Sense Machines
Programmed by Nelson Henricks

Video Screenings for
The Mezz Cafe, Java U.
Mezzanine, Hall Building
April 27-29, 2000
Concordia University

"The body is an environment the brain experiences and acts upon. The brain
knows this environment far more intimately than it knows the exterior
world, of course; it is its home territory. But it is an unpredictable
environment nonetheless."
­ Robert Jourdain, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy

Our senses define the absolute limits of reality. They are essential in
constructing our worldview and in establishing our notion of what is real.
We imagine the senses as vast portals that allow the world to stream in
without interruption, but perhaps, as Merleau-Ponty suggests, the senses
act more like tiny portholes that snap open and shut judiciously, giving us
only a partial experience of things. Our senses filter reality more often
than we are comfortable admitting; technology fulfills our ideal of
apprehending the world with unflinching objectivity. The video programme
Sense Machines looks at the links between the senses, the body and

Despite its deceptively tactile title, Laiwan's Remotely in Touch grounds
us firmly in the realm of the visual and objective ­ specifically in its
examination of scientific imaging. Yet this tape functions in counterpoint
to the other works, articulating the myriad of ways in which machines act
as surrogate sense organs. In a pseudo-scientific manner, Richard Serra's
Boomerang extends and inverts this argument, disabling an able-bodied
person by confounding the brain with sonic bio-feedback. Serra's skepticism
is directed generally at all manner of mediated representations. In a
similar vein, Steve Reinke's humourous Squeezing Sorrow from an Ashtray
constructs an absurd fable about scientists who listen too closely. David
Askevold's Fill takes up the idea of television as visual "filler" and
extends it into a sensual realm of touch and sound. By wrapping a
microphone in sheets of tinfoil, Askevold constructs a primitive "body for

Other works in this programme use video technology to stress the
irreducibility of the corporeal experience and the inadequacy of language
in describing it. Clara Ursitti demonstrates how body odour simultaneously
structures unconscious perceptions of the world and marks us as distinct
individuals. Sniff by Ming Yuen S. Ma explores the links between scent,
memory and desire in a more obsessive and poetic manner. In Gillian Dyson's
Sine and In the Flesh by the duo Smith/Stewart, taste and touch are pushed
to the very limits of physical endurance. All of these works seem to stress
that the body is, as Deleuze and Guattari stated, a field for receiving

Time, as articulated through duration, endurance and repetition, is the
other guiding thread for this programme. When I told Montréal performance
curator Sylvie Gilbert about this selection she suggested that, like
hearing, smell, taste or touch, "duration" was another uncommon sense.
Indeed, time has a fundamental relationship to consciousness. This is a
theme which video has examined repeatedly throughout its thirty-year
history. For this reason, I feel it is fitting to include Norman Cohn's
Quartet for Deafblind. Cohn's eighty-minute work documents the lives of
deafblind children at an institution in Amhearst, Nova Scotia. Eschewing
narration as a means for explanation, Quartet for Deafblind stunningly
demonstrates what essential aspects of identity and consciousness persist
in spite of extreme sensory deprivation and shows us that "spending time"
is necessary in order to better apprehend the world around us.

Nelson Henricks
April, 2000

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Nelson Henricks teaches at Concordia University. A musician, writer,
curator and artist, Henricks is best known for his videotapes, which have
been exhibited worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His
writings have been published in Fuse, Public and in the anthology So, To
Speak (Editions Artexte, 1999). With Steve Reinke, he edited By the Skin of
Their Tongues (YYZ Books, 1997). Recent video programming includes
American Psycho[drama] (Video Data Bank) and a series on the Italian video
collective CaneCapoVolto (to be screened at Articule in September, 2000).

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Programme One
Fill, David Askevold, Canada, 1970
Remotely in Touch, Laiwan, Canada, 1998
Untitled, Clara Ursitti, Scotland, 1995
Sine, Gillian Dyson, England, 1996
Boomerang, Richard Serra, U.S.A., 1974
In the Flesh, Smith/Stewart, Scotland, 1996
Sniff, Ming Yuen S. Ma, U.S.A., 1997
Squeezing Sorrow from an Ashtray, Steve Reinke, Canada, 1992

Programme Two
Quartet for Deafblind, Norman Cohn, Canada, 1986

Fill, David Askevold, Canada, 8:00, 1970
"Fill is my earliest video work; besides the obvious filling of the screen
with sheets of aluminum foil over a microphone on a stand, connoting an
additive formal sculpture reading, the title also refers to filling time or
a "filler" on T.V. shows. The audio implodes during the wrapping of the
foil and is more time consuming than the unwrapping, during which, the
audio explodes as the sheets are pulled away from the microphone." ­ D.A.

Remotely in Touch, Laiwan, Canada, 13:00, 1998
Poetic and surreal, Remotely in Touch explores what we perceive as an
image; what is real; what is constructed or science fiction; and what are
our new codes of signification created by systems of information. The tape
uses images created by remote digital signals ­ sent via satellite or
robotic camera ­ and juxtaposes these with analog video images
encapsulating a "visceral moment" or "embodied movement."

Untitled, Clara Ursitti, Scotland, 14:00, 1995
"The video is of myself with the scientist I work with, Dr. George Dodd.
Dr. Dodd is an expert on human scent and is well known across the UK and
abroad for pioneering electronic nose technology. As well as being trained
as a biochemist, he is also has trained nose as a perfumer. The first part
of the video is George sniffing me from head to toe while discussing the
chemical make-up of the aromas in relation to food, flowers and vintage
wines. The second part of the video is of myself being hunted by a tracking
dog from the Strathclyde Police Department in Glasgow, Scotland." ­ C.U.

Sine, Gillian Dyson, England, 7:00, 1996
We follow the movement of a female performer along the surface of a wall as
she traces a line of saliva. A line of blood becomes apparent, traced from
the movement of her tongue against the abrasive surface. "The action is
violent, yet sensitive, provoking the viewer to witness the reality of the
gesture." ­ Steven Bode

Boomerang, Richard Serra, U.S.A., 10:00, 1974
"Nancy Holt ... is asked to respond to her own words which she hears
through a feedback system. In a very detailed and clear way, she states
what is happening to her as it is happening: her relation to herself as a
subject." ­ R.S.

In the Flesh, Smith/Stewart, Scotland, 3:00, 1996
"In the Flesh revolves around a consummately composed and controlled
performance in which Stewart uses Smith's skin as a writing surface,
inviting contradictory readings of closeness and separation, intimacy and
pain." ­ Steven Bode

Sniff, Ming Yuen S. Ma, U.S.A., 6:00, 1997
In a stark white room, a naked man is crawling in a circle on an unmade
bed. He is trying to remember the men he had sex with on the bed by
searching for their smells. A fragmentary account of his encounters is
layered within a dense electronic soundscape of whispering voices, evoking
a sense of memory and loss and the fear of death.

Squeezing Sorrow from an Ashtray, Steve Reinke, Canada, 6:00, 1992
"We know the air is filled with vibrations we can't hear. We can't consider
environment as an object. We know that it's a process, while in the case of
the ashtray, we are indeed dealing with an object. It would be extremely
interesting to place it in a little anechoic chamber and listen to it
through a suitable sound system. Object would become process; we would
discover, thanks to a procedure borrowed from science, the meaning of
nature through the music of objects." ­ John Cage

Quartet for Deafblind, Norman Cohn, Canada, 85:00, 1986
This video examines the lives of deaf and blind children in a special wing
of an institution in Amhearst, Nova Scotia. Shot during a month in
residence at the school and edited over two years, the tape carefully
observes and records the relationship these children have with each other,
with their wards and with the artist himself. A thoughtful, evocative study
with no voice-over commentary or "explanation."

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Nelson Henricks and UNCOMMON SENSES would like to give special thanks to The
Mezz Cafe/Java U. for their generous support.