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Abstracts

Questioning the Non-Human Other

Political Potentials of Living Beings in Art

Plays focused on climate change frequently feature other life forms besides human beings. Polar bears, seals, and penguins assume speaking roles, sometimes alongside mythical creatures or extraterrestrial characters. Playwrights and theater practitioners have been debating options for moving away from anthropocentric performances, particularly because climate change affects all of earthly life and because the label ‘Anthropocene’ may be just another example of human hubris – an  assessment that has led to alternative suggestions such as Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and Chthulucene (Donna Haraway). Yet, although climate change reminds us of humans’ being embedded within an ecology of interdependence with animals, plants, and minerals, the fact that – more often than not – human performers embody or at least voice non-human characters raises multiple issues regarding appropriate and effective ways of integrating animal and other non-human characters into theatrical performances. In this talk, I will discuss examples of the physical form, the visual design, the use of human language, and related strategies in climate change plays written and produced in the current decade. Furthermore, I will address how playwrights strive to make the human/non-human boundary permeable through techniques such as intersecting plots, analogous character traits, and cross-species empathy. By encouraging audience members to revise their – to adapt Christian Metz and Martin Jay’s catchphrase – “scopic regime” alongside all other engrained medial and perception practices involved in the theater, innovative approaches to representing animal characters on the stage become politically viable and significant acts of subverting time-worn hierarchies of agentic knowledge and power.

 

At first sight Hélio Oiticica’s Tropicália might be mistaken for an exotic island of refuge for it consists of sand and pebbles, palm plants, living parrots and two colorful constructions, which invite the audience to pass the threshold and come in. First shown in 1967 in Rio de Janeiro, at a moment when the military dictatorship in Brazil had established its grip on the people, the installation stirred a complex of different, even opposing aesthetic experiences, which made palpable restrictions of freedom while simultaneously counteracting them. This paper explores this double movement of struggle as political on two levels: first, by demonstrating how dominant modes of perception were questioned and altered, and second, by correlating this shift with the artist’s theoretical writings. By doing so I seek to show that it was not accidentally the growing structure of a plant that functioned as a general model for Oiticica’s artistic production. Independently creating what the artist called an “open condition”, the plant as a non-human being was apt to overthrow all kinds of hierarchies by literally growing over them from all sides. In respect to Tropicália this ‘anarchic’ condition might have hinted towards the possibilities of individual freedom. At least during a limited time the ladder were treated by Oiticica not as something ever to be given but as something to be experienced through the interference of the human and the non-human, nature and technology, thus as something happening in between those seemingly stable categories.

The palm tree has taken on a particular valence in post-apartheid South Africa. From stately and triumphal beacons, symbols of tropical leisure to decadent, dead and derelict these iconic plants appear in numerous important contemporary artworks. Deploying ‘oceanic theory from the south’ this paper is interested in the islandness and tropicality of South Africa. By a counterintuitive watery reading I hope to open up South Africa to flows and international circulations which include the African East Coast and the Indian ocean trade, Mauritius, Brazil and Central America.

The paper will analyze the 2018 exhibition PALM, PALM, palmar curated by Mika Conradi of the POOL collective which included work by Yto Barrada (Morocco), Simon Gush, Sebastian Mejia (Colombia), Lucas Odahara (Brazil), Madeyoulook and Karin Tan + Skye Quadling. Conradi’s exhibition asked: ‘How do we understand the appropriation of the palm as a colonial paradisical dream? How do we recuperate the palm tree from this violent dream, within the entangled becoming of a postcolonial city? Can the palm tree speak?’ As a contribution to this show, artist/writer Anne Historical wrote “Leans Gracefully” (2018) which offers a theoretical intervention in multi-species debates in the country. Parallel, Johannesburg-based artist Zen Marie showed Paradise Fallen (2018) which engaged with the tropicalilty of the southern African island of Mauritius. (Parenthetically, the Pamplemousses National Botanical Garden in Mauritius is the site where most of the palms in South Africa and, indeed, much of Africa were originally propagated from Central America.) Award-winning artists Athi-Patra Ruga’s The Night of the Long Knives II (2013) and Zanele Muholi’s Self Portrait: Bhekani, Mayotte (2016) ask powerful political questions about queerness and race though self portraiture and its relationship to vibrant botanical life. Swiss, London-based artist Uriel Orlow’s The Memory of Trees as part of Theatrum Botanicum’ (2018) attracted critical attention when exhibited in Johannesburg. Finally, James Webb’s three-channel vide work, 3 Dreams of a Sinking World (2019) used the dead palm tree to think ruins in the postcolonial city.

Drawing on Australian philosopher and ecofeminist Val Plumwood’s ecological critique of reason, and using various cinematic evocations of insect, vegetal and fungal life as a red thread, my presentation will argue that film provides a sursprisingly generous framework to the non-human. Overturning the basic subject / object dualism, rearranging the frontiers of the living, extending intentionality to a multitude of non-human subjects, sensing other sentiences and exposing different modes of being alive, cinema can help us develop more caring, attentive and communicative attitudes towards the non-human. I will focuse on two ideas in particular: cinema’s inherent animism; and the need to distiguish between anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. In our current context, if we should be wary of all forms of anthropocentrism, which promote human remoteness from the living world, maybe a critical and creative anthropomorphism is not only possible, but desirable, as a necessary step. As opposed to a difference-denying anthropomorphism, this creative anthropormorphism can be a way of apprehending the diversity and alterity of life and the living and a means of becoming otherly human.

The architect trained Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno (*1973) employs designers, architects, anthropologists, biologists, engineers, art historians, curators, musicians and members of other multidisciplinary backgrounds in his Berlin based Studio Tomás Saraceno to objectify his artistic research in the field of airborne structures (aerocene) and spider/webs (Arachnolab). This study focuses on the shift of the artist’s interest in the three-dimensional structure of spider webs for large-scale spatial installations such as 14 Billions (2010) or In orbit (2013) to the highly aesthetic staging of spot-lit Hybrid Webs (since 2013) and currently to a synesthetic, eco – political engagement for non-human rights and more awareness for the non –human other as stated in the project for the 58th Biennale of Venice Spider/ Web Pavilion 7: Oracle Readings, Weaving Arachnomancy, Synanthropic Futures: At-ten(t)sion to invertebrate rights! (2019).

Titled after an essay published in 1968 by writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar, Thomas Merton, The Angel and the Machine is a research-based, curatorial project.

Born on January 31, 1915, in France, Merton worked as an English teacher before entering a Trappist abbey in Kentucky and later becoming a priest. He published a variety of works as a poet, essayist and novelist and is known for his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain.

Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogues with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D. T. Suzuki, the Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and authored books on Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.

Merton’s late papers are held at Syracuse University where his notes on the writings of the influential philosopher and media theorist Marshall McLuhan detail Merton’s interest in the impact of technology on the health of spiritual lives. 

Merton’s essay, The Angel and The Machine, shows a familiarity with McLuhan’s ideas as he writes about the collective failure to develop a spirituality by which people might resist the negative consequences of technology. This failure, as Merton writes, has given rise to “diverse symptoms of human distress.” 

Fast forward fifty years, we are still grappling with this failure as we navigate the ever more complex terrain of a technological take over that was only in its infancy in the late 1960s, when Merton was writing. From crypto-currencies like Bitcoin to jihadist proto-states like ISIS, the internet and electronic machines are rearranging our relationship to geography and impacting our desire to deepen our attachments to particular places. 

We are at the precipice of a complete reorganization of our relationship with the environment which will completely transform the most elemental and foundational aspects of democracy, the way we construct our identities, and how we perform our politics. 

The Angel and the Machine is a hypothetical exhibition designed to help us think through the ways technology is transforming the physical and spiritual ways we connect with the environment. Merton characterizes technological machines as having the ability to create “mysterium tremendum,” an awe-inspiring mystery that Merton cautions, has replaced our belief in angels. In this presentation, I will contend that the so called technological “mystery machine,” is no mystery at all and that we need to own up to our role as the angels within the machines. Humans created this mess and artists’ power to re-enchant the world will be essential to working our way out.

Drawing inspiration from the work of Merton, philosopher Adrian Ivakhiv’s work on culture, identity, and ecology, Donna Haraway’s ideas of ecofeminism and posthumanism, as well as the writings of Audra Lorde, Toni Morrison, and Mary Oliver, the lecture will discuss the work of Aria Dean, Eva & Franco Mattes, Frank Gillette, Juan Downey, Judy Natal, Mildred Beltré, Suzanne Anker, and Yoko Ono.

The concept of nature is an invented anthropocentric category. Through the painstaking philosophical work of the ancient Greeks, Western thought established the notion of nature which has come to dominate not only our thinking about, but also our material relationship with the world to this day. Plato’s debate in Laws (a dialogue without Socrates) over nature’s ‘creative power’ sets ‘nature’ up as a clear notion to be overcome with human intervention (techne). Plato’s pupil Aristotle further established the parameters of the debate on what is and is not ‘nature’ (physis) thus beginning our long road to the Anthropocene in general – or the quest to tame and overcome nature. From the modern era’s grappling with the lesson’s of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to the ideas and mission of science itself (especially Physics – a discipline dedicated to revealing the ‘theory of everything’ in which all of nature can be measured, assessed, and predicted), we have been weighed down in the West with a notion of nature inherited from that ancient Greek conversation. Dishearteningly, this western conception of nature, via global science has also become a default setting in most of the world.

By first demonstrating how anthropocentric the concept of nature actually is, this presentation will pivot to the emergence of contemporary movements in philosophical discourse that seek to recalibrate the concept of nature and thus stifle the onrushing Anthropocene’s ‘overcoming’ of the world. Specifically examining the work of: 1. Dominque Janicaud on human nature with his focus on undergoing vs. overcoming in which human’s are forced to ‘join’ in nature in order to ‘undergo’ aesthetic transformations, 2. Jacques Derrida’s work on ‘the animal’ which questions human’s refusal of our animal (nature) complexity, 3. Timothy Morton’s work on ‘hyper-objects’ and ‘ambient poetics’ where he seeks the role for art that is aesthetic in its material concerns for ecology, and 4. Graham Harman’s Object Orientated Ontology which seeks to recalibrate the notion of objects and aesthetics (re-conceptualized) as first philosophy. With these trajectories in mind, we must investigate what ‘non-human aesthetics’ has to offer as ‘first philosophy’ as we build our counter-paths toward a de-centering of human thinking and the transformative power of artistic inquiry in that process.

Does it not happen that, when you now admit the salvation of only the soul you ascribe it to men at the cost of half their nature? What is the good of believing in the resurrection, unless your faith embraces the whole of it?

––Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, chap. LVII

Nowhere to Be Found is a living installation in which corals are implanted onto a human skull suspended in a saltwater aquarium. A UV lamp provides light for the corals, and the pumps, filters, live rocks, etc. create an ecosystem that displays natural processes. The work is placed in a field of tensions: over several years, the skull will disintegrate, and the coral will feed on its calcium, forming a coral reef. Like in nature, within this artificially initiated natural cycle, the corals will compete for light and resources; some will die out, while others will thrive.

This work stands within the tradition of vanitas, building on the sentiments of memento mori and carpe diem. Yet unlike most of the other vanitas representations, the work is more than just an illustration of an idea. While the installation embodies a visual representation of the life and death cycle, the work itself will also eventually disintegrate, leaving behind only recorded representations of itself.

In this work Kessler has artificially initiated a natural transformation process within natural cycles. It alludes to positive and negative human impacts on natural processes. Nature is shown as the origin, condition, and result of human existence. While man is dependent on nature to provide life-giving resources for survival, humanity is also responsible for the greatest source of mass extinction in the earth’s history. Human beings take on the responsibility of not only living harmoniously with nature, but to be its custodians, attempting to repair the damage it has already impacted on the earth’s ecosystems.

The memento mori may also allude to a post-human era, where man has ultimately failed to reconcile his role within nature’s cycles, serving as an ominous warning.

While the subjects in the work are entirely non-human, the imagery reflects on our mortality. In that sense, the work also represents our inability in art and life to escape our own humanity: even within the discussion of the non-human, works are created and seen through the human lens, inevitably relating it back to our relationship with our non-human counterparts.

This talk will give an overview of the prerequisites, principles, policies, methods, tasks and interdisciplinary approaches of Human-Animal Studies and its sub-discipline Ethical Literary Animal Studies. The latter is a new approach based on emancipatory and critically oriented Human-Animal Studies as we pursue it at Innsbruck University in order to have a positive impact on human-animal relations and to bring a maximum of benefit to animals.

Thus, cultural, philosophical and social doctrines and constructions, as for example the human-animal boundary or the categorizing of animals are questioned critically, animals are respected as subjects with agency, as individuals with their own interests, needs, emotions and experiences, and as free coexisting beings with an intrinsic value, whereby speciesism is avoided and a theriocentric viewpoint is chosen.

I will show how Literary Studies (and maybe also Art Studies) can adopt these maxims and as a result inspire the reader (/ viewer / listener etc.) to take the perspective of the animal character, to empathize with him / her and to transfer these perceptions to ‘real’ life animals.

 

“Peut-on être révolutionnaire et aimer les fleurs?” Dorothée Thébert and Filippo Filliger asked rhetorically 2014 in their dance spectacle inspired by the art and utopia of the Monte Verità. Flowers still stand for aesthetic mainstream, kitsch and nativity; nevertheless, danced flowers can unfold political potential, as a close reading of sources on the early modern dance reveals. Three US-Americans Loïe Fuller (1862–1928), Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) und Ruth St. Denis (1879–1968) were at the forefront of the dance movement, which later became known as Ausdruckstanz in Germany and Modern Dance in the USA, and all of them referred to flowers in their practice and theory.

The protagonists of modern dance reinterpreted the feminine connotated motive of the flower in distinct ways: Duncan impersonated Primavera in sumptuous floral costumes and considered herself as a man-eating rose, St. Denis referred to the lotus, Asian religious symbol of immortality and soul, whereas Fuller’s whirling serpentine dance embodied the flower as an organic abstraction. Their orientation towards nature was motivated by a thrive for an ahistorical feminine intimate dialogue with nature. How do the dancers “become” a flower, transform into the non-human other? Are they overcoming bodyliness through their performances or are they mere anthropomorphic flowers?

Flowers were a common motive at the time and artists animated them in the twofold meaning of the term as movement and ensoulment. Around 1900 both the plants slow movements and psychological state had been under scrutiny in natural sciences and botanical time lapse film as well as magical shows, dance, fine arts and literature. Especially the new media film emphasized vegetal power and will. Scientific imagery of plants merged in French avant-garde cinema as well as in German Weimar film with vegetal interpretations of modern dance and thus underlined the kinship of human and vegetal emotion and expression.

Turning humans into plants has a political history with French defamations of politicians as vegetal caricatures in the post-revolution era. Jean-Jacques Grandville drew, inspired by ballet, Les fleurs animées (1847), revolutionary flowers asking for emancipation and recognition – a plea that was repeated in floral dances of various fairy films around 1900. In their performances as a vegetal other early modern dancers reinforce sometimes feminine stereotypes of flowers as well as women as decorative ornaments, and in other instances rupture with them. Regardless, their orientation towards the plant signifies a reconsideration of the order of nature and the place of humans in it.

 

In general, live on earth (and beyond) is not only imagined and researched from an anthropocentric point of view, even with respect to non-human others and to post-anthropocentrism it is perceived in a zoocentric perspective. To introduce plants as non-human others means to further deconstruct man’s hegemonic ideas of Nature and the social. In the humanities, plants have been disregarded and kept at a distance. Even in less speedy and mobile times than ours today, their immobility and passivity in question has long denied them participation on equal terms in the debate on both the phenomenal and material world. Yet the contrary is the case: recent plant neurobiology shows that plants are sensitive, communicative, intelligent, and able to collaborate. In continuation with human analogies in analyzing and describing the plants’ qualities and behaviors, plants teach us transdisciplinary knowledges, once we share the conviction of their ‘naturecultural’ and ‘humanimal’ but also ‘technonatural’ transversal bonding.

The talk elaborates on historical and contemporary positions in art which deal with plants as companions and offer an alternative view on marginalized lives, including lichens as a symbiotic association between different organisms, fungi with their cryptic sexuality, and the invertebrate animals called corals, among others. The focus will be on Swedish artist Hilma af Klint and a close-viewing of her 1919/1920 notebook Blumen, Moose, Flechten (original title in German (Flowers, Mosses, Lichens)). The rediscovery of an almost forgotten female artist about 10 years ago is itself an indication of the search for a historical backup of the Chthulucene–according to Donna Haraway’s rewor(l)ding of an age that should differ significantly from the so-called Anthropocene. Supported by quantum physicist Karen Barad’s theory of the inherent inhumanness of the human itself, exchange of information with plants and fungibility may even make human beings more humane. Consequently, we have to take into account that„bioorganic vampirism, cybernetic control and resonance and nanotechnological transformations of life determine the scientific alternatives in vivo, in vitro, in silico to the ecological mismanagement of the present“, as knowbotiq suggest.

For the art theorist I am (I am not a scientist), looking at art which engages with plants and other marginalized organisms and inorganic elements brings forth instructive models of a different subject organization and alternative relations between heterogenous others: plants, vegetal entities and their genetically programmed others respectively, may spell out the new alphabets of recognition with respect to ecology, politics, and, of course, aesthetics. Besides af Klint, contemporary artists of interest for my talk include John Baldessari, Edith Dekyndt, Alanna Lynch, Laure Prevost, Janne Nabb und Maria Teeri, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, Anna Lena Grau, knowbotiq, and Lynn Hershman Leeson.

 

From the late nineteenth century onwards, film and cinema opened up a new way of looking at relations between human and nonhuman animals. In 1924, Béla Balázs observed that unlike human performers, living animals are not acting when they appear on film: an animal is always just an animal, it lives in front of the camera. According to André Bazin (1951), humans enjoy no privilege over animals in film. In my presentation I would like to consider the question of posthuman intimacy through the lens of Donna Haraway’s concept of Companion Species. My examples will be Vittorio de Sica’s famous neo-realistic film “Umberto D.” and contemporary statements of animal trainers. Referring to a fundamental feminist critique from the 1970s of male-dominated conceptions of labor, I will argue that the intimate relationship between human and nonhuman animals in fiction film is connected with a double socialization.

If “nature” is understood as a conglomerate in which materials, fabrics, and energies interact and intra-act with cultures, technologies, and discourses,1 it becomes clear that neither “nature” nor the natural sciences have a clear boundary between outside and inside – they merge. How does a such-interwoven nature influence the media use of biologists as they take into account its idiosyncrasy, so that the point from which an epistemic object is measured becomes unstable? How are forces such as those of bio-activity, the swell of the sea, or icebergs involved in the fish-ecological exploration of the Arctic Ocean, and how does the warm climate participate in the genetic examination of African cichlids in Austin, Texas? The volatile functioning of such assemblages eludes direct observation.

Who of what is (inter-)acting? Who or what is controlling, monitoring, inspecting the relations found in “collectives”, and what are the motives? Michel Serres has denoted these entities as “quasi-objects, quasi-subjects of which one does not know whether they are beings or relations, fragments of beings or lappets of relations.” The quasi-object “makes” and organizes the collective, yet is itself “blank” and “veers toward nil, toward absence […].”2

As an artist, I work with the materiality of media and infrastructures in research environments as a relation between visibility and invisibility. In this respect, the project “Computer Signals”3 has involved the design of parasitic experimental systems that, inserted into the equipment of two biological work groups, “listen from within” to the process of digital data work from the perspective of the apparatuses. In that “nature” provides both the energy and the data, yet simultaneously hosts the structures for their distribution and communication in the form of pipelines, submarine and terrestrial cables, and extraterrestrial satellites, it co-determines these research processes in a resistant manner. The art project attempts to render such interactions negotiable and posits the question to what extent an epistemic form of discourse is becoming necessary to complement present ecological, economic, and political debates on energy streams and changing forces of nature. This discourse would consider the infrastructures at play with a “nature” seeped in technology, as well as the insights that are being produced with regard to our environments, not merely as an enabling of knowledge, but also as its limited horizon.

 

1 cf. Karen Barad: Agentieller Realismus. Berlin 2012; Jane Bennet: Vibrant Matter. Durham 2010.
2 Michel Serres: Der Parasit. Frankfurt/Main 2014.
3 computersignale.zhdk.ch

 

Ecosystems are currently breaking down world-wide, especially insect species are dramatically disappearing. In order to protect our society, which depends on the ecosystems it is a part of, we have to prevent further decline of bio-diversity. However, damages are already present and crucial „key-stone species“ are threatened. We have been studying the collective swarm-behavior of two highly threatened animal groups (honeybees and fish) and, as a proof-of-principle demonstration, we have designed two robot species that can infiltrate those ecosystems and even coordinate these very different animals with respect to each other. This way we have created, for the first time in history, a novel ecological link between those two different species by embedding autonomous robots in a small living ecosystem. This was the first time that such an ecological link was mediated by autonomous robots, showing that this is a viable option to externally stabilize fragile, or even already broken, ecosystems.

The artist Günter Seyfried will give a talk about current methods of genome editing utilised in the art project “Return to Dilmun”, a project he performed together with his collaborators, Roland van Dierendonck, Hansjörg Petschko and Federico Muffatto.

A digital image is translated into synthetic DNA, using a special method. The picture information stored as biochemical molecules allows image retouching using the CRISPR/Cas method.

The CRISPR/Cas system is a prokaryotic immune system, that provides adaptive (acquired) immunity against foreign genetic elements, such as bacteriophage genome injection. In the life sciences this system has been modified for efficient genome editing.

In two types of in vitro experiments we performed image manipulation at the level of molecules. In one we made experiments aiming on efficient on-target cleavage with full length guide RNAs (sgRNA), consisting of 20 nucleotides. In the off-target experiments we decreased the efficiency using sgRNAs with 15 and 12 nucleotides, making indel mutations visible.

 

One reasonable expectation of art is that it somehow articulate a cultural identity. There are many categorical examples of artwork involving the human or nonhuman other that conflate elements of the subjective observer with elements of the other to posit a critique of cultural identity. By focusing on difference, a sameness emerges. Contrarily, difference might also be employed as justification to bifurcate nature and preserve a hierarchical dichotomy. This presentation will address the status of the human/nonhuman other in contemporary cultural production as exemplary of an ideological dynamic that resonates on myriad fronts in the culture at large. Otherness and not-otherness is a binary that is insinuated into many discourses, but it is especially evident now related to an anthropic impasse that is trending in some contemporary culture practices. There is a tendency supported by the methodology of modern science, to problematize the subject and object as two mutually exclusive ontologies. Rather than questioning human centrality in the world and seeking correspondence with nature, such reductionism renders the non-human other an empty signifier that can be conscripted to serve the will of the human subject. A similar ontological disconnect is at play in the binary related to race. When the subject is the ultimate arbitrator of a descriptive set of concepts deployed to define the other, those concepts are rarely value neutral; they are subliminally formulated to realize and maintain a distinction between subject and object. Insomuch as the powers and needs of the human subject are thusly realized, an equitable horizontal relationship between human and non-human is foreclosed. That foreclosure disregards the subjectivity of the other and entrenches the pre-existing anthropocentricism.

Based on selected image examples, the genesis of a network of light structures by means of scattering white heights of the so-called Danube-Style - a very early precursor of the Impressionist Comma – will be demonstrated at significant stages of development by the way of image-analysis. It manifests itself on the leaves of the flora, on the paths of the water and on the surfaces of the rocks of an increasingly naturalistic landscape painting. The beginnings could be located in the book-painting of the German city of Regensburg with Berthold Furtmeyr in the course of a traditional research discussion. It will be presented with the first image example from Furtmeyr's rich book-painting oeuvre. This is followed by discussing Albrecht Dürer's early work 'The penitent Saint Jerome'. The small yet unsigned and undated painting takes up this development, incorporates the Figurale and brings the light spot painting on Dürer's first trip to Italy in the core areas of the Danube-Style in the circle of the great art patron and last knight Emperor Maximilian I. He propagated his political success with elaborate art orders and an anti-Welsh style. This style wave reached a master of the so-called Danube-Style in the sphere of influence of Vienna, namely the master of the Historia Friderici et Maximiliani, with his picturesque masterpiece of the high altar of the Holy Blood Church Pulkau. There it climaxed in the content problematic and much discussed predella paintings of host desecration by transforming this act into a morbid counterworld. In this transalpine jungle, according to the latest scientific findings, a tiny symbiotic oecology-system has its great appearance, namely those of the lichens. Their close-to-nature reproduction in the above series of works combines with the light-trail network of the Danube-Style - reason enough for a recent art-scientific analysis. These interdisciplinary scientific presentations show the result, that the area of vegetation light traces - as a precursor to the current bio-art - can be recognized as form-finding processes in nature by the means of biodesign. Final remarks are based on a recent dissertation on the topic of lichens by the plant scientist Philipp Resl, which received the Theodor Körner Preis, and on a recent lichen project by the director of the botanical garden in Graz, Christian Berg.

 

Traditional aesthetic places non-human animals in nature and not in culture. Non-human animals are generally considered to be artless beings without any urge or capacity to create aesthetic objects. To the contrary, the ability and the need to produce art is perceived as one of the last thresholds of humanity. Nevertheless in the last decades more and more contemporary artists involve living non-human animals in artistic productions. By doing so they declare some non-human animals to be co-authors of artworks and trust in their creative agency. But is it legitimate to take animal contributions to installations, sculptures, videoworks, or paintings seriously? Can non-human animals be aesthetic actors in their own right? The talk focuses on interspecies artworks that only come into existence with the help of non-human animals. While it seems clear that the participating non-human animals display some form of agency, it is debatable if they can be called artists.

“We cannot stand outside and simply observe the phenomenon we call “nature”.1 stated the Danish artist Tue Greenfort in 2008. In his side-specific installations, he reflects upon the notion of nature and how it is constantly negotiated in our culture. He questions traditional categories and borders like the antiquated thinking of culture and nature as separated poles in different ways. In his concept of “intra-action”, for example, he suggests another way of thinking about and dealing with “nature”. Changing the outside point of view into an internally integrated perspective means focusing on phenomena of relationships, alliances and networks – not on differences and dichotomies. At this point, the installations of Tue Greenfort converge with the concept of ecology, which in the 1970s became an important factor in dealing with “nature”, by focusing interrelations between the living and inanimate environment, simultaneously excluding humans to protect “natural” ecosystems. Greenfort’s works can be seen as an expansion of this concept in the sense of the Anthropocene debate, so that the earth appears as a human system with embedded natural ecosystems, as Judith Elisabeth Weiss stated.

Questions related to the creation of artistic natures accompany his artistic work in various ways.  In the light-flooded atrium of the Taipei Fine Art Museum, between green palms, ferns and other plants, for example, Tue Greenfort recently presented two interesting works in this context: Prototaxites and light-vented bulbul – matching the title of the Taipei Biennale 2018/2019 “Post-Nature. A Museum as an Ecosystem.” While the huge columns with mushrooms called Prototaxites in different ways question our categorization system, the video light-vented bulbul illustrates the ubiquity of technology and the atrium of the museum as a microcosm including human, animal and plant life. This hybrid installation oscillates between artificial and natural entities, refusing traditional categories and visualizing a new way of thinking.  Hence his works interlace contemporary theories with current scientific discussions, like new concepts of ecology, the Anthropocene debate, Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy and Bruno Latour’s approach to the Gaia-Hypothesis, which states that living things do not reside in an environment, but rather they fashion it - locally and globally. Greenfort’s site-specific installations as well deal with local phenomena and at the same time refer to a worldwide issue. This way, he questions various systems in the sense of an ecological institutional critique.

 

1 Tue Greenfort in an interview with Neville Wakefield, in: Frieze Yearbook 2008/9, London, October 2008, p.1.

 

Young researchers

 

Life itself was and is a central subject of scientific researches and also of art. The more knowledge we gain in the different fields of science, the more detailed we can deal with it in the arts.

The aim of this paper is to explore the diversity in the works of Suzanne Anker. As theorist and visual artist, she reflects on the cultural issues of one of today’s leading sciences, biotechnology, working on a wide range of topics from genetic engineering to neurosciences and to space exploration. In her artwork, she uses different mediums, such as inkjet prints from human residues in a medical museum, brain scans superimposed on each other, living plants and dead animals in petri dishes, little ceramic sculptures completed with figurines made with rapid prototype technique. Hence, the paper investigates the interpretation of organic and inorganic materials, the phenomenon of natural and artificial in visual arts and how their role in the light of technoscience has changed.

Examined through the artistic approach, focusing on Suzanne Anker, the first part of the paper is intended to be an introduction to the history, the scientific subjects picked up by artists, and the employed techniques in the BioArt field. Since biology plays an important role in the aesthetics of today’s arts, scientific image, as the visual „outcome” of the encounter of science and art is going to be examined too.  In the second part of the paper, selected artworks of Suzanne Anker are going to be presented, divided into the territories of the human body and the living space.

In recent times, ecological matters and the issues those entail have become existential questions for humanity. Environmental destruction, climate change, and the progressing extinction of species have pushed ecosystems to the brink of collapse. In this regard, the relation between ecology and art in contemporary artistic positions is of particular interest.

In this paper, the different meanings of the terms “ecology”, “ecological”, and “ecosystems” are explored in order to acquire a better understanding of artistic-ecological practices. Subsequently, the beginnings of these artistic-ecological practices are outlined; works by Nicolas Uriburu, Joseph Beuys, Agnes Denes and others are studied as well as the development of ecological issues in art of the last 50 years.

Furthermore, landscape as an aesthetic concept and its connection to artistic-ecological practice is examined. How does our current lifestyle affect landscape in an aesthetic sense? Which problems arise from environmental destruction? Which consequences do they bear on landscape as a habitat? Additionally, what impact do such developments have on contemporary art practice?

In order to draw the connection between ecology, nature, and aesthetics in a more comprehensible way, the philosophical viewpoints of Gernot Böhme, Martin Seel and Philippe Descola will be discussed, whereby the relation of man to nature plays a decisive role.

Overcoming the oppositional thinking of man and nature using the example of the art and theory of Eco-Logic by Agnes Denes

In recent years, the Anthropocene discourse has been increasingly reflected as an interdisciplinary research subject in the humanities and cultural studies. A key focus lies on the close interaction between nature and culture. The increasing alienation process between humans and their environment also changes the perception of nature. Parallel to the first approaches of the Anthropocene, new artistic strategies developed, which discussed the impact of human intervention in nature. Using the example of Wheatfield - A Confrontation by Agnes Denes it will be examined how ecological issues are taken up in the arts and expressed in artistic acts. With the term Eco-Logic she refers to this conceptually constructed separation of nature and culture and illustrates in her work, where such a, from the environment decoupled thinking and behavioral pattern can lead. She questions the status quo and the orientation of the human lifestyle and aiming at overcoming the uprooting of humans from their habitat.

My thesis deals with contemporary art positions and exhibition formats in the post-/anti-/decolonial context and simultaneously examines why they refer therefore to landscape, garden and nature. Landscape and gardens are significant dispositives from which colonial discourses can be negotiated and deduced. Landscape per se is a political space of the Anthropocene that has been appropriated and transformed. The garden is a cultural artefact whose diversity of forms and species is often the result of colonialist strategies (hegemony, political sovereignty). In this context I consider two art exhibitions, documenta 11, 2002 in Kassel and the 56th Biennale Arte, 2015 in Venice, both under the curatorial direction of Okwui Enwezor. Both formats discuss political factors such as postcolonialism, hegemony/eurocentrism and subalternity. The main intention of both art shows - the documenta staged at the Karlsaue Park in Kassel as well as the Biennale Arte located in the Giardini in Venice - is to show space-related, installative art in addition to the classical exhibition spaces of the white cube, which is located in the exterior space and refers there to landscape, garden and nature as well as to the politically occupied space. They deliberately deal with the artificiality of landscapes and thus reveal colonial tendencies and accordingly create postcolonial dispositives. The selected curatorial and artistic positions are theorized and discussed on the basis of central post-/anti-/decolonial concepts.

 

Starting point of my work are the most recent exhibitions of the Japanese artist (born 1967). It deals with issues that the artist claims to build on, as she says, to make the world a little better. What does life mean? What is being human? What connects us all? What is the cycle of life? How can we rediscover and experience our roots in nature? And this in a society based on mass production, capitalism and consumption. In order to solve these questions, she chooses an interesting and extraordinary way, looking into the past, to primitive peoples and ancient cultures that still lived in harmony with nature. At the same time, she dares to leap into the future and, as a viewer of her works, lets us suspect what awaits us, surrounds us and how the world is structured. In her recent, sculptural works she refers to string theory and the theory of multiverses and cycles in nature. She also wants to depict opposites like life and death. In her work, she incorporates tides, natural areas worldwide and various cultural communities, exploring the infinity of life and universes with her work.

In the context of metamodernism I visualize the development of artistic creation by Mariko Mori. This helps to understand her tendencies and clarifies the intentions of the artist in terms of nature, the environment and ecological awareness.

Founded in 2010, Mariko Mori´s charitable foundation “FAOU” has set itself the goal of implementing an art project on every continent. I present the two projects that have already been realized in this context and relate them to questions of meta-modern historiography. In the end, a short few to upcoming plans of realization will give space to question the

She takes art to a new level and takes up new fields of research and forms of perception for her works.

With regard to future projects of the artist, the work shows insights into a new kind of art, which should not only be aesthetic works, but also images of a timeless force of nature, which in addition to the chronological historiography provides new perspectives and ways for us humans, to live in harmony with nature. A rethinking shrouded in visual food for thought of sculptural character.

How can life be attributed to a computer-generated image? Annlee, a fictional character invented by Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno, appears in nine animated films as part of the collaborative art project “No Ghost Just a Shell – Un film d’imaginaire”. Although the perception of each artwork is highly individual, this particular character is strikingly often described as being alive or having a consciousness of its own. Numerous authors express an inner conflict, when recognizing Annlee simultaneously as artificial and alive. The analysis will show strategies the artists are using to give the impression of a vivified digital character.

Univ.-Prof. Dr.

Sabine Flach

Institut für Kunstgeschichte


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