Art & Multimodality : A Belgian Example

Art & Multimodality : A Belgian Example

This blogpost is part of a series of different elements in regards to the concept of multimodality. This contains multiple blog posts discussing different aspects of this concept as well as a podcast tying all of this together in verbal form. To access the other elements of the series, click on the buttons bellow:

Multimodality is defined as the use of multiple modes in one product (Jewitt, 2008). In other words, multimodality occurs when different literacies are used in order to make meaning of something (Kress, 2011). In order to learn more about this concept and its history, you are invited to visit the blogposts of the other members of this project. Artists were the first ones to play with these different literacies and their interactions. Indeed, the interplay of text, image and sound is present in artworks since many years (Clivaz, 2017, p.101). However, there has been an increasing use of Multimodality in arts and in society more generally with the advent of digital culture. New Technologies rendered various modes and literacies easily accessible to everyone. They even became embedded them in our daily ways of communicating (Walsh, 2010, p.211).

Some multimodal artworks can appear complex at first glance. Indeed, it can be difficult to grasp all the information of a piece at once. People naturally ignore some features of the work to focus on others (Nanay, 2012, p.363). However, multimodality in Arts  is interesting to focus on because it allows artists to create unique experiences by stimulating different senses. Different modalities are not solely used by artists to create sensory experiences. Some artists also decide to use multimodalities in order to provide additional information that are essential to the understanding of their work. Such as in this audible comics you can discover by clicking on this link :

In this case, the author decided to give oral complementary information to the readers. The comments can be activated by clicking on this signal  ► on the right top corner of the comic when you are on full screen mode. By doing that, you are able to listen to what the author wanted you to know in addition to the comics (Diao, 2012).

In this blogpost, one case of multimodal artwork is more extensively presented to you. Indeed, a closer look is given to the cybernetic light tower realised by Nicolas Shöffer.

Nicolas Schöffer is a French artist born in Hungary in 1912. After graduating in Budapest, he spent most of his life in the French capital where he dabbed firstly into painting to finally devote himself to sculpting and modelling. This multifaceted creator promoted the use of new technologies in his works. He preferred to sculpt lights and sounds rather than stone. In addition, Nicolas Schöffer wanted to produce accessible pieces which communicate with their public and their environment.  He believed that people should stop being simple spectators of art and should become actors of it. That is exactly what the artist achieved with his cybernetic sculptures (Ville de Liège, 2016).

Watch this video in order to visualize Nicolas Schöffer’s pieces. If you do not speak French, do not forget to make use of multimodal tools by activating translated subtitles.

This blogpost focuses on the biggest artwork materialized by Nicolas Schöffer, the Cybernetic Light Tower of Liège in Belgium.

            This monumental futurist 52 meters tower was built in 1961. This giant sculpture is composed of different motorized arms and spotlights which are monitored by an electronic brain. The latter is able to interact with its environment. Through different algorithms and sensors that capture temperature, surrounding noises and wind speed, the electronic brain can accordingly react with three different modes. The tower moves reflecting plates, it can produce noises and turns on lights of different colours (Ville de Liège, 2016).

Around the end of the 20th Century, the tower lost the interest of the people and has been abandoned for a few years. However, in 2015, it was restored and re-inaugured in 2016. In this second version, new technologies were used in order to improve the quality of the interactions of the tower but without modifying them. The original spirit developed by Schöffer around this tower was kept and even upgraded (Zimmerman, 2019). Indeed, one dimension of Schöffer vision of Art has been add to the tower; the public implication in his art. The tower is now able to react according to its public through two different modes; a specific application or  Twitter. Therefore, it is now possible to interact with the tower from home and see the result instantaneously.

Let’s try it, and let me guide you through this experience.

1. Firstly, start  by clicking on the link bellow to see how the tower is interacting with the environment and its public in real time.

2. Now that you understand how the tower works, follow this twitter account:

3. Lastly, while watching the tower, try to twit a colour and tag the latter account (@Cybertower) in your twit.

4. Now see the result, the tower should display the colour you choose in your Twit (Ville de Liège, 2016).

There is another way to interact with the tower from home. Indeed, you can download an app on the following website, This program allows you to determine every functions of the tower; lights, axes of the reflecting plates and noises. After choosing a configuration, you can submit it, and each Friday from 10pm to midnight, every submitted configurations are displayed one by one by the tower (Ville de Liège, 2016).

            At his creation, the cybernetic tower represented a new and innovating way to make art by combining three different dimensions, light, sound and time. The latter were little exploited together by sculptors before. With his tower, Nicolas Schöffer created an unique multimodal experience. Indeed, this artistic creation embodies perfectly the notion of multimodality. Via different modes, the tower processes information of its environment and its public and is able to react to them through three modes. Indeed, the tower use multimodality by producing lights, sounds and moving its axis. Additionally, it does not do it randomly and this is why it generates such an unique spectacle. By using new technologies, the tower is able to transform multimodal data such as Twits, wind, temperature and sounds and alters it into three distinct other modes. People can also create their own artwork through this tower. Indeed, with an app, you can decide what you want to display for short moments, while the rest of the time these three modes are monitored by the environment of the tower. In conclusion, Nicolas Schöffer’s creation successfully managed to use multimodality in order to switch his public from spectator to actor of his art.


  • Clivaz, C. (2017, November). Multimodal Literacies and Continuous Data Publishing: une question de rythme. In Advances in Digital Scholarly Editing. Papers presented at the DiXiT conferences in The Hague (pp. https-www). Sidestone Press.
  • Jewitt, C. (2008). Multimodality and Literacy in School Classrooms. Review of Research in Education, 32(1), 241-267.
  • Kress, G. (2011). ‘Partnerships in research’:multimodality and ethnography. Qualitative research, 11(3), 239-260.
  • Nanay, B. (2012). The multimodal experience of art. aesthj Journal52(4), 353-363.
  • Ville de Liège. (2016, June 21). Nicolas Schöffer. La Tour Cybernétique de Liège.
  • Walsh, M. (2010). Multimodal literacy: What does it mean for classroom practice?. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, The33(3), 211.
  • Zimmerman, Q. (2019, February 13). La tour cybernétique de liege (1961). Les Petites     Histoires.

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