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Multisensory and Participatory Archives: Embodiment, Spatiality and the Collaborative Construction of Memories

Conference: Material Environments: Sensing Time and Matter in Digital and Visual Culture
Location: University of Greenwich
Panel: Sensory Cartographies
Date: July 24th 2015


Most archives abstract objects of study from their original environment, and in doing so, marginalise two very significant factors in their interpretation; the narratives created by spatial relationships with other objects and the embodied, multisensory experience of the object as it was originally encountered. This paper presents the environment itself as the archive, resulting in new spatial and temporal methods of engaging with multisensory archival materials.

The participatory characteristics of this original form of archive create a new environment for the collaborative construction of embodied cultural memories. Tools are presented for the inscription of lived experiences within the multisensory archive, reconfiguring the relationships between authorship and audience and rethinking the ways in which meaning might be co-created.

A multisensory and participatory archive of Temple Works (a Grade I listed building in the south of Leeds) will be presented. Originally built as a flax mill in 1840 and featuring numerous signature features, including a facade inspired by the Temple of Horus and the largest single room in the world (at the time of construction), Temple Works is transforming into a creative and cultural venue of great importance to the region.


An unexpected but very welcome outcome of Experience Temple Works was the extent to which it garnered interest from scholars engaged in critical debates regarding materiality. The issues that were debated at this event and a symposium addressing materiality in sound and listening informed a number of the arguments presented in the new theoretical framework for sensory ethnography (see chapter 3 of the thesis).