Friday Seminar Series

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The ethos of SymbioticA is that ideas are discussed and shared openly and 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. Our Friday Seminar Series are held salon style, in our studio space and commence at 3:00pm on Fridays. These seminars are open to the public.

Ex-Utero: A Sculptural Exploration of Ectogenesis

Date: 21 February 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Cristin Millett, 2020 Fulbright Senior Scholar and Resident at SymbioticA. Professor of Art, School of Visual Arts, and Embedded Faculty Researcher, Arts + Design Research Incubator, The Pennsylvania State University.

Cristin Millett is a 2020 Fulbright Senior Scholar and current Resident at SymbioticA. Straddling traditional disciplinary boundaries, her investigations of medicine are integral to her artistic process. In this artist talk, Millett will present a synopsis of her studio practice for the past 25 years. Her toolkit of sculptural processes incorporates new advances in digital technology along with established methods of sculpture such as stone carving and bronze casting. The resulting objects and installations prompt a contemporary cultural critique of societal issues surrounding reproduction and gender identity.

Current scientific advances have the potential to radically change the future of human reproduction. We are poised to completely control, and even willfully design, our entire reproductive process. The evolution began with the advent of easily accessible contraceptives and further changed with the development of in vitro fertilization. Recent breakthroughs may grant parents the option to program specific genetic expressions and even predetermine traits in their progeny. In fact, the forewarning of designer babies has already occurred. In 2018, twins born in China were genetically modified before birth using CRISPR technology in the hope of rendering them immune to HIV. Only the 9-month incubation in the uterus has yet to be supplanted by technology. Breaching this final barrier forges an unprecedented path - the dehumanization of the human reproductive process.

For her residency at SymbioticA, Millett will study the science of ectogenesis, the augmentation or replacement of the fecund uterus by a machine. The outcome of her research will be the creation of a sculptural artwork titled Ex-Utero.  Ex-Utero will pose questions and foster conversations about the socio-cultural impact of ectogenesis, a science with far-reaching implications that will change the future of humanity.

Millett’s artwork has been widely exhibited, including at the Villa Strozzi, Florence; the International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago; the Exploratorium, San Francisco; and the Mütter Museum, Philadelphia. She is an Embedded Faculty Researcher in the Arts + Design Research Incubator and a Professor of Art in the School of Visual Arts at the Pennsylvania State University. 

Bricolage: Cellular Performance of Bioengineered Automatons

Date: 28 Feb 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speakers: Nathan Thompson and Guy Ben-Ary

Bricolage is a suspended artwork containing living automatons that grow in a dedicated vessel made of clay, metal and glass. These automatons are made from engineered human heart muscle cells that beat in real time and are visible to the naked eye. The materiality of Bricolage is at the heart of the project. Twitching heart muscle cells are embedded in custom made silk scaffolds and perform spontaneously within their incubator throughout the duration of the exhibition. Viewers are positioned submissively under the cellular performance making it a challenge to view for extended periods, among other things, questioning the so called superiority of humans over non-human entities.

The stem cells that we are being used to transform into beating heart muscle cells have originated from a drop of blood. We used blood cells from human donors and reprogrammed them to become stem cells using cutting edge stem cell technology. The materials at play in this project are heavily loaded - blood, heart, silk and clay – and the nature of, and relationships between, these materials is the driving force behind the project. We believe that the biological sorcery, or alchemy, that enables the conversion of a drop of blood into a living animated entity is something that needs to be explored from a cultural perspective. This is an intriguing, challenging and frankly, quite disturbing prospect.

In this presentation Nathan Thompson and Guy Ben-Ary will speak about the project, the conceptual framework, the development process and the challenges that they faced in the development of such a complex project.

Nathan John Thompson explores the possibilities of man/machine interaction, mechanical sentience and the hidden creative corners that arise from these relationships.

Guy Ben-Ary is a Perth-based artist whose work is inspired by science and nature. He specialises in biotechnological artworks that aim to enrich our understanding of what it means to be alive. His main research areas are cybernetics, robotics and the interface of biological material to technological devices. 

Coffee, Conflict and Urban Life

Date: 6 March 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Heather Hunwick

Food and drink always offer us more than mere sustenance. The history of coffee serves as an apt reminder that conflicts in the food sphere are nothing new. Coffee and coffee culture were well established by the 15th century in the Middle East. Known as the 'wine of Islam' was highly valued by a society that forbade alcohol. Nevertheless, as its popularity increased it would from time to time attract the ire of the authorities and ruling elite. Seen by some as harborers of seditious and dangerous activities, coffeehouses would be banned but only temporarily. The acquired taste and opportunity for social and commercial exchanges would ensure the spread of coffee, first to Constantinople, and then to Europe and by the 17th century to Britain. Unlike tea and cocoa, coffee was linked to place; the coffeehouse.  the rise of the coffeehouses was remarkable and historians have seen this as one lens for observing the rise of modern Britain in particular. This talk examines how coffee culture would have a profound effect on urban life from the Restoration onward to today's 'specialty' coffee wave. Finally, a glimpse into the future of coffee, the world's second most traded food commodity, as it faces familiar and new contemporary challenges.

Heather Hunwick is an Honorary Research Associate in the School of Humanities. She is a food and nutrition educator and culinary historian. Her most recent publication The Food and Drink of Sydney: A History, for Rowman and Littlefield certainly touched on the stories of coffee from the past and to today's international success of Australian brews. Current research projects focus on late Georgian/Regency food history and exploring rich Western Australian foodways. 

Making SPACE for Feeling: (Re)configuring the Future with Speculative Fiction

Date: 13 March 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speakers: Laura Collier & Kathryn Prince

At the 2019 Hugo Awards, Ada Palmer proposed the idea that authors of speculative fiction are all scientists. In Palmer’s words, the genre studies the world and tests hypotheses in innumerable simulations, “thereby giving every generation new tools of empowerment, analysis, action and global progress – social, as well as technological.” Indeed, speculative fiction has long been used as a tool with which to envision future realities, and may be re-tooled to imagine tangible avenues towards a more hopeful future.

In this presentation we will explore the genre’s function as a liminal space of experimental thought, where theories and ideas are ‘beta tested’ within fictional worlds, before being deployed through trade fiction, and into the imaginations of the audience. Together, we will further consider the ways that speculative fiction, while not necessarily a social reality in the ‘concrete’ sense, encourages dreams of the future as a shared collective experience.

Laura Collier is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia. By employing an adapted history of emotions approach, in conjunction with xenofeminism and activist theory, Laura’s thesis explores ways in which speculative fiction narratives by women imagine a future for humanity, and considers the power inherent in the utopian imagination. Laura tweets at the handle: @thelauracollier

Kathryn Prince is an Associate Professor in English and Literary Studies whose current project, “Actor, spectator…detector?”, considers the limits of facial recognition, biometric data, and more human-centric cues in relation to emotion detection in the theatre and beyond. She is Leader of UWA’s node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and Director of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at UWA. 

[Palmer, Ada. “John W. Campbell Award Presentation Speech 2019.” Dublin WorldCon. 18 August 2019]