Many years of coping with toxicity in my personal life, I developed a new art practice based on ancient healing techniques and the cellular realities of complex sensory organs, such as human bodies.
Due to my heightened sensitivity after a state of poisoning by mercury, I discovered that I suffered from indoor air, especially in houses infested with mold. Mold may produce nerve toxins similar to mercury and my nervous system, now well trained, react to these toxins. In moldy houses, I experience pain, electric shocks running through my nerves, and cognitive difﬁculties accompanied by hallucinatory effects.
My heightened sensitivity is now a medium that allows me to receive more signals from the cells of my body (of chemical and energetic events) and to have these signals reach some sort of pre-conscious-consciousness of my mind. These are signals that are usually ﬁltered out by the brain, but are now, in my mind, translated into various mind “things”, i.e., visuals, melodies, words, movements, and colors. Perhaps one could call this process a multiple-form-synesthesia. I call this interstitial work of mind and body, this intermediary space and time of signals and synesthesia, the subsensorial.
Becoming familiar and skilled with the subsensorial, I have turned this sometimes debilitating sensitivity into a capability and a tool for my art.
My knowledge of the subsensorial helps me tune in and express human conditions and, for instance, the atmosphere of a space.
Subsensorial sessions are collaborations with members of the audience (as in Nose Ears Eyes), or for instance, a landscape (as in Big Toe, Brain, Rock). In these sessions, I always facilitate a mutual exchange, in which all participants express their state of being at that same moment. This exchange is a fine-tuned listening in on each other, that invites all diverse experiences of living on this planet to give out expressions/pressures/tensions/tendernesses. After such a sharing, I present the question: What do you need/expect? I then propose various ways to proceed, that I sense might be best in each moment. Equally, all participants may suggest ways to proceed. In processes of slowly learning to connect, I try to read the particular language(s) of a body, place, or space – all embodied experiences of particular lives. Once all participants have agreed upon a form to proceed with the session - these may vary from a physical healing treatment, a ceremony, painting, writing, or another form of passing of time - I often feel like I come close to a very minute and real reality of life: bones, ligaments, cells, fluids, but also will and emotion.
While giving subsensorial sessions, I often sense energy of and in the entities-in-session as halos, movements, and blockages. Sometimes these energy flows appear to me as distinct visualisations, narratives, characters, or sounds. These appearances are the base of the writings, sound recordings, and paintings, that I make during sessions.
SUBSENSORIAL AND SUPRASENSORIAL
In 1968, Hélio Oiticica hoped to “generate creative exercises through increasingly open propositions… directed at the senses in order that, through them, through ‘total perception’, they may lead the individual to a ‘suprasensation’, to the expansion of his usual sensory capacities, to the discovery of his internal creative centre, of his dormant expressive spontaneity, linked to the quotidian.”
“Suprasensation” is the use of one’s “internal life” to form a “total perception” through senses, i.e., and expansion of sensory capacities. As I understand it, this serves as a formation of a political personhood and agency, a growing of a voicing from personal inner life to the political scene. Considering Oiticica’s words, I react to the idea of expression (that necessarily assumes a creator) and the formation of political personhood. The suprasensorial is dependent on and aims at individual creative expressions and human artist-agents. It establishes a political person that acts in the world of other political persons. So, the idea of the suprasensorial is still within an idea of human experience that excludes other entities that I feel need to have a voice, not only because they actually have agency in regards to both the world (understood as a political ecology, including also other-than-humans) and the experience that humans have of that world (and of others). Oiticica’s suprasensorial continues to look at the world from the vantage point of a mastery of the world by humans alone. I would like to propose another vantage point, that of a world without individual masters. In this world, human existence is tossed in the mix with all those entities, forces, and matters that cohabit the world with humans and indeed live in an intricate web of co-dependencies. This is where the question of senses becomes interesting. Because in our co-dependent co-existence, the senses, if allowed, are the way we can perhaps be in dialogue with these infinitesimal, molecular, almost silent, and indeed, sub-sensorial events within and around our bodies that sustain our very existence. In the context of current environmental crisis, it is politically essential to ask how can we facilitate a sensorial process, like Oiticica suggests, to propose to our senses a form of engagement, but rather in such a way that we not accommodate them for a human political discourse alone (suprasensorial), but to a subsensorial dialogue with the world? The subsensorial is the epistemology of the not-yet-conscious or the never-to-become conscious sensory event.
Subsensorial dialogue is nothing strange for human sensory capacities. Our human bodies are a conglomeration of various organisms, some more intricately part of our physique (like the mitochondria within our cells), other more autonomous agents within and around our bodies (such as viruses and bacteria). By the mediation of these organisms and such non-living entities, which nevertheless inhabit biochemical agency, such as minerals and salts, we humans share actual material processes within ourselves as well as with our environment. In fact, our lives depend on these exchanges and processes.
When a healer sings healing poems and sets spells (as in practices pertaining to traditions of fenno-ugrish tribes), she/he directs our attention precisely to these subsensorial processes. These healing poems are but one expression from one kind of cultural practice among many, to address organisms and matter on a molecular level and hopefully guide a body (human or other) to affect its own healing process on a molecular level. I here propose to call these kinds of guiding practices intentional thinking and sensing practices. The subsensorial operates within the not-humanly-conscious and thus comprises events that cannot be intentional. However, for our consciousness to be brought into dialogue with the subsensorial, we can engage with intentional acts that evoke this dialogue. In shamanistic practices, through ritualistic acts, drumming and dancing, and/or by the use of psychedelic drugs, a shaman can journey into “other” realms of the universe. These journeys are the dramatization, visualization, narrativization, and personification of the subsensorial. By this statement, I do not intend to exclude the possibility of “other” realms in the universe, which indeed, if they exist, find human residence in the subsensorial.
The subsensorial ultimately puts in question the physical and mental autonomy of a person. What does it mean to act as a political person in the world, if that entity is in constant flux of biological processes not even pertaining to its own flesh and bones? As certain microbes operate autonomously inside your cells, yet affecting your functions, intellect, and moods, what becomes of the “political scene” and the “political subject”? I have yet to clearly articulate these relationships and indeed to envision an approach that might facilitate a better flow of knowledge and action in-between consciousness, politics, and the subsensorial. Indeed, are there political scenes of critters, worms, and slime?
Helio Oiticica's ideas about the Supra-Sensorial were first translated and published 1967 in "Helio Oiticica", ed. by Mat Verberkt, trans. by Stephen Berg et al. (Rotterdam: Witte de With/Galerie National du Jeu de Paume, 1992) pp 127-130
Cellular lives are discussed in, for instance: Margulis, Asikainen, and Krumbein: “Introduction, Life’s Sensibilities” in Chimeras and Consciousness, Evolution of the Sensory Self, MIT Press, 2011.
The intentions and addresses of spells in the cosmologies found among the fenno-ugrish tribes in and around today's Finland, Estonia, and Russian Carelia is a vast research field, but some of it is collected and translated into English by Jon Hällström, in: "The Magic Songs of the Finns", Pagan Archive, Kirjaparoni Oy, 2011
Links to more on the subsensorial
subsensorialXYZ at SOLU
Feelings Are Forms of Knowledge
Artist page at the 32nd Sao Paulo Biennale