2018 Seminars

What do we mean when we say “Art is Knowledge”?

Date: 8 June 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Dr Boris Oicherman, Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota

Just as we should view art not as an accumulation of so-called art objects, but as a way of approaching knowledge, we should also view knowledge not as an accumulation of data, but as a flexible mechanism for reorganizing reality.
Luis Camnitzer, An Artist, a Leader, and a Dean Were on a Boat…

During three days in May 1970 an unusual event took place in Venice, CA. Robert Irwin, an artist known at the time as a minimalist painter, hosted a NASA-commissioned scientific symposium in his studio: The First National Symposium on Habitability of Environments.

The motivation for the symposium was set by changing needs in the space program at the end of the Moon landing era and the acute question it brought about: what would it take to construct an inhabitable environment for humans in outer space? Irwin, then an artist in residence with the NASA subcontractor Garrett Corporation, found scientists’ approach to this problem to be overly technocratic and lacking the perspective of the very human who would inhabit new environments. He believed that art, as a discipline dedicated to subjective experiences, was in the position to restore that perspective. Together with his collaborator, NASA program psychologist Edward Wortz, Irwin decided to turn a scientific symposium into an artwork crafted for a single purpose: to challenge NASA’s approach to habitability.

Frequently mentioned and routinely underexamined, The Symposium on Habitability provides an utterly unique case study for development of artistic agency. A radical hands-on attempt of an artist at challenging the dominant research discourse in the science of space travel, the significance of Irwin’s act is in proposing a new model of creative practice where the artist functions as a meta-scholar, temporarily attaching one’s art to other disciplines to create new insights. But what systems in arts support such a model of practice? More specifically, what are—or rather what should be—the institutional implications of this practice on art museums? Even more specifically: what operational, curatorial and financial practices should be in place in a university art museum that is interested in supporting artists in engaging head-first with social and academic discourses far removed from the arts?

Dr Boris Oicherman is the Cindy and Jay Ihlenfeld Curator for Creative Collaboration, Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota.

Participatory Exchange: Generating Critique in Social Practice

Date: 25 May 2018
Time: 3pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Elizabeth Pedler

In my practice-led thesis I approach socially engaged art as both a theorist and practitioner to understand how exchange is employed by artists to generate critique. The burgeoning genre of relational aesthetics has led to interest and confusion as to the intent and methods of social practice. Through a study of the literature and critical investigation of fellow artists’ methodologies, I examine how exchange functions as a model in social practice to generate participatory outcomes, and the ways that exchange fosters critique. Analysing how exchange is employed by artists in the forms of commodity, gift, confrontational and dialogical exchange, I consider the effects of their chosen methods, and adapt selected strategies for use in my own practice. In the course of this research I produced four socially engaged artworks, each framed to examine how exchange facilitates participation and creates opportunities for social, political, and institutional critique. The artworks were constructed in a series of residencies and institutional art spaces within Australia and examine a range of audience responses to social practice. The information gathered from my reflections, and from participants in debriefing and interviews, is used to illuminate the experience of the artworks and my methods. Reviewing the strategies adopted and their artistic outcomes, I examine how the experiences produced by these exchanges generate findings that expand and diverge from my prior knowledge of social practice and human relationships.

Elizabeth Pedler was born and raised in Perth, and attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours at the University of Western Australia. Her work has been shown at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, The Jewish Museum of Australia, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Harvest Music Festival (Melbourne), Melbourne Fringe Festival and Gertrude Street Projection Festival. Elizabeth has held solo or two-person exhibitions at galleries in Perth, Melbourne and Launceston. In 2012 she was awarded an ArtStart grant from the Australia Council, and in 2015 was the recipient of a Young People and the Arts Fellowship from the Western Australian Government Department of Culture and the Arts. In 2014 Elizabeth returned to Perth, to undertake PhD (Art) studies at Curtin University, focussing on participatory art forms and audience engagement. Interested in the range of participation possible in art, Elizabeth's practice spans from playful and interactive installations to collaborative relational aesthetics. Exchange, food, and community involvement are areas of particular focus, and have led to significant artistic development in her recent arts practice, engaging with audiences through the sharing of experiences and storytelling. Elizabeth has been working with Janet Carter since 2015, and on the project Eat the City since 2016; sharing stories and knowledge relating to food through creative practice. Eat the City has been presented as part of Know thy Neighbour by International Art Space, Festival of Disrupted Ideas, Greenskills Sustainable Living Festival and Social Impact Festival, engaging with audiences and building awareness of food precarity.

Stone Age Economics: The Paleo Diet, Populism and the Commodification of Fleshly Suffering

Date: 11 May 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Dr Catie Gressier, The University of Notre Dame Australia

The Paleo diet’s vast popularity, replete with impassioned celebrity endorsements and cult-like commitment among adherents, has been matched by an equal measure of media mockery and condemnation from health authorities. But beyond the hype, who are the people taking up the diet, and why are they drawn to its restrictive regime? Far from the dominant images of fit, tanned gym-junkies, my ethnographic research has found that the majority of Australian Paleo adherents are sufferers of lingering health issues. Rates of obesity and chronic illness have increased in tandem with neoliberal policies engendering precarious working conditions, an increase in polluted, toxic environments, and the unregulated sale of junk foods. Yet, the individual is consistently cast as responsible for their health and weight and is subject to stigma when unable to attain the healthy, slim ideal. Internalising such values, the ill and overweight seek redemption from their fleshly challenges, often turning to populist leaders who construct the Paleo Diet as oppositional to contemporary neoliberalism’s ills. Weight loss is, however, big business in Australia, and Paleo proponents have built alternative health empires on the back of anti-elite sentiments stemming from the perceived health crisis.  Based on ethnographic research in Melbourne, Sydney and online, I argue that despite its oppositional self-styling, the Paleo diet’s market orientations, and focus on individual health in lieu of social reform, ensures it reproduces more than resists neoliberal values and practices.

Catie Gressier is a cultural anthropologist with a focus on settler societies in southern Africa and Australia. She has published widely on issues including racial and national identities, the anthropology of food (and meat in particular), and health and illness. Her first book At Home in the Okavango examines belonging and connections to land among the white citizens of northwest Botswana, while her second book Illness, Identity and Taboo among Australian Paleo Dieters explores the industrial food system and contemporary consumption practices via the Paleo diet. She is HDR Education Coordinator at the University of Notre Dame, an Editorial Board member of Anthropological Forum, and a committee member of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. 

I’m Not Playing: Mental Illness, Gamification, and Neoliberal Subjectivities

Date: 27 April 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Francis Russell

The use of game logics in non-game contexts, or “gamification”, has been seized upon in contemporary mental health discourse as an exciting new means of offering treatment for mental illness. For many researchers, medical professionals, and politicians, the gamification of mental health treatment is a possibly innovative and efficient means to utilise various forms of play, in order to help combat the ever-growing global rates of mental illness. Such enthusiasm is part of a more general trend to look at games – or, more specifically, video games – as a model for reinvigorating depleted forms of citizenship and social reproduction. By gamifying our lives, so proponents of gamification discourse claim, we can produce a significantly healthier and happier world. Despite this optimism, critics of gamification point to the trend as an extension of neoliberal governance, warning that gamification only encourages the further quantification and control of life under metrics of utility, productivity, and competitiveness.

Accordingly, in this talk I will critically examine the politics of gamifying mental healthcare, and the broader question of the link between play and mental health. By engaging with the works of psychoanalysts and social-psychiatrists such as Donald W. Winnicott and Richard P. Bentall, and philosophers and critical theorists such as Jacques Derrida, David Golumbia, and Alexander Galloway, I will attempt to open up a space for considering the value of play and games for sufferers of mental illness, that is not confined to the strictures of neoliberal governance.

Francis Russell is the course-coordinator of the humanities honours program at Curtin University. He has a PhD in Literary and Cultural Studies from Curtin University, and researches the political and philosophical implications of mental illness, alongside conducting broader research into neoliberal culture. He has published in Deleuze Studies, Space and Culture, Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy and has articles in press with Cultural Studies Review and Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy.

Desire, not Dysfunction: Experiences of Interaction Between Trans Women's Sexuality and Use of Hormone Therapy

Date: 20 April 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Shoshana Rosenberg

The common medical narrative surrounding transgender women's use of hormone therapy provides a stark perspective on their experiences of sexuality and intimacy. Current discourse dictates that oestrogen-based hormone therapy causes a physiological 'dysfunction' which leaves trans women largely incapable and/or undesiring of sex and intimacy. Motivated by contradicting personal experiences, and a healthy dose of biomedical cynicism, Shoshana Rosenberg directed her Master of Sexology research at exploring the actual lived, intimate experiences of trans women who use hormone therapy.

Following on from completing her Masters dissertation '“I Couldn’t Imagine My Life Without It”: Australian Trans Women’s Experiences of Sexuality, Intimacy, and Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy', and submitting an article of the same title to Gender & Society, Shoshana will discuss her findings, which significantly challenge the monolithic medical discourse of the chemically 'dysfunctionalised' trans woman. Instead, her participants expressed a broad range of feelings and experiences about transitioning, hormones, and sex which far exceed any narrow viewpoints on the subject.

Shoshana Rosenberg is a transgender researcher currently residing in Perth, Western Australia and teaching at Curtin University. Her academic interests include gender and sexual diversity, transgender health, Queer Theory, Jewish Studies and musicology.

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money1: Is Organised Crime (Yazuka) the Reason Japan Is the Safest Country in the World?

Date: 13 April 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Kent Anderson, Professor of Law and Japanese Studies, The University of Western Australia

Japan is the safest country in the world (when measured by violent crime rates) and has the greatest success with managing crime (when measured by rates of recidivism).  How has it achieved this? 

This discussion will rely on the four paradigms of Japanese law (ie, Culturalism, Structuralism, Managerialism, and Rationalism) to try to resolve the question, paying particular attention to the role of Japanese organised crime (yakuza) within the seeming enigma of Japanese criminal justice. I conclude with the normative questions of whether the negative associations of organised crimes can be justify by associated positives, and whether the yakuza is a culturally unique structure that leaves no lessons for how other countries might seek to regulate organised crime and reproduce the safe society of Japan.

Professor Kent Anderson is an international lawyer who specialises in comparing Asian legal systems. He joined the University as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Community & Engagement) in 2014. He has an eclectic background, having completed tertiary studies in US, Japan, and the UK in Law, Politics, Economics and Asian Studies. He also worked as a marketing manager with a US regional airline in Alaska and as a commercial lawyer in Hawaii. Before joining UWA, Kent was Pro Vice Chancellor (International) at University of Adelaide and before that Dean of the then Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University. He started his academic career as associate professor at Hokkaido University Law School in Japan. Kent is on the National Library of Australia Council, Ministerial Council for International Education, New Colombo Plan Advisory Board, Board of Canberra Grammar School, and a variety of academic and community boards including President of The Asian Studies Association of Australia. 

[1] Warren Zevon, ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’, Excitable Boy (1978). 

Prelude to the Teratoma: Before They Grow Teeth and Hair

Date: 6 April 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Lyndsey Walsh

The teratoma is a monstrous figure amassed in the terrifying totality of its bodily forms. It is commonly characterized as a disfigurement of tissue arising in the formation of of tumor embedded with teeth and hair. For Lyndsey Walsh, the teratoma is a monster speaking to a greater discussion about the cellular body and its environment.

As part of her Masters of Biological Arts, Lyndsey Walsh invites you to join her for a discussion about her upcoming exhibition entitled “Return of the Teratoma: Back with More Teeth and Hair,” opening 4th May at the Moore Building in Fremantle. Her works enact to deconstruct ideas about monstrous form, the in vitro “body,” and the complex relationship between making and knowledge.

Lyndsey Walsh is an American artist and researcher. Her fascination with modes of making has guided her work through various disciplines and mediums. Lyndsey views modes of making as one of the main sources of creating knowledge about the world around us. Her practice involves not only experimenting with different materials as a way to investigate different types of knowledge systems, but also exploration of their accompanying ideologies and influential narratives.

What is Creativity and How do We Develop it in an Educational Setting?

Date: 16 March 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Alana Lewis

In 2008, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, states that successful learners are ‘’creative, innovative and resourceful and are able to solve problems in ways that draw upon a range of learning areas and disciplines’’. Through polymathic principles, is it possible that we can re-develop old school educational pedagogy to challenge traditional methods of classroom teaching to incorporate transdisciplinary practice for 21st century learners? Is it time to create a new educational “ism” - Polymathicism.

As an artist, Alana Lewis is a jack of all trades, she uses an eclectic mix of conceptual and material practices. As an educator she is interested in developing creativity through transdisciplinary practice in secondary education. In 2017 she was awarded the NSW Premier’s Copyright Agency Creativity across the Curriculum Scholarship to research transdisciplinary practice through Science and Art.

The Unsettling Eros of Contact Zones: Queering evolution in the CandidaHomo ecology

Date: 9 March 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Tarsh Bates

I explore the physical, emotional and political relationships between humans and Candida albicans (an opportunistic fungal pathogen of humans). These relationships span immunology and ecology, sexuality (both human and microbial) and evolutionary biology, public health and body discipline, institutional frameworks and kinship. I examine the microbiopolitical implications of the recent revolution in our understanding of the human body as being at least half non-human. I combine scientific experimentation, art–making, evolutionary ecology and queer theory to posit the human body as a queer ecology and explore the sexuality, performativity and community of C. albicans within this ecology. This talk gives an overview of my previous practice-led research with the CandidaHomo ecology and introduces work currently in development. I ask the audience to consider the human body from the perspective of the microbe and as a complex, dynamic and sensual habitat.

Tarsh Bates is an artist/researcher interested in the aesthetics of interspecies relationships and the human as a queer ecology. She recently submitted her PhD in Biological Art and is currently a research associate at SymbioticA, UWA and The Seed Box, Linköping University. She has worked variously as a pizza delivery driver, a fruit and vegetable stacker, a toilet paper packer, a researcher in compost science and waste management, a honeybee ejaculator, an art gallery invigilator, a raspberry picker, a lecturer/tutor in art/science, art history, gender & technology, posthumanism, counter realism and popular culture, an editor, a bookkeeper, a car detailer, and a life drawing model. She is particularly enamoured with Candida albicans.

Preparing for Beyond the Cradle

Date: 2 March 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Dr. Sarah Jane Pell 

Pell presents her artistic role in Performing Astronautics across the three phases of spaceflight as: the Architect (building new forms of Absolute Space), the Astronaut (embodying all of Representational Space), and the Avatar (live(d) art of Spaces of Representation). By framing her experimental and emerging practice as nodes of transfer and transformation, she explores movement in the relative qualities of space and spatiality over spaceflight time. By aligning her work to the gravity-shift arc of spaceflight, the artist hopes to prepare an embodied toolkit for audiences to experience new phenomena including the moment of earthly release, the orbital perspective or overview effect, and space-earth adaptation and residual bodily memory as described by many astronauts. For this, she suggests we design for a body of water.

Dr. Sarah Jane Pell’s practice intersects performing arts, interactivity design, and underwater diving – with parallel interests in human spaceflight and habitat technologies. Interested placing the body in real and imagined spaces for encountering “new frontier worlds”, Pell plays with elements of speculative fiction, live-lab style stunt and daring to explore the visceral and bodily fascination in high-risk exploration. An Undersea Simulation Astronaut to Project Moonwalk EU, Astronaut Candidate Project PoSSUM US, and Mars Desert Research Station MDRS Crew 188, she is carving out new opportunities for the artist-astronaut. Her Edith Cowan University PhD proposing ‘Aquabatics as new works of live art’ received Best PhD Art & Science, MIT LABS. She has logged over 500 commercial dives in zero visibility imagining an artist-in-space experience, with spin-off projects connecting to NASA, JAXA, ESA and the EU Commission. She has joined residencies and workshops including events hosted by SymbioticA: the art & science laboratory, the Arts Catalyst, Live Art Surgery, UK, International Space University, Singularity University and European Space Agency Topical Team Arts & Science (CoChair 2011-2014). Her work is exhibited, performed and published widely. Notable venues include Ars Electronica, Robotronica, CHI, MOMA, BEAP, NRLA, ISEA, NGV, PICA, PIAF, AIAF, MIAF, TNAM, & ESTEC. Dr. Pell is a TED Fellow, Gifted Citizen, and an Australia Council Fellow.