The ethos of SymbioticA is that ideas are discussed and shared openly.
The Friday Seminar Series is designed to allow an open forum to disseminate artistic, scientific, ethical and philosophical research and practice of resident researchers, visiting artists and scholars to our University.
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Date: 24 May 2013
Speaker: Associate Professor Jo Elfving-Hwang
In contemporary South Korean society, appearances matter. The sheer scale of the practice as well as the types of plastic surgeries suggests that South Korea, like many other post-industrial nations of the world, is now part of a wider global makeover culture that is driven by the constant need to improve and maintain one’s physical appearance. In South Korea, the discourses that seek to justify the practice go beyond pointing to positive psychological effects of a successful surgery, and present it as an object of investment where the ‘right’ appearance is increasingly seen to correspond to social capital. The career-related rewards for engaging with successful cosmetic surgical results are certainly far from hypothetical. Yet in the context of South Korean popular media discourses, these discourses are not simply grounded in Western individualism, but are also necessitated by the affective, intersubjective gaze of a social group (whether it be the family or other group that the subject identifies with) which promotes a view that the individual subject’s body is also representative of the collective body of that group. Reflecting this, the narrative logic deployed in popular media and in TV makeover programmes assert that cosmetic surgery is not evidence of vanity, but quite the contrary, a positive proof of willingness to invest in self in consideration of others. Within this context, somatic subjectivity obtained through engagement with surgery is seen as an expression of moral self, rather than suggesting lack thereof.
Through an analysis of the narrative logic deployed in a South Korean cosmetic surgery makeover programme Let Me In, this paper will analyse how popular discourses of cosmetic surgery present beauty as an index of social inclusion through pathologising non-standard appearance as evidence of moral deficiency . Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is presented as a solution to the discursively created problem of social exclusion that allows surgically enhanced beauty to emerge not as a sign of vanity but as evidence of desirable moral attitude, which is quite literally embodied/imbedded in the images of the subject’s healed, postoperative body. I conclude by suggesting that these cultural discourses of cosmetic surgery, which seek to normalise artificially enhanced bodies, cannot be taken simply as signs of ‘Westernisation’, but as a symptom of a much wider process of shifts in emerging epistemological discourses of how self is understood in relation to the other in contemporary South Korean society.
Jo Elfving-Hwang is an Associate Professor of Korean at UWA Asian Studies. Previous to her current appointment she was Junior Professor of Korean Culture and Society and Director of Korean Studies at Frankfurt University. Jo has also taught Korean literature at the School of East Asian Studies (the University of Sheffield). In 2007 she was a Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (University of Leeds), and has also worked as an academic developer and researcher (learner autonomy and EBL) at Sheffield Hallam University.
Jo's research and teaching interests include representations of femininity and masculinity in contemporary South Korean literature and popular culture; trauma, disaster narratives and national identity in literature, as well as aesthetic surgery practices and cosmetic cultures in South Korea.
Date: 30 May 2013
Location: Murdoch Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, UWA
Speaker: Oron Catts
In 1906 Jacques Loeb suggested making a living system from dead matter as a way to debunk the vitalists’ ideas and claimed to have demonstrated ‘abiogenesis’. In 2010 Craig Venter announced that he created “the first self-replicating cell we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”, the “Mycoplasma laboratorium” which is commonly known as Synthia. In a sense Venter claimed to bring Loeb’s dream closer to reality. What’s relevant to our story is that one of the main images Venter (or his marketing team) chose for the outing of Synthia was of two round cultures that looked like a blue eyed gaze; a metaphysical image representing the missing eyes of the Golem. These are the first bits of a jigsaw puzzle that will be laid in this talk. Through the notion of Neolifism, this puzzle will explore and Re/De-Contextualise the strange materiality of things and assertions of regenerative and synthetic biology. Other parts of the puzzle include a World War II crash site of a Junkers 88 bomber at the far north of Lapland, the first lab where the Tissue Culture & Art Project started to grow semi-living sculptures, frozen arks and de-extinctions, Alexis Carrel, industrial farms, Charles Lindbergh, worry dolls, rabbits’ eyes, ear-mouse, gas chambers, active biomaterials, in-vitro meat and leather, incubators, freak-shows, museums, ghost organs, drones, crude matter, mud and a small piece of Plexiglas that holds this puzzle together.
Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose pioneering work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project, which he established in 1996, is considered a leading biological art undertaking. In 2000, together with Stuart Bunt and Miranda Grounds, Catts founded SymbioticA, an artistic research centre in the School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia. SymbioticA won the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art in 2007 and a year later became a Centre for Excellence. In 2009, Oron was listed in Thames & Hudson’s ‘60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future’ and named by Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the ‘Top 20 designers making the future and transforming the way we work’. Oron’s interest is life itself or, more specifically, the shifting relations and perceptions of life in the light of new knowledge and its application. Often developed in collaboration with scientists and other artists, his body of work speaks volumes about the need for a new cultural articulation of evolving concepts of life. Oron has been a Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School and a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University. He is currently the Director of SymbioticA, a Visiting Professor of Design Interaction at the Royal College of Arts, London, and a Visiting Professor at Aalto University’s Biofilia- base for Biological Arts, Helsinki. Oron’s work reaches beyond the confines of art, often being cited as an inspiration in areas as diverse as new materials, textiles, design, architecture, ethics, fiction and food.