2019 Seminars

Algorithmic Environments: A presentation on the use of Artificial Intelligence by the Government of Canada

Date: 3 May 2019
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Carlos Jabbour 

This talk will begin with an overview of technologies and key terminology used in AI development, followed by real projects being developed by the Canadian government. These projects, using sophisticated algorithms to augment human efforts, automate manual tasks, and possibly improve the lives of citizens are towards enforcing Canada's environmental protection laws. Examples of predictive models being developed to identify violations of environmental regulations and other security applications will be discussed. Technical methods and ethical issues will be examined and open for group discussion. 

Carlos Jabbour is a Data Scientist working for the Government of Canada's Department of Environment and Climate Change.

Design Tactics for Uncertain Times

Date: 26 April 2019
Time: 3:00 pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Kirill de Lancastre Jedenov

Cities, buildings and objects are not isolated entities. In our interconnected world, they are part of larger complex systems. The built environment faces old and new challenges: climate change and natural catastrophes, pollution, water shortage, unemployment, food supply constraints, inefficient infrastructures, living conditions inequalities, short term rent of private houses and subsequent rent increases, displacement of low-middle classes from city centres, empty investment properties, cyber security and surveillance mechanisms, highly educated homeless individuals, privatisation of public spaces, refugee influxes, cultural tensions, extremist groups, populism and unannounced acts of random violence. Some cities and regions now accept crisis not as an anomaly but as an endless continuing situation. For many, crisis is the new normal. Our world is finite, fully explored and with increasing levels of consumption, students expectations to design through massive amounts of materials and human labour will be increasingly difficult to fulfil. In this context, architects and designers cannot continue to work with the classical methodologies of the tabula rasa or rehabilitation of the pre existing as it once was. It is important that students understand that there are other available fields for them to operate.

Kirill de Lancastre Jedenov is Assistant Professor at The University of Western Australia. He has co-founded Kaputt! Arquitectos and Jedenov Arquitectura. He has studied and/or worked at ISCTE–University Institute of Lisbon, Universität Innsbruck, Universidade Lusófona, Lisbon and Universidade Lusíada, Lisbon among others. His work has been published/shown in several books, magazines, journals and conferences in Portugal, Spain, Holland, Hungary, Sweden, Australia, United Kingdom, Finland, Austria, New Zealand, Canada and China.

Is AI an Earmouse?

Date: 12 April
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Jerry Galle

Derived from big data and concocted into existence from a humanly impossible discernible data pool, AI is the most transformative technology of our time before it has even been layered into shape. With this talk I'd like to critically approach uses of AI within creative contexts, taking my work and collaborations as examples. Furthermore, just like genetic engineering has become a field filled with potentially vast possibilities, so has AI had an impact on our society. Both are considered to be potentially disruptive because of this potential. Equally so, both are hyped, rendering them a thrilling unknown, especially if and when the two would "join forces". A question that could be asked is: Are both mere nursery tales? Because much like the earmouse couldn't actually hear through its ear, AI does not possess intelligence as we experience it.

Jerry Galle is a Belgian artist mainly working with software, online interventions and robot drawings or paintings. His work often reflects on contemporary techno-driven models. Practices such as hacking or disrupting binary codes and unmasking AI pretexts are central to his output. He is a teacher and researcher at the Media Arts department in the School of Arts, University College Ghent, Belgium and is also a fellow at v2 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. His work has been shown in Muhka, Bozar, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, British Film Institute, Wiels, International Film Festival Rotterdam, EMAF, Museum Dr. Guislain, Frankfurter Kunstverein, v2 and Ars Electronica among others.

Science (Fiction) and Food: Popular Culture and Food Production Practices

Date: 5 April 2019
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Dr Heather Bray, The University of Western Australia

The relationship between food production practices and science has long been complex and contested. On one hand, science is the basis of many food production practices on which we now depend to make food safe, affordable, convenient, tasty, and nutritious. However, more recent innovations in agriculture, for example the use of gene technology, are considered by many to be undesirable, and risky. Representations of science and technology in food production practices in science fiction seem to reflect these sentiments, with science and technology portrayed as ‘unnatural’ and therefore ‘bad’. In this presentation Heather will draw on work co-written with Prof Rachel Ankeny which connects selected examples of science fiction and popular culture to innovations in food production. We contend that scientific interventions are often black boxed and that binary distinctions of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ are unhelpful in promoting constructive conversations about the role of science and technology in food production, as are approaches that rely on ‘education’ to address key fears and concerns. It’s time for new approaches.

Dr Heather Bray currently co-coordinates the Science Communication major within the Bachelor of Science, and the Masters of Science Communication at UWA. Her research explores community understandings of, and attitudes to, the role of science and technology in food production, in particular genetically-modified crops and food, and the use of animals. Her work aims to build trust between different stakeholders in the agri-food system.

The-Not-So-Sterile Womb: New Data to Challenge an Old Dogma

Date: 29 March 2019
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Lisa Stinson

The human body plays host to a complex ecosystem of trillions of bacteria. These microorganisms are essential collaborators in human physiology, providing nutrient breakdown in the gut, contributing to metabolic function, calibrating the immune system, and defending against pathogens. We have co-evolved with this ecosystem, or “microbiome”, for millennia. It has long been assumed that the womb is sterile and that the establishment of the human microbiome commences with the birthing process. Recently, bacterial DNA has been identified in umbilical cord blood, placentas, amniotic fluid, and the fetal gut in uncomplicated pregnancies, leading to the hypothesis that the seeding of the human microbiome may commence in-utero. However, these data have remained contentious due to entrenched methodological errors that plague this field of research. Lisa has spent the past four years developing and optimising new techniques to study the microbiome of the human fetus. Her research demonstrates that bacterial DNA, intact bacterial cells, and bacterial metabolites are present in-utero, and have the potential to influence the developing fetal immune system. In this presentation Lisa will present her PhD data, providing new evidence to overturn the sterile womb dogma.

Lisa Stinson is a reproductive biologist and molecular microbiologist at The University of Western Australia and the Women’s and Infants Research Foundation. Her research interests include the early life microbiome, the developmental origins of health and disease, and preterm birth. She recently submitted her PhD thesis titled “The not-so-sterile womb: New data to challenge an old dogma”. When she’s not in the lab, Lisa actively partakes in science communication and outreach.

Microbial Agency, Ltd.

Date: 22 March 2019
Time: 3:00 pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: WhiteFeather Hunter

The concept of “agency” is a popular framework for discussing work with vital (live) materials, often used to imbue them with human qualities such as the capacity for “collaboration”. Biomaterials development communities, including artists, can be particularly fraught with makers who envision such relationships as edgy, post-human initiatives. WhiteFeather’s previous MFA thesis work, Biomateria; Biotextile Craft (2015) was deeply influenced and also critical of these conceptual links, inspired by texts such as Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, which was itself influenced by Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory.

WhiteFeather will present an artist talk, providing an overview of her own biomaterials research projects, including tissue-engineered textile “sculptures”, bacterial cellulosic garments and other textile objects generated from kombucha, as well as microbial textile dyes. These projects will be discussed within the critical framework of “agency” and the multiple structural limitations that all but null any form of actual agency in biomaterials production.

Canadian artist-researcher, WhiteFeather Hunter, has recently joined the University of Western Australia to complete a PhD in Biological Art, happily occupying a desk and lab bench at SymbioticA in the process.

Behind the Lens: Visual Perception in Humans, Insects and Other Animals

Date: 1st March 2018
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Drew Thornton

Experience visual phenomena and take a glimpse into alien thought-bubbles with Behind the Lens — Visual Perception in Humans, Insects and Other Animals.

In this seminar and discussion group:
⁍ Examine the physiology of vision, and the meaning of seeing.
⁍ Discuss the significance of sight in philosophy of mind.
⁍ Look at—and through—the eyes of other animals, including spiders, flies, toads and cuttlefish.

Drew Thornton is working on his project and dissertation with SymbioticA, exploring perceptions of non-human consciousness. At the end of 2019, Drew will complete his Master of Biological Arts and exhibit his final project, wherein audiences will come eye-to-eye and go toe-to-toe with a buzzed-up colony of houseflies.