the same time acknowledging a heavily influenced Western European context. This kind of transdisciplinary and culturally influenced approach is difficult to integrate, especially by a group of writers coming from typically white North American and European backgrounds. However, the expertise here is undoubtable and the different ontological perspectives they are dealing with taken very seriously. In short, the writers make an immense effort to understand the different perspectives of body and corporeality – and inter-corporeality – that exists within these cultures that are not normally within their own accustomed spheres of experience.

At the same time, one also gets the sense that the writing does sound a bit idealistic about its goal to cross-pollinate ideas from western thought with those from "ancient philosophical traditions from Asia, the Far East, Africa, Brazil and Haiti". One is reminded of the development of many Western art forms that literally appropriated from these cultural traditions without paying due respect to their depth, while the work of many of those striving to emerge from their specific "colonialist" circumstances were given short shrift. It is all fine to imagine a situation where one can have access to certain technologies that allows one to experiment with them as "forms of thought or thought processes", and to understand how "technology can extend and renew perception [...] while also nourishing artistic expression", but few of these artists have access to such luxuries. In the absence of these technologies, however, many of them rely on traditional technological sources and practices at their disposal, practices that I argue can be equally productive as "forms of thought or thought processes".

But I diverge a bit. There is immense scholarship in artistic research at work in this document, and the dedication of the three authors to identifying the potentials of the body, to our perceptive capacities, and to our developing relationships with technological innovation is inspiring. I am certain that its publication will be greeted by those working in a number of fields from dance and somatic practices to philosophy, and from computer science and engineering to biotechnology and the neurosciences with enthusiasm, as I have.'

Henry Daniel, Professor of Dance, Performance Studies and New Media Technologies, Simon Fraser University

'This is an ambitious work in which the authors take on the subject of how digital technologies have, and continue to, change us through the extension of our senses that in turn modifies and redefines our perceptions [...] The book presents a deep level of scholarship and philosophical enquiry [...] The level of intellectual enquiry is the manuscript's strongest aspect, and its original focus on embodied perception, emergence, the body, and the transforming nature/power of technology.'

Denise Doyle, senior lecturer in digital media, University of Wolverhampton
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