Agency In Movement Symposium

Further information:

Date: Friday 21st June 2013

Location: The University of Western Australia

G06 Moot Court Faculty of Law

Time: 9am-5pm

List of abstracts and speakersAgency In Movement

Chris Salter
Alien Agencies: Multi-species ethnography, techno-science and performances of the non-human

Ethnographic work in Science Technology and Society (STS) (Callon; Latour and Johnson; Pickering; Collins and Yearley; Casper; Herzig; Schmidgen) has traditionally privileged micro-studies of scientific practice using the scientific laboratory as the site for such discourse. This work has not only been valuable in revealing the specific “technical work” (Lynch) that constitutes material practice in science but also, in some cases, critiquing anthropocentrically driven narratives of scientific knowledge production.  But with few exceptions (Pickering), such work has rarely examined the affective registers and transformation of human bodies and subjectivity that take place through the encounter with such agencies. Recent artistic and design practices involving novel “techno-science” (Hottois) situated biotechnical and responsive materials thus create a new study object not only for Science Studies but also for the current trend towards a new materialism that is rampant in the arts, humanities and social sciences. through both their blurring of ontological categories (live/not live, mechanistic/organic) and through their involvement with ways of thinking about the “ethico-aesthetic” (Guattari) production of new forms of subjectivity in both makers and spectators. I discuss the current ARC funded project “Tissue Cultured Muscle Actuators as Evocative Cultural Objects” in development and in collaboration with Zurr, Catts and an international team of researchers in physics, electrical engineering, biology and biomechanics. The project has dual purposes: it acts as an aesthetic event challenging the distinction between living and nonliving matter while simultaneously, conveys this ontological blurring through a kind of Artaudian “theater of cruelty” by way of its staging - an evocation of visceral reactions towards an entity that is “semi-living” (Catts and Zurr), twitching and in need of articulation by the spectator. I discuss the methodological approach to studying the project - which utilizes aspects of current “multi-species” ethnography as well as insider and auto-ethnographic techniques - in order to understand and depict the affective resonances occurring between human makers and non-human material.

Chris Salter is an artist, Director of Hexagram-Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology and Associate Professor for Design + Computation Arts. Salter studied economics and philosophy at Emory University and received his Ph.D. in the area of theater with a second concentration in computer-generated sound from Stanford University. After collaborating with Peter Sellars and William Forsythe/Ballett Frankfurt, he co-founded and directed the art and research organization Sponge (1997-2003). His solo and collaborative work has been seen at major international exhibitions and festivals in over a dozen countries including the Venice Architecture Biennale, National Art Museum of China, CTM-Berlin, Lille 3000, LABoral, Ars Electronica, Meta.Morf in Norway, PACT Zollverein, Todays Art, Villette Numerique, EMPAC, Transmediale, EXIT Festival, Place des Arts, Elektra, Shanghai Dance Festival, V2_, among many others. He regularly presents at national and international conferences, has given invited talks at universities and festivals worldwide and has sat on numerous juries including NIME, ISEA and the Prix Ars Electronica. He is the author of Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (MIT Press, 2010) and is currently working on a follow up Alien Agency (also for MIT Press).

Jennifer Johung
Choreographic Arrhythmias

Contemporary dance can no longer be identified by fluid and continuous movement, but rather tends towards jagged motions that unexpectedly slow down and speed up, or remain imperceptible and almost still.  These aberrations in constancy and duration, force and direction of movement begin to challenge both the determination and agency of bodies and things, living and non-living, within and beyond dance.  In fact, in 19th-century anthropological studies on animism and recent cognitive science experiments on timescale bias in the attribution of intention and will, we find that erratic motion is difficult to apprehend, and that the agentic capabilities on either perceiving end are unpredictable and surprising.  Taking the critical turn in dance’s choreographic grounding as the starting point, this paper explores what happens when things and beings slide out of time with each other, stopping and starting, or hardly moving at all.  From the conflations and irregularities in dance to the variable tempos of cell motility, arrhythmic choreography charts the dependencies between matter, objects, bodies and environments, tracking relations across which agency must be recalibrated.

Jennifer Johung received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.  She is Associate Professor of Art History, and Director of the Art History Gallery at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she is also affiliated faculty in two graduate programs (Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies; and Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures).  She has published articles on topics ranging from performance, visual, and urban studies to new media and biotechnology.  Her first book, Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art, was published by the University of Minnesota Press in December 2011.  Her edited volume, Landscapes of Mobility: Culture, Politics and Placemaking, is forthcoming from Ashgate Press in September 2013, and her new book project, Vital Dependencies: Bio Art, Architecture, and Performance was recently awarded seed funding from the University of Wisconsin’s Research Growth Initiative.  In addition to her research, she commissions new artwork, collaborates with artists and architects, and curates exhibitions from Milwaukee to Los Angeles through her own organization, Jennifer Johung Projects.

Andrew Pelling
The Elegant Struggle - Things I Like To Do With Silicon(e)

The Pelling Lab is curious about the physical and biological limits of living things. In this talk I will discuss our investigations into how cells feel and respond to physical motion and forces in artificial and biologically irrelevant microenvironments. We also attempt to probe behaviors in situations where cells are not likely to have evolved specific functions or biology. Working at the extremum of biology we often uncover remarkable and counter-intuitive dynamics in these complex organisms, revealing the utter resiliency of living matter.

Andrew E. Pelling is an Associate Professor cross-appointed in the Departments of Physics and Biology at the University of Ottawa. He was named a Canada Research Chair in 2008 (renewed in 2013), received an NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplement Award in 2009 and an Ontario Early Researcher Award in 2010. In 2013 Andrew was elected a member of the international Global Young Academy. Andrew completed his undergraduate studies at University of Toronto (1997-2001), his PhD under the supervision of James K. Gimzewski at the University of California, Los Angeles (2001-2005) and his post-doctoral research as a Senior Research Fellow at the London Centre for Nanotechnology, University College London with Michael A. Horton (2005-2008). Andrew leads the Pelling Lab for Biophysical Manipulation, which is comprised of people from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds. The Pelling Lab is primarily focused on the integration of multiple optical techniques with nanomechanical probes to study how forces can be used to manipulate and control single cells, tissues, organs and whole organisms. Research in the Pelling Lab exists at the interface of several disciplines, is highly collaborative, very exploratory and always open to new directions and ideas.

Monika Bakke
Here comes the dust. Around the globe with mineral particles, microbial hitchhikers and geo-pirates

The power of dust is in its movement. However, although dust is full of life, it is not life that makes it move. In my talk I will analyze the material powers of dust particles which mobilize, shelter, feed and destroy on a local and global scale. And yet, pointing out that dust has become a key agent in geo-engineering projects - technologies sometimes compared with the infamous Manhattan project - I will analyze discourses advocating and criticizing geo-piracy, and I will postulate more attentive approach to all the material agents involved in the global movement of dust.

Monika Bakke writes on contemporary art and aesthetics, with a particular focus on posthumanist, gender and cross-cultural perspectives. She works in the Philosophy Department at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland. The author of two books: Bio-transfigurations: Art and Aesthetics of Posthumanism (2010, in Polish) and Open Body (2000, in Polish), co-author of Pleroma: Art in Search of Fullness (1998), and editor of Australian Aboriginal Aesthetics (2004, in Polish), Going Aerial: Air, Art, Architecture (2006) and The Life od Air: Dwelling, Communicating, Manipulating (2011), Vegetal Sensoria (in preparation). Since 2001 she has been an editor of the Polish cultural journal Czas Kultury (Time of Culture).

Tony Bakker & Gavin Pinniger
The physiology of muscle contraction and movement

Skeletal muscles serve numerous functions without which we could not survive. Apart from providing the power for movement and locomotion, skeletal muscle can act as an endocrine organ, and store for metabolites, and contributes to thermoregulation. Skeletal muscle is also essential for respiration. Consequently, the loss of muscle mass and/or muscle function as a result of ageing or disease can be life-threatening. Muscle activation is achieved via the excitation-contraction coupling pathway, in which the electrical events on the muscle membrane (action potential) initiate a sequence of events culminating the in interaction between contractile proteins (in the form of crossbridges) to produce force and/or movement of the body. Failure at any stage along this pathway will ultimately result in muscle weakness. Our laboratory is interested in understanding the precise molecular processing involved in this complex pathway, and how they are affected in disease conditions. 

After graduating with a PhD in skeletal muscle physiology from La Trobe University in Melbourne in 1993, Associate Professor Tony Bakker joined  the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of Texas, in Galveston USA, as  a Muscular Dystrophy Association Research Fellow.  Upon his return to Australia, Tony Bakker became an NHMRC research officer in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology at UNSW, until successfully attaining a tenured lectureship in the Department of Physiology at the University of Western Australia in 1998. Tony Bakker’s major research interests are the physiological mechanisms of skeletal muscle injury and disease. Due to a general interest in the field of intracellular Ca2+ signalling, Tony Bakker also has ongoing collaborations in the fields of neuroscience, and bone formation and remodelling.

Dr Gavin Pinniger graduated with a BSc in Human Movement Science (1st Class Honours) from the University of Wollongong in 1996 before completing a post-graduate scholarship in Biomechanics at the Australian Institute of Sport. He returned to Wollongong in 1998 to undertake a PhD, part of which was conducted at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden while on a Guest Research Scholarship from the Swedish Institute. In 2003, Dr Pinniger was awarded a Travelling Research Fellowship from The Wellcome Trust to undertake a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Bristol, (UK). Dr Pinniger has held an academic appointment at UWA since 2006 and is currently Assistant Professor in Physiology. Dr Pinniger’s research focuses on the physiological investigation of skeletal muscle function in health and disease and he has made significant contributions to understanding the molecular mechanisms of stretch-induced force enhancement.

Gabrielle Decamous
About the Death of Art and the Art of the Semi-Living

The paper will look at the transition from modernism to post-modernism and how the transition informs contemporary artistic practices, and in particular the semi-living entities. The standpoint of this paper will mainly be the one of the arts and of the history of art, but science and popular culture will also be examined in order to better investigate the relations between life, death, movement, art and science.

Gabrielle Decamous is a lecturer at Kyushu University, Japan, and holds a PhD in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2005, she has been the recipient of the International Hilla Rebay Fellowship and worked within the curatorial departments of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museums of New York, Bilbao and Venice. Decamous also worked for the Museum of Modern art PS1 contemporary Art Center in New York.

Miranda Grounds
In vivo influences on skeletal muscle function

Skeletal muscles represent about 40% of body mass and contain many specialised contractile multinucleated cells (myofibres) that generate force to move parts of the body. This requires an essential connection with a nerve that generates the electrical stimulus to initiate contraction: in aged muscles this neuromuscular connection may be lost resulting in lack of function and decreasing mass.  Blood vessels and the small capillaries that surround each myofibre are also essential to provide oxygen and nutrients (for energy).  After the force is generated within the contracting myofibre, it is transferred through the cell membrane (sarcolemma) out to the complex extracellular matrix where collagens (stronger than steel) transfer the force to move the bones: thus matrix also plays a vital in vivo role.  
Another crucial function of skeletal muscles is metabolism and generation of heat: this aspect is of much interest for the increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes and the epidemic of obesity.  Metabolism is regulated by complex interacting signalling networks. Tissue cultured cells and young growing myofibres have very different properties, compared with mature adult skeletal muscles, in response to stimuli and to removal of food (fasting).

The skeletal muscle research of Miranda Grounds investigates factors controlling the damage, repair and maintenance of skeletal muscles in vivo and on potential treatments for muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophies (especially Duchenne muscular dystrophy and dysferlinopathies) and muscle wasting, with a recent focus on age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function and also tissue engineering.  A wide range of histological, cell and molecular biology techniques are used to study animal models of human conditions. This research spans about 35 years, has involved about 30 PhD students, been funded by about $12 million in grants, is widely recognised internationally and has generated over 160 publications:
Miranda Grounds graduated from the University of Western Australia (UWA) with a Bachelor of Science (Biochemistry) with Honours in 1969, gained a PhD from the University of London in 1978, returned to UWA (in Pathology) where became an independent researcher funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council of Australia in 1980 and subsequently a Senior Research Fellow and, since 1994, has been a Professor in the School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology.

Elizabeth Stephens
Dead Eyes open: A Brief History of the Reflex and Reanimation

This paper examines the symposium theme of “agency and movement” from the perspective of the history of science.  Its aim is to provide an overview of the philosophical debates about the role of agency in the movement of the human body that have attended scientific experimentation in this field from the early modern period.  It focuses particularly on the study of reflex action and experiments in reanimation in the nineteenth century, taking these as exemplary of the problematisation of a human agency understood as autonomous, rational and intentional.

Elizabeth Stephens is an ARC Senior Research Fellow, and Deputy Director of the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland. Her recent publications include Anatomy as Spectacle: Public Exhibitions of the Body from 1700 to the Present (Chicago and Liverpool University Presses, 2011) and the edited collection Anatomical Imag(inari)es: The Cultural Impact of Medical Imaging
Technologies (special issue of Somatechnics 2012).  She is currently completing two books: A Critical Genealogy of Normality (with Peter Cryle) and Techno-Sensoria: Technology and the Training of the Senses.

Oron Catts
Not Moving – Living

This talk will explore the perceptual stillness of the semi-living. Looking at the work of The Tissue Culture & Art Project and other artists who use living tissue in their work, exploring the strategies of dealing with presenting aliveness in motionlessness objects.

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. He is the founding Director of SymbioticA (since 2000), an artistic research centre at The University of Western Australia and winner of the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art. Selected in Thames & Hudson’s ‘60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future’, 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.

Joanna Zylinska
On life, movement and stoppage: minimal ethics for the Anthropocene

Joanna Zylinska is Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of four books – most recently, Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (with Sarah Kember; MIT Press, 2012) and Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009) – she is also the editor of a collection of essays on Stelarc and Orlan, The Cyborg Experiments: the Extensions of the Body in the Media Age (Continuum, 2002). She recently translated Stanislaw Lem’s major philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae, for the University of Minnesota Press. She is one of the editors of the JISC-funded project Living Books about Life: a series of electronic books which provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences. Zylinska is also one of the Editors of Culture Machine, an international open-access journal of culture and theory, and a curator of its sister project, Photomediations Machine. She combines her philosophical writings with photographic art practice. In 2013 she is serving as Artistic Director of Transitio_MX05 ‘Biomediations’, Festival of New Media Art and Video in Mexico City.


Stelarc is a performance artist who has visually probed and acoustically amplified his body. He has made three films of the inside of his body. Between 1976-1988 he completed 25 body suspension performances with hooks into the skin. He has used medical instruments, prosthetics, robotics, Virtual Reality systems, the Internet and biotechnology to explore alternate, intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. For more:

Stuart Hodgetts

Dr. Stuart Hodgetts (SH) has extensive knowledge and expertise in cell based transplantation therapies and has been devoted to this research since 1998. Previously, SH obtained his PhD and did his first postdoctoral appointment at the University of Essex, UK, before moving overseas to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, USA where he worked on gene transcription regulation. SH returned to Australia and joined UWA in 1998, conducting research in cell-based transplantation for neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy, and since 2004 in the repair of spinal cord following injury using stem cells.  SH is currently Director of the Spinal Cord Repair Laboratory at the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, UWA.  As a member of Academic staff he teaches undergraduates and postgraduates (including current supervision of 5 PhD students).  SH is an active member of committees at the School, Faculty and is also Chair of the Animal Users Group at UWA.  In addition, he has had a long standing relationship with Symbiotica (ANHB, UWA).  Previously this involved collaboration with many artists and residents and he is currently Symbiotica’s Scientific Consultant and Adviser.  Over the years SH has been an invited speaker for his Science/Art work at The Body, Art and Bioethics Conference, The 6th European Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science & the Arts, and has conducted a Tissue Engineering workshop in the UK as well as exhibited works in collaboration with Symbiotica at ISEA.  SH has also recently been involved in funding successes together with Ionat Zurr from Symbiotica.