Five Senses Explored By Tate’s IK Prize 2015 Winner

Stimulate your sense of taste, touch, smell and hearing as Tate Sensorium, a new immersive art experience, is unveiled at Tate Britain. Galleries are overwhelmingly visual. But people are not – the brain understands the world by combining what it receives from all five senses. Can taste, touch, smell and sound change the way we experience art?

Tate Sensorium is the winning project of IK Prize 2015, an annual prize, presented by Tate for an idea that uses innovative technology to enable the public to discover, explore and enjoy British art from the Tate collection in new ways. This immersive display opening on 26 August 2015 allows visitors to engage with paintings from Tate’s collection in a multisensory experience inspired by the artworks. Sound, smell, taste and touch are used to highlight different aspects of each painting and explore the way the senses interrelate to influence our overall gallery experience.

Featuring works by four celebrated figures in twentieth-century painting, Francis Bacon, David Bomberg, Richard Hamilton and John Latham, the display will encourage a new approach to interpreting these paintings, using the senses to trigger both memory and imagination. Key technological components include the use of Binaural and directional audio to produce 3D sounds, a perfume release system to heighten scent and pioneering touchless haptics technology to create the impression of tactile sensations.

Selected from a shortlist of four proposals earlier this year, Tate Sensorium is produced by creative studio Flying Object in collaboration with a cross-disciplinary team including audio specialist Nick Ryan; master chocolatier Paul A Young; scent expert Odette Toilette; interactive theatre maker Annette Mees; and the Sussex Computer Human Interaction Lab team lead by Dr Marianna Obrist at the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex.

Visitors will be given the option to track their response to the display by wearing biometric measurement devices that record the emotional impact of the experience. These wristbands monitor electrodermal activity, a measure of perspiration, which indicates how calm or excited the wearers are. On leaving the experience, each visitor is awarded a tailored summary of how their body reacted to the exhibits and invited to explore the rest of the gallery using the theme of the senses as a guide. 

Flying Object said: “Developing Tate Sensorium over the past six months has been a fascinating creative challenge. Our goal is to create an experience that provokes, rather than presents, interpretation of the art; we want visitors to enjoy the experience but more importantly to connect with the art in personal, memorable ways. We’ve been fortunate to work with really talented people on developing the sensory stimuli, and we’re excited to bring cutting edge technology into the gallery space to help bring the experience to life.”

Technology and the senses


Touchless haptics work by using focused ultrasound from an array of speakers that vibrate on the visitor’s hand. This will create a sensation of touch, and no gloves or special equipment is needed. Touchless haptics use technology developed by the company Ultrahaptics


Directional audio uses ultrasound waves to direct very precise sound waves across distances in a very precise manner. Listeners outside of the audio area will not be able to hear it, while for those inside the channel, the effect is similar to listening to headphones. Directional audio systems will be provided by Hypersound


Flying Object collaborated with IFF’s olfactory design lab and perfumery team to produce bespoke scents, many created using ‘living naturals’ materials – captured through a Tenax™ trap or through liquefied gas extraction.


Master chocolatier and food inventor Paul A Young has developed an edible product that stimulates a haptic taste experience in response to the textural, painterly qualities and potential meanings of a specific artwork.


Visitors will be given the option to measure their body’s response to the experience using wearable devices. These wristbands measure electrodermal activity, a measure of perspiration, which indicates how calm or excited wearers are. Tate Sensorium will be using E4 wristbands, provided by Empatica, who offer medical quality sensing.

This is the second year of the IK Prize. The inaugural winners were The Workers for After Dark, a project featuring robots in the collection displays at Tate Britain.

Tate Sensorium: 26 August – 20 September 2015 Tate Britain, gallery 34

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