Too much noise. Too much movement! That is how Georges Duhamel had described his perception of cinema in 1930, expressing the disturbance that the filmic image produced in his ability to perceive and understand the world. Almost thirty years before, at the outset of the century we concluded, George Simmel had diagnosed a similar phenomenon for the inhabitant of the modern metropolis. The excessive quantity and speed of images has not wreaked the harm he had feared, but it has provided a new range of influence for contemporary art: inquiring into the individual’s senses and consciousness, into our physical sensibility and our critical capacity to distinguish reality from fiction, or simply to enjoy the ambiguities.

This book does not illustrate the exhibition Stimuli (held at Witte de With between November 21, 1999 and February 13, 2000), but offers a path through its motivations and phantasmagorias.

Conceived by Bartomeu Marí – at the time director of Witte de With– and Karel Schampers – then senior curator modern art at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen – the exhibition unfolded around the notions of hypnosis and ecstasy. Delivering an anti-formalist reading of art, the publication Stimuli emphasizes physical sensation as the instigator and fundamental reason of art at the close of the twentieth century.

In “Dream Machines,” the Dutch art historian Jos ten Berge analyzes the genealogy of the perceptual illusion in modernity, from Georges Duhamel to Walter Benjamin, from Guy Debord to virtual reality. The monograph is completed by the text “Metropolis and Mental Life,” published by Georg Simmel in 1903.