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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Melanie Schnidrig, Humanities

Constructed Atmospheres: Synesthesia and the Senses in Contemporary Art

Date & time
Wednesday, February 14, 2024
10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 362

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation appropriates the term “synesthesia” from the neurological condition synesthesia, wherein the stimulation of one sense results in the stimulation of another sense. In this study synesthesia is referenced in the proposed terminology “plastic synesthesia,” a term used to define multisensorial contemporary artworks and stretch the neurological definition of the condition to encompass the concept of sensory “layering.” The concept of “layering” refers to the multiple senses induced by the case studies that are felt at the same time. Plastic synesthesia is also used to define the non-ocularcentric methodology demonstrated in this study. As a methodology, plastic synesthesia identifies the senses and affects involved in multisensory artworks to emphasize how the senses are layered to produce embodied and immersive experiences that augment the “visual” art experience.

This study posits that plastic synesthetic artworks draw attention to the multisensorial nature of perception distorted by the ocularcentric and sensorially segregated model established in the modern period. This point is demonstrated first with an analysis of Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s sculptures, which stimulate the “lower” senses of touch and smell to facilitate an immersive art experience. It also examines Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s pieces that use non-art materials to produce multisensory atmospheres. Finally, this dissertation analyzes London-based design group Flying Object’s 2015 multisensory installation Tate Sensorium, Tate Britain, London, which layers visual artworks with non-visual stimuli. In utilizing these two iterations of plastic synesthesia in this dissertation, this study demonstrates an approach to analyzing artworks that considers all of the senses.

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