Abstracts of keynote speakers

Monika Bakke

The Efflorescence of Minerals: Art and species diversity beyond the organic

As part of the realm of nonlife, rocks, minerals and elements have occupied a blind spot in the biocentric ontologies of recent decades. A growing interest within art practices and the humanities in extending this horizon by embracing nonlife is supported by new theories and concepts in mineralogy, one of which is ‘mineral evolution’, a new articulation of mineral diversity, planetary mineral specificity and emerging mineralogical complexity. Until recently, minerals have been commonly viewed either as an inert alterity of life – presented in separate galleries from biological specimens in natural history museums – or as not different than life – as in contemporary vitalist approaches. With the current awareness of the processes leading to the formation of new minerals – including mineral entanglements with life (nonhuman and human) – and hence to the continuously increasing diversity of minerals, it seems necessary to start considering mineral species as active entities in species diversity on Earth and beyond.

Life has the greatest impact on the mineral environments of Earth, hence the temporary or permanent presence of humans and other biological species will also alter the evolving mineral environments of other terrestrial planets, moons and asteroids. What happens when mineral and biological species meet on Earth and elsewhere is the focus of various contemporary art practices. The latter involve investigating the structural, temporal and spatial specificities of mineral and biological species and the conditions of their encounters and entanglements. In order to analyze these art works, I propose to look at minerals (and other forms of nonlife) not as objects but through processes, forces and dynamics, such as metabolism, sublimation, crystallization, differentiation and evolution. By employing these processes artists design mineral-biological entanglements or implement various types of interventions into these trans-species encounters beyond the organic, both to test their limits and to explore their pleasures.

Monika Bakke is associate professor in the Philosophy Department at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland. She writes on contemporary art and aesthetics with a particular interest in posthumanist, trans-species and gender perspectives. She is the author of Bio-transfigurations: Art and Aesthetics of Posthumanism (2010, in Polish) and Open Body (2000, in Polish) co-author of Pleroma: Art in Search of Fullness (1998), and editor of Australian Aboriginal Aesthetics (2004, in Polish), Going Aerial: Air, Art, Architecture (2006) and The Life of Air: Dwelling, Communicating, Manipulating (2011). From 2001 till 2017 she was working as an editor of the Polish cultural journal Czas Kultury [Time of Culture]. Her curatorial work includes art exhibitions: Bio-Reminiscences (Poland), Seeing the Forest Through the Trees (UK) and The Unbearable Lightness of Objects (Portugal). Currently her research focuses on nonlife forces and new articulations of mineral presence in contemporary art and natural history museums.

 Una Chaudhuri

AnthropoScenes: Enduring Performance

 The so-called “non-human turn,”—cultural attention to and academic interest in the more-than-human world—has come harder and slower to the arts of theatre and performance than to literature, cinema, and the visual arts.  The Anthropocene’s most challenging features—its “derangements of scale” (Clark), its geo-physical frames of reference, its pessimistic politics, and its depressive affect—pose special challenges to the embodied, situated, and hitherto hyper-social forms of theatrical story-telling.  This lecture considers a number of recent works that propose durable—and durational—engagements with the more-than-human world, suggesting an “AnthropoScenic” praxis of time, space, and embodiment to cultivate a climate-conscious, ecospheric ethos and affect, a new space from which to tell the stories of what is happening now.

Una Chaudhuri is a Collegiate Professor and Professor of English, Drama, and Environmental Studies at New York University. She is currently the Director of NYU’s XE: Experimental Humanities & Social Engagement. Her current research, teaching, and creative projects explore what she calls “ecospheric consciousness”: ideas, feelings, and practices that attend to the multi-species and geo-physical contexts of human lives. Una Chaudhuri is a pioneer in the field of “eco-theatre”—plays and performances that engage with the subjects of ecology and environment—as well as the related field of ecocriticism, which studies art and literature from an ecological perspective. She helped launch both these fields when she guest-edited a special issue of Yale’s Theater journal on “Theatre and Ecology” in 1994. Professor Chaudhuri was also among the first scholars of drama and theatre to engage with another rapidly expanding inter-disciplinary field, Animal Studies.  Her books include: Animal Acts: Performing Species Today. Co-edited with Holly Hughes (University of Michigan Press, 2014); Ecocide: Research Theatre and Climate Change, co-authored with Shonni Enelow (Palgrave, 2014); Land/Scape/Theater, co-edited with Elinor Fuchs (University of Michigan Press, 2002); Rachel’s Brain and other Storms: The Performance Scripts of Rachel Rosenthal  (Continuum, 2001; Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama (University of Michigan Press, 1995); No Man’s Stage: A Semiotic Study of Jean Genet’s Major Plays (UMI Research Press, 1986).

Jussi Parikka

Vanishing Counterpoints: On Air, Bees, Spiders, and Other AI

Artist Tomas Saraceno’s exhibition “On Air” at the Palais de Tokyo (2018) in Paris featured collaborative work on spiders alongside his other work including the Aerocene. From the work on speculative design of fossil free future transport to animal architectures of spiders, Saraceno’s exhibition pitched especially through the arthropods an implicit way of asking what other worlds of sensoria and experience exist. On Air proposed to investigate airborne ecologies of life, entangled webs of relations, and modes of living as cohabitation; these are all themes and terms that stem from, and resonate with, contemporary art and humanities theory about the Anthropocene as well as a lot of contemporary new materialist theory.

In the wake of the exhibition, we can continue similar questions: What other sorts of architectures, sensations, perceptual worlds and social patterns emerge in the worlds of arachnoids curated and exhibited as part of contemporary art? One would be tempted to see Saraceno’s work as a response to Jacob von Uexkull’s influential work on worlds of animals – hence also my use of the word “counterpoint” –and the insights concerning the perceptual realities of non-human animals. But more than such a casual observation, I want to develop Saraceno’s speculative, even at times utopian thoughts about cohabitation and animal assemblages in the context of its contemporary situation: in other words, besides celebrating the animal worlds of spider (and insect) perception as useful counterpoints of reflection to human modes of technological worlds we should also be prepared to ask how do these collaborative projects set in the context of contemporary situation of large scale biodiversity loss, the sixth mass extinction, global warming, and the Anthropocene, as some opt to coin the situation. It’s in this context of questions that I will in this talk develop some themes familiar from my earlier work in Insect Media, but in relation to Saraceno and current contexts of ecology and technological culture as well as one response to “art in the Anthropocene”.

Jussi Parikka is Professor at the Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton) and the founding co-director of the Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) research unit. In addition, he is a visiting scholar at the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague as the research leader for the project Operational Images (2019-2023). He has published widely on media theory including on topics such as media archaeology as well as contemporary media arts including books such as Insect Media (2010), A Geology of Media (2015), and A Slow, Contemporary Violence: Damaged Environments of Technological Culture (2016).

Anna Tsing

Feral Atlas and the More-than-Human Anthropocene

As with most things, we humans are unable to do the Anthropocene (in all its terrors) all by ourselves.  This talk offers a suite of methods for the study of the Anthropocene as more-than-human.  Neither the all-or-nothing vision of a unified planetary imaginary nor the foolishly fantasized safety of local redoubts are our best guides; instead, the talk argues, the Anthropocene is patchy.  Anthropocene patches are not like jigsaw puzzle pieces, however: they emerge at incompatible scales; they overlap; they do not cover everything.  Imperial and industrial infrastructures show the scale and position of patches.  Infrastructures stimulate feral effects, and these feral effects make up the more-than-human Anthropocene.

Anna Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she co-directs Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). She is the author of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins (2015), Friction: An ethnography of global connection (2005), and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an out-of-the-way place (1993), all published by Princeton University Press. She has co-edited numerous volumes, such as Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and Words in Motion: Towards a global lexicon (Duke University Press, 2009).

Cary Wolfe

Title: “Scales of Finitude: Art and Posthumanism, Extinction and the Anthropocene”

 My talk will begin by summarizing my views on the relationship between art and posthumanism expressed in some of my earlier work, and the implications and imperatives of that relationship for how we interpret works of art—a methodological and theoretical shift that is underscored, as it were, when we are dealing with works of art devoted to the non-human world. I’ll then examine how this shift lines up (or doesn’t) with the affordances and limitations of the concept of the Anthropocene and the imperatives it seems to thrust upon our interpretive practices. My test case will be the phenomenon of extinction, and in particular a work of contemporary multi-media installation art devoted to the extinction of a single species, the Passenger Pigeon.

Cary Wolfe’s books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American CultureThe Discourse of Speciesand Posthumanist Theory (Chicago, 2003), the edited collections Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota, 2003) and (with Branka Arsic) The Other Emerson (Minnesota, 2010), What Is Posthumanism? (Minnesota, 2010), and Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame (Chicago, 2012). He has also participated in two recent multi-authored collections: Philosophy and Animal Life (Columbia, 2008) with Cora Diamond, Ian Hacking, Stanley Cavell, and John McDowell and The Death of the Animal: A Dialogue (Columbia, 2009), with philosophers Paola Cavalierii, Peter Singer, Harlan Miller, Matthew Calarco, and novelist J. M. Coetzee. He is founding editor of the series Posthumanities at the University of Minnesota Press, which has published over forty volumes by noted authors such as Donna Haraway, Roberto Esposito, Isabelle Stengers, Michel Serres, Vilem Flusser, and many others. He currently holds the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Chair in English at Rice University, where he is Founding Director of 3CT: The Center for Critical and Cultural Theory.

Joanna Zylinska

Artificial Intelligence, Anthropocene Stupidity

My talk will engage with two defining apocalyptic narratives of our times: the Anthropocene and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Both of these narratives, in their multiple articulations, predict the end of the human and of the world as we (humans) know it, while also hinting at the possibility of salvation. Looking askew at the conceptual and aesthetic tropes shaping them, and at their socio-political contexts, I will be particularly interested in the way in which these two stories about planetary-level threats come together, and in the reasons for their uncanny proximity. Concurring with Marshall McLuhan that art works as a ‘Distant Early Warning system’ for all kinds of apocalypse, I will suggest that it can also serve as a testing ground for the making and unmaking of such apocalyptic scenarios. And it is in art that I will seek the possibility of envisaging a better and more prudent relationship with technology – and with the world – from within the Anthropocene-AI nexus. The talk will include a presentation of some visual work from my own art practice.

Joanna Zylinska is a writer, lecturer, artist and curator, as well as Professor of New Media and Communications and Co-Head of the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of seven books including The End of Man: A Feminist Counterapocalypse (University of Minnesota Press, 2018, open access version available), Nonhuman Photography (MIT Press, 2017) and Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2014, open access version available) – she is also a translator of Stanislaw Lem’s philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae (Minnesota UP, 2013). In 2013 she was Artistic Director of Transitio_MX05 ‘Biomediations’, the biggest Latin American new media festival, which took place in Mexico City. Her own art practice involves experimenting with different kinds of photomedia. http://www.joannazylinska.net

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