ISEA 2020

Life, A Sensorium

Sensorium: Centre for Digital Art and Technology (York University, Canada) is pleased to present the exhibition “Life, A Sensorium,” as part of the International Symposium of Electronic Art (October 13-18 2020).

The exhibition unfolds at the nexus of art, science and technology through the works of artists affiliated with Sensorium, who collectively explore the entangled ecologies of the post-natural world. Through multi-sensory experiences that include installations, virtual and mixed reality, 360° videos, performances, expanded media and sculptural forms, these artists explore the different ways that contemporary sensorial relations―human/non-human, natural/ artificial―stage complex articulations and expansions of the real.

In this show, computer-generated organisms interact with viewing bodies. Site-specific installations, kinetic sculptures, virtual environments, and video games explore our interactions and collaborations with multi-species ecologies. The works in “Life, A Sensorium” range from shadow plays and optical illusions to VR wanderings through cosmic orchestral stagings. The blended physical and virtual nature of these aesthetic interactions and environments provide access into worlds not ordinarily perceptible.

In this virtual iteration of the exhibition, we present excerpts of documentation and interviews with the artists as “capsules” of their artistic practice. For these videos, artists were asked: “What does sentience mean to you with respect to your work?” and “Why sentience now?” as prompts to explore the situation of their work within the ISEA 2020 theme.

Please note that several artworks are available to view in full, including: John Greyson, Alison Humphrey, Taien Ng-Chan, Michaela Pnacekova, David Han and Michael Trommer.

To request transcripts for exhibition video capsules, please complete this form.

Freya Björg Olafson

“MÆ-Motion Aftereffect”

MÆ-Motion Aftereffect is a sixty-minute performance work that addresses the impact of emerging consumer technologies associated with AR, VR, and 360° video. In the final scene, a live video feed is manipulated through the game development software ‘Unity’ which generates an accidental effect that freezes video frames and continuously prints new frames atop the previous. As a result, movement onstage creates live painted trails. This visual effect references Brody Condon’s 1999 modified video game work ‘Adam Killer’ as well as a common Windows XP system error that generates the same painting effect using the computer’s search windows and cursors as a paintbrush. This scene features a sound score created by Emma Hendrix.

Freya Björg Olafson is an intermedia artist whose work has been presented internationally at museums, galleries, universities, festivals, archives, and conferences. Olafson has benefitted from residencies, most notably through EMPAC – Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center. In 2017 Olafson joined York University as an Assistant Professor and in 2020 she was a recipient of the Sobey Art Award.

Nicole Clouston

“Lake Ontario Portrait”

To create Lake Ontario Portrait (2017 – present) I collaborated with Lake Ontario, mud, and microbes to explore bodily borders, responsible collaboration, as well as our connection and responsibilities to a broader ecology The work is comprised of fifteen prisms filled with mud from fifteen locations around the Canadian and American shores of Lake Ontario. When exposed to light, the microorganisms begin to flourish, becoming visible in the form of vibrant marbling. The work is alive and constantly changing as the microbes live and die revealing the vast array of life in soil and how we are connected by it.

Nicole Clouston is a practice-based researcher who completed her Ph.D. in Visual Art at York University. In her practice she asks: What happens when we acknowledge, through an embodied experience, our connection to a world teeming with life both around and inside us?

Friend Generator (David Han & Aidan Waite)

Is there a way to be gone and still belong?”

In a time of mediated distance, what is lost alongside our kinesthetic sensibility? Can we retrieve the knowledge borne by our bodies and made manifest in movement? If all knowledge is rooted in animate forms, then the relevance of these questions has renewed salience in a world of limited physical human contact. This work re-presents the movement of a diverse range of dance artists inside a navigable virtual environment. Through exploration and interaction, visitors are invited to reflect on the vitality of this archive of embodied knowledge and perhaps rediscover a way back to their flesh-bound homes.

Friend Generator are Aidan Waite and David Han, two blokes interested in creating strange, playful and thoughtful media art experiences that are sometimes evocative, and sometimes absurd, but always look to push boundaries in unexpected ways.

This artwork is available to experience online. To view the work click HERE.

Mark-David Hosale and Jim Madsen

“Messages from the Horizon”

Messages from the Horizon is an artwork inspired by the elusive nature of black holes and their study. Three semi-transparent displays represent black holes using an effect called persistence of vision. An array of monitors collects and assembles messages from the simulated black holes. Each monitor offers a different perspective of otherwise unknowable information from the simulated black hole messages through visualizations and sonifications in real-time. The result is an expression of the process of astronomical observation, knowledge acquisition and the human condition that simultaneously celebrates human achievement and the existential limitations of our being.

Mark-David Hosale is an Associate Professor and Chair of Computational Arts at York University. Jim Madsen is Executive Director at Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center. Hosale and Madsen have been collaborating for about eight years on a variety of different art- science projects. Hosale and Madsen have developed several projects working with IceCube research to create sonifications of IceCube data, large scale volumetric displays, and game interfaces that explore astrophysical concepts. Their work ranges from concrete representation to conceptual, while providing a view of the process of scientific data acquisition and how it shapes the way we see the Universe.

Alison Humphrey

“Shadowpox: Citizen Science Fiction”

In a world plagued by a deadly new disease composed of viral shadows, young, healthy volunteers across the globe step forward to test a breakthrough vaccine. Using motion-tracked generative effects projection-mapped on the body, the Shadowpox storyworld re-imagines immunity as an acquired superpower, but one whose bearers are framed as villains as often as they’re hailed as heroes. This research-creation doctoral project explores how a participatory science fiction storyworld can help young people build scientific, civic and media literacy by exploring immunization and vaccine hesitancy through a networked superhero narrative.

A doctoral Vanier Scholar in Cinema and Media Arts, Alison plays with story across drama, digital media, and education. After starting as an intern at Marvel Comics, her career has included producing a pioneering alternate reality game for Douglas Adams, writing transmedia television, and directing Shakespeare and live-mocapped interactive theatre.

The project’s first phase, a full-body videogame for gallery installation titled Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic, debuted during the 2017 World Health Assembly in Geneva, where The Lancet called it “one of the most powerful and playful ways to illustrate both the individual and population-level implications of community immunity.” With the advent of COVID-19, the team created a new, online version of the game, Shadowpox: #StayHome Edition, shifting the focal decision from vaccination to physical distancing. This artwork is available to experience online. To view the work click HERE.

Artificial Nature (Haru Ji & Graham Wakefield)


Can data form a habitat for life? “Infranet” is a generative artwork–installed in three international cities since 2018–in which a population of artificial lifeforms with evolutionary neural networks thrive upon open geospatial data of the infrastructure of the host city as their sustenance and canvas. The found data grounds an unbounded, decentralized, open-ended, and unsupervised system in which non-human beings flourish by learning, discovering, communicating, self-governing, and evolving. Born curious, they form spatial networks through which associations spread in complex contagions.

Artificial Nature is a family of interactive artworks by Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield spanning fifty international exhibits since 2007. These installations invite humans to become part of biologically-inspired complex systems through immersive mixed reality, using computation to plunge deeply into what nature is and find our place within it.

Evan Light

“Snowden Archive-in-a-Box”

The Snowden Archive-in-a-Box (SAIB) is an offline wireless network and web server providing access to a replica of the Snowden Digital Surveillance Archive. Anybody in the vicinity can access the archive by connecting their wireless device to the Snowden Archive WiFi network and browsing to a website. Open the briefcase up and one finds a wood panel with a LCD inset, playing back the IP traffic of the archive’s current users. Thus, while an audience can access the Snowden documents and learn about mass surveillance from primary materials, they are also shown what data surveillance ‘looks like’.

Dr. Evan Light is a digital artist and assistant professor of communications at Glendon College, York University in Toronto, Canada. He is the creator and maintainer of the Snowden Archive-in-a-Box, an autonomous offline archive of the Edward Snowden files and installation that aims to educate audiences about mass surveillance.

Taien Ng-Chan

“Inside the Chrysalis

Inside the Chrysalis is a science fiction that is happening now. Wrapped in their cocoons, people dream of new worlds… Inner landscapes and strange bedfellows… What will emerge? This 360VR video by Taien Ng-Chan is made in collaboration with artists who were asked to construct a cocoon out of common household items, however they wished. Featuring, in order of appearance: Carmela Laganse, Donna Akrey, Leslie Sasaki, Taien Ng-Chan, Melissa Murray-Mutch and Sam Ollmann-Chan.

Taien Ng-Chan is a writer and media artist who makes, among other things, short essay films, site-specific interactive video installations, and collaborative mapping events. She won the City of Hamilton Established Artist Award in Media Arts in 2019, and currently teaches at York University. Her website is

This artwork is available to experience online. To view the work click HERE.

Jenn E Norton

“Cucoloris domesticus”

Cucolorus domesticus is a video installation. In a darkened room, a potted philodendron sits upon the window sill. Beyond the plant, a bright sky blue background appears to cast rays upon the floor of the gallery space, creating a shadow-silhouette of the philodendron. The shadow seems to be static at first, but as the viewer spends time in the space, they become aware of minute movements in the plant’s shadow. Tendrils curl, and uncurl, as though growing before our eyes. Like the minute-hand of a clock, the movements are subtle. Viewers often look between the shadow and the plant upon the window sill, to catch the movement in both dimensions. The shadow eventually grows leaves and stems that briefly form an A-frame house, before furling up to a shadow that matches the physical plant.

Jenn E Norton is an artist using time-based media to create immersive, experiential installations, using stereoscopic, interactive video, animation, augmented reality, sound, and kinetic sculpture. Often using video as a starting point within her process, her imaginative compositions use a combination of pre-cinema and contemporary display technologies, while exploring the blurring boundaries of virtual and physical realms. Norton’s recent animations and augmented reality apps draw upon her interest in the ways in which information is exchanged between humans, technology, and as seen in her most recent solo exhibition in Montreal (ELLEPHANT|Art), plants. Current areas of research within Norton’s practice explores the use of metaphor in physics as both a conceptual genesis, communicative device, poetic practice, and demonstrative application of technological and natural phenomena. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Visual Arts at York University, an adjunct lecturer and the post-production technician in Film & Media Studies at Queen’s University.

Joel Ong

“Terra Et Venti”

“Terra Et Venti” (“between the ground and the wind”) is a speculative research project that explores the role that synthetic biology may play in planetary-scale geoengineering and weather modification practices in the future. This artwork builds on the tradition of treating the genetic sequences as a medium for artistic expression through a multi-modal installation. In Terra Et Venti, the ice-nucleation activity of the aerial bacterium Pseudomonas Syringae is simulated with parametric speakers tracing lines across the space as a digital version of a cloud is created in real time. The computational system presented in the gallery generates text for insertion into the genome of a specific bacteria. In addition the project features artistic renderings of the biological processes of the P. syringae.

Joel Ong is a media artist whose works explore emergent ways of interfacing with the environment through hybrid discourses of art and science. His works involve a triangulation of field work, wet lab and computational arts and are often presented as on-site lab experiments. Ong is an Assistant Professor in Computational Arts at York University, and Director of Sensorium: the Centre for Digital Arts and Technology.

Michaela Pnacekova

“Symphony of Noise VR”

In this sonic VR experience, you will embark on an immersive journey – to listen differently to your daily life, the world around you and find the music within. Immerse yourself in the world of surreal landscapes and high-end spatial sound design where you can make, hear, see and feel sound in a way not possible before and compose your own score. Listen intently. Can you already hear the world becoming music in your ears? The project premiered at VRHAM!, Reeperbahn Music Festival and IDFA Doc Lab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction 2019 and is listed among the best XR installations of 2019 according to Forbes Magazine.

Michaela Pnacekova is a Slovak interactive creator, producer and a PhD student at York University, Toronto. Her focus lies in the way new media impact the real through interaction with algorithmic processes and artificial intelligence. In 2019, she directed and produced Symphony of Noise VR (co-created with Jamie Balliu). She co-produced the VR AI installation Chomsky vs. Chomsky: First Encounter (Sundance Film Festival 2020) and she is the author and producer of the interactive predictive policing app Pre-Crime Calculator. Michaela produced three feature length documentaries (Border Cut, Waterproof, Scars).

If you have access to a VR headset, you can request a Steam access code to view this work. To request a code, please fill out the form HERE.

Dan Tapper

“Machines to Listen to the Sky”

Machines to Listen to the Sky is an ongoing project initiated in 2013 by Dan Tapper to repurpose Very Low Frequency (VLF) natural radio antennas into installations, sculptures and art objects. VLF is an area of the radio spectrum that contains signals propagating in Earth’s ionosphere such as lightning and the northern lights as well as emissions from celestial objects including Saturn and the Sun. The VLF band also contains interference from man-made electromagnetic activities. This installation combines images and sounds detailing the breadth of information found in the VLF spectrum as well as the machines and devices used to transduce VLF into audible forms.

Dan Tapper is an artist who explores the sonic and visual properties of the unheard and invisible. From revealing electromagnetic sounds produced by the earth’s ionosphere, to exploring hidden micro worlds and creating imaginary nebulas from code. His explorations use scientific methods alongside thought experiments resulting in rich audio-visual worlds.

Michael Trommer

“Ancient Thoughts and Electric Buildings”

“Ancient Thoughts and Electric Buildings” is an experimental, audio-led, virtual reality (VR) documentary that examines the portion of Toronto’s downtown core that extends along the city’s Gardner Expressway. This site traverses Canada’s financial nexus and has been the recent locus of extensive condo and commercial development; simultaneously, it exists as a region that is (and has historically been) occupied by a significant number of homeless people. This project seeks to foreground spatial and haptic sound as a key sensory modality distinguishing the conditions of the locale’s urban dispossessed from that of the privileged.

Michael Trommer is a Toronto-based sound and video artist; his practice has been focused primarily on acoustemological explorations of anthropocentric space via the use of VR, ambisonic and tactile sound, field recordings, immersive installation and expanded cinema.

This artwork is available to experience online. To view the work, click HERE.

Doug Van Nort

“GSO: Genetically Sonified Organisms”

This piece creates an evolving interplay, in sound, between various agents that include humans and non-humans, both computational and biological. The physical GSO artifacts are a set of solar-powered ‘creatures’, designed to interact with one another and the larger sonic field in which they are immersed. The means of communication begins as a call/response from a set of simple tones/noises that introduce this new species into the sonic environment. Each creature responds to sounds that are similar to their known vocabulary, evolving their call over the course of months based on the difference found between their own lexicon of calls and those that they hear around them. These artifacts, though, are merely vessels: rather than meditating on the technological objects themselves, though this piece I invite you to listen to this new sonic presence as it is woven into the fabric of an existing, dynamic and diverse acoustic ecology.

Doug Van Nort is a sound artist, scholar, electroacoustic composer and improviser. In his work, spanning from professional music to public installation contexts, he creates compositions and frameworks for improvisation that integrate machine agents, immersive environments, interactive systems and experiences of telepresence as conditions to explore the myriad ways that performers negotiate emergent, collective meaning outside of spoken language. Van Nort is currently Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor at York University, where he has founded the Dispersion Lab as a central hub for this research-creation activity.

John Greyson


A high-lighter poem emerges from the words and images of the late queer avant-garde film artist Barbara Hammer.

John Greyson is a video/film artist whose works include Mercurial (2018), Gazonto (2016), Fig Trees (2009), Lilies (1996), Zero Patience (1993) and Urinal (1988).

This artwork is available to experience online. To view the work, click HERE.