Human / Non-Human Collaboration Across the Arts & Sciences

Justice in a More than Human World - Collaboration or exploitation? Working with living systems across the arts and sciences


Wednesday February 26, 2014

4:00-6:00PM
Digital Arts and New Media (DARC) Room 108

As artists and scientists explore non-human relationships and discover new ways to illustrate and inspire each other’s work, issues of collaboration, ethics, empathy and justice collide as these borders are crossed and new hybrid relationships emerge. This event will feature presentations of artwork and scientific research that cross pollinate each other, with a focus on human / nonhuman collaboration in the worlds of eco art, bio art, genetic engineering, molecular and marine biology.

Hosts: Gene A. Felice II & Sophia Magnone
Visiting Artist: Amy Youngs (http://hypernatural.com/)
Presenters: UCSC Emeritus Faculty Helen and Newton Harrison

Co-Sponsored by: Digital Arts & New Media, Open Lab and UCIRA

Thursday February 27, 2014
12:00-2:00PM
Digital Arts and New Media (DARC) Room 204

The Digital Arts Research Center at UCSC will not only host the lecture / forum but will also host an undergraduate and graduate student workshop with Amy Youngs. This workshop will focus on bioart themes and will range from an artist presentation to group and one-on-one project / critique time between the artist and participants.

Host: Gene A. Felice II
Visiting Artist: Amy Youngs

Friday February 28, 2014
4:00-6:00PM
Engineering 2 Room 599
"Bioengineering and Meat Cultures"

Meat grown in a laboratory is being promoted as a response to the harmful effects of “conventional” factory-farmed meat production. Artists and scholars have identified how meat cultures are a new class of being, with their own unique characteristics. Some of these characteristics are precisely what makes lab-grown meat appealing as a food source, and some provoke what is frequently deemed “the yuck factor.” Viewing this new class of beings, along with other bioengineered critters, as custom-built collaborators, we explore the ways humans relate to and intervene in the more-than-human world to feed, clothe, house, and entertain themselves--and the way we respond when these interventions, collaborations, and cultures turn sour.

Hosts: Andy Murray and Sophia Magnone
Visiting Scholar and Artist: Oron Catts (http://www.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au/)

Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose pioneering work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project which he established in 1996 in collaboration with Ionat Zurr, is considered a leading biological art project.  He is the founding director of SymbioticA, (which he co-founded in 2000) an artistic research centre housed within the School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia.

Under Catts’ leadership SymbioticA has gone on to win the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art (2007) the WA Premier Science Award (2008) and became a Centre for Excellence in 2008. In 2009 Catts was recognized by Thames & Hudson’s “60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future” book in the category “Beyond Design”, and by Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the top 20 Designers, “making the future and transforming the way we work”. His work has been widely exhibited internationally in venues such as NY MoMA, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and National Art Museum of China.

Catts was a Research Fellow in Harvard Medical School, a visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University, a Visiting Professor of Design Interaction, Royal College of Arts, London, and a Visiting Professor at the School of Art, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Helsinki where he was commissioned to set up Biofilia - Base for Biological Art and Design. Catts’ ideas and projects reach beyond the confines of art; his work is often cited as inspiration to diverse areas such as new materials, textiles, design, architecture, ethics, fiction, and food.

A UCSC campus news article on the event appears here.

Helen and Newton Harrison, Amy Youngs, "Human/Nonhuman Collaboration across the Arts and Sciences"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
26 February 2014
Rapporteur Report by Sophia Magnone
This event was framed as part of a series of events, “Justice in a More-Than-Human
World,” that aimed to explore various modes of humans working with nonhumans, and to
articulate the possibilities for collaboration, rather than exploitation, in these working
relationships. The series had four core questions:

1) When it comes to human-nonhuman partnerships, how could we distinguish between
collaboration and exploitation?
2) How does thinking of nonhumans as collaborators refigure ethics, empathy, and
justice in these relationships?
3) How is nonhuman life valued? What systems of value enable us to manipulate and
end nonhuman life?
4) How do we imagine nonhuman values?
For this particular event, a panel of eco- and bio-artists discussed examples of their work that
stage interaction between humans and nonhumans, as well as between the disciplines of art and
science.

Helen and Newton Harrison, Emeritus Faculty in the UCSC Art Department, presented
work from across their careers in which the artists enter into collaboration with living systems in
various ways: for instance, with crab populations in Sri Lankan lagoons (“The Lagoon Cycle”),
and with the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau (“Tibet is the High Ground”). They emphasized
the interdisciplinary nature of their eco-art work, which necessarily involves methods, techniques,
and theoretical frameworks of experimental science as well as of art. In their presentation, the
Harrisons modeled the collaborative nature of their own (working and personal) partnership,
which is based on ongoing negotiation and productive interruption.

Amy Youngs, Associate Professor of Art at Ohio State University, presented several
projects that involve messy, playful collaborations between humans, animals, plants, and
machines. She emphasized that “collaborations are not equal”: although her work is concerned
with taking animals’ worlds and interests seriously and making them visible for human viewers,
she does not pretend to create egalitarian situations for the animals in her work. She discussed
the institutional limits that are placed upon the artistic use of animals: an art project that involves
animal death is not considered institutionally acceptable. Her Farm Fountain, an indoor
ecosystem that grows edible and ornamental fish and plants through symbiosis, is thus conceived
as a private, do-it-yourself project (she provides instructions on her website); she discussed the
difficulty but the necessity of killing the fish, and also pleasure of cooking and eating the fish.
She also spoke of the particular interest that people take in her work involving live animals in
gallery spaces—for example, crickets (“The Museum for Insects”) and a rabbit (“River
Construct”). These exhibitions prompt viewers to focus on animals they might normally
overlook, and to be concerned about them as living beings.

In the Q&A session, multiple audience members responded with personal stories about
their own relationship to animals and to the practice of killing and eating animals. Jenny Reardon
asked, how do we bring the context of animal killing, and its ethical implications, into the
artwork itself? There was a sustained dialogue between audience members and speakers about
different narratives of (personal and industrial) animal killing: one can view animal killing as a
pragmatic necessity, a spiritual task, a way of accepting responsibility for the death one causes,
an unavoidable evil that should remain invisible, an avoidable evil that one can choose to reduce,
etc.

We also heard from several audience members about the particular relationships of care
and love they have entered into with animals, particularly rabbits. Jenny Reardon asked Amy
about her shift from rabbit breeding (which involves “culling”) as a child to her interspecies
artwork; for Amy, the link is that she loves to be around animals and wants to figure out how to
do that well and to engage public conversation on interspecies being. The Harrisons discussed
the ways that crabs manifested “personality” and “civil society” in their “Lagoon Cycle” project.

In response to Amy Youngs’ story of the institutional limits placed on her artwork,
Donna Haraway noted the bigger implications of the institutional distinction between science and
art, which have different status as knowledge-making practices. In the current system, science
has the authority to kill, while art does not—a gendered division of “serious” versus “unserious”
kinds of work. Collaboration with nonhumans might involve making die as well as making live,
as a challenge to the social authority of science and war as the only players allowed to make
decisions about animal life and death. Newton Harrison suggested that in his own art practice, he
has found that these institutional obstacles of social authority can indeed be overcome. Donna
Haraway also noted the differences in scale in the art practices being presented: the Harrisons
tend to work on a large, continental scale, while Amy Youngs tends to work on an intimate,
miniature scale; the two models present us with micro and macro worlds of the imagination.

Posted in Grad Fellows Event, Past Events, Uncategorized.