Sensorial in the theatre – on the scent trail in and beyond the everyday

Lokacija: Maribor Theatre Festival, Vetrinjski dvor, Vetrinjska 30, Maribor, Slovenia
Termin: 15. 10. 2020 – 16. 10. 2020

An international scientific and artistic conference will take place in October 2020 as a part of the 55 edition of Maribor Theatre Festival. It will join forces of Academy of Theatre and Faculty of Arts, both part of University of Ljubljana, Slovenian Theatre Institute and Sensorium Theatre, specialised in sensorial language.

Sensorial theatre is today linked to a highly popular branch of immersive theatres that emerged since the turn of the millennium as a popular form of performance. It interweaves playfulness into the relationship between performer, audience, and performance space. While the discussion of immersive theatres has largely focussed on a selection of urban theatre companies who have acquired reputations as the forerunners in the field, it neglected the practitioners of the sensorial or sensory theatre developing immersive methodologies within theatre that are, as yet, largely undocumented. The conference’s aim is to contribute to the field of sensory within the theatre culture, and to extend its discussion by considering the work and the ‘poetics of the senses’ of the Columbian theatre director Enrique Vargas as well as his followers. In doing so it will try to expand the current conceptualisation of immersive sensorial theatres and examine the possible transformative potential of its specific performative practice.

Sensorial theatre started in Slovenia in 1996, with a premiere of Oracles by Enrique Vargas, the world-renowned director of Teatro de los sentidos, whose creative work introduced this specific system to a group of participating Slovenian artists. One of the most prominent researchers in sensory, i.e. multisensory studies, David Howes, points out that the time of the sensorial revolution is coming, not just a turnaround or a turn (in terms of performative, linguistic, spatial, ontological and other turns). The basic aim of the symposium is to map this largely unexplored but important field of performing and visual arts with the performance studies, anthropology, cultural studies and other fields studying art and culture.

The conference will focus on the following issues and topics: studies of specific performances and performing models, as well as examples from the field of sensorial in theatre, performing practices and culture in general. Its aim will be to outline specificities of the sensorial languages within the immersive and devising contemporary art; mapping, defining and foreseeing, which new tools bring sensory theatre to the stage, to galleries and museums and to the spaces of the everyday. It will try to define how does a sensorial method activate the process of self-examination by unlocking images, memories and associations and builds up a specific self-reflection and self-awareness; how do performing and visual arts use specifically the scents; what sensorial revolution brings to the future of art and culture scholarship, locally and globally?

At the conference we expect proposals from the invited artist and introductory speaker Enrique Vargas from Barcelona;an international anthropological research group, (David Howes from Montreal, Helma Järviluoma-Mäkelä from Finland, Rajko Muršič, FF UL, Mojca Terčelj, FHŠ Koper) researchers and performance practitioners from Slovenia (Jana Pavlič, Barbara Pia Jenič, Barbara Orel, Tomaž Toporišič, Simon Hajdini, Igor Areh) and curators, researchers of art of scents Caro Verbeek from the Netherlands and Peter de Cupere from Belgium.

Contributions on research of specific performances and performance models, performing practices and sensory culture, sensory as a possible tool for social mediation and association of different social groups, will be accompanied by a sensorial trip around Maribor.

The conference will also like to shed some new lights on the Enrique Vargas notion of the labyrinth as a place of getting lost and finding oneself, of discovering ‘where we are and who we are’ (cited in Pagliaro, 55); a labyrinth as a liminal passage that one enters and then exits transformed. Thus, it will try to link sensorial theatre to Victor Turner and his ‘crossing of a threshold which separates two distinct areas, one associated with the subject’s pre-ritual or pre liminal status, and the other with his post-ritual or post liminal status’ (1982, 25).[1]


Thursday, 15 October 2020


14.00 INAUGURAL SPEECH: Enrique Vargas: Teatro de los sentidos (Theatre of the Senses)

14.45–15.00 Coffee break


15.00 David Howes, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec: Nose-wise: Scenting anthropological knowledge production and communication

15.30 Discusion

16.00 Rajko Muršič, FF UL: Between aisthēsis and colere: performing the everyday and improvising culture

16.20 Discusion

16.40 Tomaž Toporišič, University of Ljubljana, Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT): Performing Sensorial Liminality

17.00 Discussion

18.00 Sensory walk through Maribor (led by Rajko Muršič)

Friday, 16 October 2020

11.00–12.15 2nd panel: THE METONYMY OF SMELL

11.00 Caro Verbeek, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: “The scent, the scent alone is enough for us beasts!” – the (political) role of smell during the avant-garde”

11.20 Discussion

11.30 Simon Hajdini, University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts: The Name of the Rose

11.50 Discussion

12.00–12.15 Coffee break

12.15–13.00 3rd panel: IMMERSIVE AESTHETICS

12.15 Peter de Cupere, PXL–MAD School of Arts, Belgium: “The Olfactory Context, Concept and the Olfactory Transfers”

12.35 Discussion

12.45 Barbara Pia Jenič, Senzorium Institute; Igor Areh, University of Maribor, Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security: The art of the immersion with smell and sensorial theatre language

13.10 Discussion

13.30–15.00 Lunch break


15.00 Helmi Järviluoma-Mäkelä, University of Eastern Finland: Talking sensory life into being while moving: sensobiographic walks with artists in Ljubljana and Turku

15.20 Discussion

15.30 Barbara Orel, University of Ljubljana, Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT): The World of Odour in the Slovenian Performing Arts

15.50 Discussion

16.00–16.15 Coffee break

16.15–17.00 Final Discussion

17.00 Sensory walk through Maribor (led by Rajko Muršič)




Symposium leaders Tomaž Toporišič and Rajko Muršič
Coordinator of the organizing committee Barbara Pia Jenič
Organizing Committee David Howes, Barbara Pia Jenič, Mojca Jan Zoran, Rajko Muršič, Aleš Novak and Tomaž Toporišič
Organizers Maribor Theatre Festival, Slovenian Theatre Institute, Senzorium Institute, Department for Dramaturgy and Performance Studies and Research Group UL AGRFT, Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology UL FF

[1] Works cited and alluded to.
• Machon, J.(2013). Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
• Pagliaro, M. (2016). Todo ya esta aqui aunque no se vea. Enrique Vargas y el Teatro de los Sentidos. Barcelona: Corre la Voz.
• Turner, V. W. (1982). From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. Performing Arts Journal Publications.
• White, G. (2012). On immersive theatre. Theatre Research International, 37(03), 221–235.