— Editors' Introduction —

Seeing What You Mean

Elizabeth Drew
Brooklyn, NY

Mads Haahr
School of Computer Science and Statistics
Trinity College, Dublin

Crossings has covered a diversity of themes since it first appeared in 2001. Many papers have delved into technical, aesthetic and philosophical aspects of technologically enabled, multisensory, synesthetic, genetically modified, anatomically augmented, geographically distributed and, of course, interactive art. Others have addressed the pursuit of multidisciplinarity and cross-domain collaboration or the changing nature, function and practice of cultural institutions in increasingly technology-saturated societies. Together, they are part of an effort to understand what art and technology have to do with what it means to be human at the beginning of the third millennium. Typically, the papers in a given issue are so diverse that our editorial introduction involves an effort to tease two or three shared themes out of the mix in order to suggest a perspective that offers a thematic cohesiveness to the multiplicity.

The papers in the current issue, although no less disparate in approach, happen to coalesce around a dominant theme: the role of vision and other senses in the creation of meaning. Some authors address more visual, less text-bound and more personally significant modes of interaction between individuals and cultural institutions or repositories. One considers medical imaging as a tool for exploring the hidden meanings of not solely the body, but the self. Others discuss and exemplify contemporary artworks that place the audience member's body and sensorium at the centre of the art experience. Many of the authors contrast historical practices of depicting the physical world, such as Renaissance experiments in disembodied perspectives, with contemporary trends toward an art of embodied experience centred on the participant. In all these cases, the body is (re)introduced as a multisensory interface, emphasising the somatic and visceral rather than the cerebral and intellectual in the perennial search for human meaning.

In her discussion of multisensory art, Maria Coleman charts the re-embodiment of the art audience. Whereas Renaissance innovations such as the manipulation of perspective served to free the eye from its physical position in space and thus liberate the imagination from an earthbound reality, contemporary artists are incorporating the bodies of audience members into their art through the creation of immersive environments and intuitive, subtly engaging interactive interfaces. Coleman argues that the corresponding ideological shift serves as an attempt to heal the age-old mind/body rift.

I'Myth: Zapping Zone, or ‘I Am a Myth’ is an interactive, immersive installation created by Diana Domingues and Eliseo Reategui and their team. Participants can summon, manipulate and transform representations of mythic individuals such as Albert Einstein, Madonna and Che Guevara through an array of interfaces including touch screens, SMS messages, physical objects and bar-code readers. The system dynamically casts large-screen projections of photographs, text and 3-D modelled objects; creates interactive soundscapes; generates text from Internet searches based on user choices; and displays its own raw code on computer monitors. Participants can submit their own photographs and choose among words that denote mythic characteristics to influence the development of a new population of myths according to evolutionary algorithms. I'Myth projects iconic images of human myths and enables users to influence their transformation through tactile, audio, visual and linguistic means, in effect to re-write what it means to be a myth of human culture, and to write themselves into the pantheon of cultural significance.

Henrik Enquist considers the ways that images of the interior of the body created for medical purposes can be a tool for enhancing emotional wellness. His discussion of medical imaging leads to an exploration of the way that people make sense of who and what they are in an age when their inner workings are so readily exposed. Citing artworks that exploit medical technology and imagery to explode assumptions about bodily beauty and disgust, Enquist proposes an equally fruitful incorporation of artistic and emotional awareness into the design of medical imaging techniques and clinical practices to enhance the patient's process of making sense of his or her condition and healing. Addressing the complex emotions underpinning notions of health, illness and mortality through the very diagnostic tools that are used to differentiate among them could enable patients to respond with a sense of ownership, creativity and imagination, which may have tangible therapeutic effects.

María José Moreno argues that in many ways virtual museums are changing the status of the art object and altering the way that artists, museums and the public interact. Although she acknowledges that Internet users, like art museum visitors, are still an elite group, the Internet has democratised the art world in key ways. Artists can exhibit their works to potential buyers independently of brick-and-mortar galleries. Virtual museums allow users to function as curators of their own collections by viewing and ‘collecting’ art images and creating their own contexts of significance. Drawing on Malraux's assertion that the advent of museums shifted the focus from the subject and the work's cultural significance to the artist, Moreno argues that the development of the virtual museum ‘liberates the work of art from its academic or institutional context and its author and makes it accessible to the viewer, who […] re-creates and re-contextualizes it’ [1].

While Moreno examines how the Internet has changed the way we navigate art collections, Carlo Bernardelli and Steve Tanimoto discuss how images can be used to change the way we navigate the Internet. Their Etruscan Room application is an image-based method for performing Internet searches that draws upon the iconography of knowledge and vision in Renaissance paintings. Users can specify Internet searches by combining up to five of 108 icons that represent key concepts and then selecting search terms from a written list. The program is of practical benefit for aphasics and others with language difficulties, but it enables anyone to explore the possibilities for graphic modes of constructing informational models. The Etruscan Room is informed by spatial schemas that represent the human relationship with the world of knowledge. The program's name, derived from the many chambers of an Etruscan tomb, each representing a craft, trade or other domain of human activity as depicted in engraved images, reflects the authors' vision of a cosmos of concepts comprising a series of interlinked rooms. Through their analysis of the cosmological schemas of Renaissance paintings, Bernardelli and Tanimoto stress that at the centre of this universe of knowledge lie the eyes, ears, hands and brain of the human individual.

In its own way, each paper in this issue places the audience member (or patient or art patron) at the centre of an appeal to the body and its senses to make sense of the world and the individual's place in it. Perhaps it is a function of the nature of contemporary life, dominated by virtual, mediated, long-distance and word-laden interactions and experiences that practitioners of art and technology are satisfying their need for renewal through recourse to modes that demand embodiment, immediacy, presence and the use of all our senses to make sense. While our senses govern our construction of meaning – and perhaps vision more other than any other sense – the process of meaning construction can itself be subjected not only to analysis but also to playful and investigative experimentation. By understanding and experimenting with vision, we understand and experiment with the way meaning is constructed in our minds. The places where art and technology intersect, the offerings in this issue of Crossings remind us, are marked by the continual need to find new ways to see what we mean.


Moreno, María José. ‘Art Museums and the Internet: The Emergence of the Virtual Museum.’ Crossings: Electronic Journal of Art and Technology 5.1 (2007). http://crossings.tcd.ie/issues/5.1/Moreno/; accessed 10 October 2007.

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