2011 Seminars

Memories of a Dictatorship: Working Through Trauma in Chile’s Documentary Cinema since 1990

Date: 9 Dec 2011


Location: SymbioticA

Speaker: Antonio Traverso

In this presentation Antonio Traverso will discuss strategies of working through trauma deployed in political memory documentary cinema produced in Chile since 1990, the year that symbolises the end of General Pinochet’s dictatorship. Traverso will give this discussion a focus by means of an analysis of documentaries in which Chilean survivors/witnesses return to the traumatic memories and attempt to confront the perpetrators. The presentation’s title and material are derived from his in-progress monograph.

Antonio Traverso is senior lecturer in Screen Studies at Curtin University. In Australia since 1987, he was originally born in Chile. Traverso has published essays on political cinema and written and directed short experimental videos. In 2008 he was co-convenor of the Interrogating Trauma: Arts & Media Responses to Collective Suffering international conference, Perth. He is co-editor of Interrogating Trauma: Collective Suffering in Global Arts and Media (Routledge, 2011); Living Through Terror: (Post)Conflict, (Post)Trauma and the South (Routledge, 2011); and Trauma, Media, Art: New Perspectives (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010).

The Coppelia Project

Date: 2 Dec 2011
Time: 3:30pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Geoffrey Drake-Brockman

The Coppelia Project is a programme of research, development, and artwork production aimed at the creation of a troupe of four robot ballerinas able to learn and perform dance movements and interact with an audience. The project is being undertaken by Geoffrey Drake-Brockman with assistance from The West Australian Ballet. The Coppelia Project is inspired by imagery and conceptual sources associated with the story about a clockwork girl from the ballet by Delibes written in 1868. The robot ballerinas have articulated head and arm joints, while their legs are fixed in an 'en pointe' pose, but able to rotate on a mount. Each of the Coppelia robots has an aluminium skeleton with a fibreglass shell, and a series of motors to animate it. The motors are linked to specially developed electronics and software that is able to capture and play back a dance sequence. In exhibition-mode the system interacts with its audience via movement sensors and a learning algorithm.

Geoffrey Drake-Brockman (1964) is a Perth based artist specialising in robotics, lasers, and optical interactive installations. His practice investigates the role of technology in mediating contemporary human experience.
Geoffrey studied Computer Science at UWA before completing an MA in Visual Arts at Curtin University. He has been exhibiting since 1986 with shows in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Singapore, New York and London.  He has had solo exhibitions at Goddard de Fiddes, Fremantle Arts Centre, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Greenhill Galleries, and the Singapore Art Museum. He has also shown work at the at the National Gallery of Australia in 2001 (National Sculpture Prize - Highly Commended) and in 2005 (People’s Choice) along with the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award in Melbourne, The Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth, Sculpture by the Sea (Bondi, Cottesloe, and Aarhus, Denmark), Collaborative Concepts in New York and The Hooper Gallery in London.
Geoffrey has completed laser-based public art commissions ‘LaserWrap’ and ‘Transfiction’ for the ACT Government and installed permanent robotic installations at Kwinana Automotive TAFE and Christchurch Grammar School. He is currently working on commissions for The Perth Arena and Northbridge Police Headquarters. Geoffrey won the Sir Charles Gardiner Art Award in 1993, the Princess Margaret Art Award in 2003 and the 1997 AIIA National Award for Excellence in Information Technology.


Seminar with Jennifer Alexander: The Thrombolites of Lake Clifton (Western Australia)

Date: 25 November 2011
Time: 3:30pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Jennifer Alexander

Lake Clifton is well known for the largest array of living Thrombolites (a type of Microbialites similar to Stromatolites) in the southern hemisphere.  They were first described in 1980s when the lake ranged in salinity between 7 and 35 ppt. Within the last 25 years the salinity in the lake has doubled with salinity levels recorded between 34 and 92ppt. This increase in salinity also coincides with an increase in nutrients.

In 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2010 there has been massive break down of thick microbial mats from the bottom of the lake and floating in the lake. In spring and summer the thrombolites are smothered with Cladophora – a sign of eutrophication. The microbial mats in the lake including those responsible for the growth of thrombolites have been investigated in conjunction with the environmental factors. The results indicate that the system is becoming eutrophic and hypersaline.

This presentation will provide a scientific background to what is occurring in Lake Clifton by tracing the origin of the floating algal mats and providing an explanation for the break up of the benthic algal mats. I will also attempt to address whether these current conditions are supporting thrombolite growth and what the likely out comes will be.

Jennifer Alexander is a research scientist with a scientific background in marine biology and environmental science. She has worked in a variety of fields and locations and has been conducting research at Lake Clifton since 2007 as part of her PhD.  


The Museum of Human Disease; Know Your Enemy

Date: 18 Nov 2011
Time: 3:30pm
Location: SymbioticA

Speaker: Derek Williamson, Museum of Human Disease, UNSW.

This talk will be about the tension the Museum of Human Disease faces between acts of law and being interesting.  And will link this to the types of ways art fits into trying to resolve these tensions.

Derek Williamson is currently manger of the Museum of Human Disease at the University of New South Wales, Australia's only publicly accessible pathology collection attracting 10,000 visitors a year.  With a background in science, science education and science communication Derek tries to balance the need for didactic messages with interaction which challenge audiences to think differently about the implications of knowledge for their lives.


Failing Better/Failing Worse. Free public talk with John Freeman

Date: 4 Nov2011


Speaker: John Freeman

Bertrand Russell has suggested that learning begins with inarticulate certainty and moves towards articulate doubt. Creative endeavour requires doubt, and failure: studios and workshops open spaces for it, practitioners accept it as an ever-present possibility, a state to embrace, or as the foundation of a set of aesthetic practices … just as, in the best sense, education is predicated upon the acceptance of failure; of getting it wrong for the right reasons.

In creative work, failure might be seen as an opportunity, a strategy, a moment of crisis and a generative act. Creative research, then, can be regarded as a space, which deals with and allows accidents, embarrassment and failure.

This seminar will seek to explore notions of failure and even of insignificance within a framework of research, both practice-led and overtly conventional. It will ask whether Beckett’s exhortation to ‘fail better’ is our mantra of success, or whether it merely excuses or conceals the inadequacies of our own work.

The seminar is based around the belief that its presenter will not be the only person in the room who feels at times like a pseudo-researcher ... whose research outcomes are rarely, if ever, quite cogent enough, never quite heavy enough to stir the water or to still debate.

John Freeman joined Performance at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia from Brunel University London, where he was Reader in Theatre. The editor of Performance Practice and author of Tracing the Footprints: Documenting the Process of Performance (2003) New Performance/New Writing (2007) and Blood, Sweat & Theory: Research through Practice in Performance (2010), his fifth book, The Greatest Shows on Earth: World Theatre from Peter Brook to the Sydney Olympics (ed.) is published in November 2011. A lecture tour of North American universities is planned to coincide with the book's official US launch in 2012. Blood, Sweat & Theory remains the top-selling UK title in the field of practice-led research in performance.

Freeman has written extensively on theatre, art, pedagogy and research for numerous international journals, newspapers, magazines, books, government and funding agencies, galleries, festivals and consultancy panels. His most recent article, Creative Angels and Exegetical Demons: artistic research, creative production and thesis, is published in Higher Education Review in December 2011.He has presented papers and performances at conferences, festivals and theatre venues worldwide and has undertaken residencies in New York, Helsinki, Sarajevo, Casablanca, Minsk, Malta, Bavaria and Belgrade. His latest play, Handsome Dogs, received staged readings in Europe before being performed at Curtin's amphitheatre at the end of November. The play has been invited to festivals in Amsterdam, Romania and Germany.

Sentient Relics: Exhibiting difference in the museum

Speaker: Dr Janice Baker

Date: 21 Oct 2011

Time: 3:30pm

Location: SymbioticA

Meaningful encounters with artefacts in museums have always generated thinking about difference. In this context the term ‘difference’ ranges from an encounter with something unfamiliar and therefore strange to the philosophical notion of difference as singularity, that is, of difference without repetition. The two meanings overlap but the latter gives expression to a transformative state of becoming. Hence it gestures toward the affective potential of exhibits to change fixed identity thereby enabling new thought about human and nonhuman interactions. ‘Affect’ expresses the felt impact of exhibits; direct sensations prior to external, emotional responses based on re-cognition. Approaching the museum through the lens of affecting exhibits enables critical discussion around the agency of imagination and desire. Tellingly, representations of the museum in the popular imagination, particularly movies, highlight exhibits with affecting qualities and the transformation of characters through encounters with difference. Engaging with the museum and notion of alterity is not straightforward. Such a focus goes against the grain of a museology focused over the past forty years or so on interpreting exhibits as they act to form visitors as ideological subjects. This tends to limit consideration of un-common assemblages in museums by framing subject-object relations into existing formations rather than perceiving exhibits as a powerful force for affirming difference.

Dr Janice Baker’s research investigates emotion and affect in the museum context. She is interested in the gap between scholarly and popular representations of the museum and has a philosophical inclination to affirm museums as progressive, dynamic sites. The tour de force of the museum lies in encounters with the unexpected and unknowable although this seems dissipited by the current didactic preoccupation with non-objects such as projects designed to increase social participation rather than reflective musing. Previously an art curator, Janice currently teaches in the Department of Communication and Cultural Studies at Curtin University.


Friday talk with SymbioticA resident artist Amy Congdon

Date: 7 Oct 2011
Time: 3:30pm
Venue: SymbioticA HQ
Speaker: Amy Congdon

Current resident Amy Congdon will be talking about a selection of her previous projects and research interests.  As well as this she will be reflecting on her experiences so far as a resident and how this has changed and expanded her ideas.  Working with completely embroidered scaffolds and primarily skin cells Amy's current work focuses on the intersection of textiles and the body.

Amy Congdon is a textile designer whose work revolves around the blurring of roles that is occurring between science and design.  Having completed a BA in Contemporary Textiles she went on to graduate in 2011 from the MA Textile Futures course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London.

An embroiderer by training she has a particular research interest in the use of traditional textile techniques being re-appropriated into new areas, most specifically the use of digital embroidery to produce medical implants.  Amy’s practice falls within the category of critical design, in that it seeks to create work intended to provoke debate around the crafting of materials from living matter and whether we are reaching a stage where the body is becoming the ultimate luxury commodity.

Tarsh Bates Talks In Vitero

Date: 30 Sept 2011
Where: Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
Time: 3:30pm

Speaker:Tarsh Bates
In vitero is an artistic research project contributing to Tarsh Bates' Master of Science (Biological Art) at SymbioticA which examines the evolution of 'somatic semantics' or ways of understanding through bodies. The project is an experiment in the aesthetics of care, which investigates the potential that sustained proximity and care can offer in exploring the relationship between the carer and cared-for. Aesthetic experiences of care are explored through prolonged engagement with eight other species of living organisms housed in customised glass vessels. The organisms, commonly used in reproductive biology, include fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), thrush (Candida albicans), thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), red bread mould (Neurospora crassa), soil nematodes (Caenorhabditis elegans), water fleas (Daphnia pulex), slime mould (Physarum polycephalum), hydra (Hydra vulgaris) and Tarsh, (Homo sapien sapiens).

Tarsh is interested in the potential that sustained proximity and care can offer in creating intimacy between the carer and cared-for. How do our behaviours change when we care for other bodies? What does it mean to care for fruit flies, slime mould, daphnia, hydra, or soil nematodes in a gallery? Is it possible to develop a different relationship between Candida albicans (commonly known as thrush) and humans by caring for it? How do we care for creatures that are not cute, furry or even visible? Is it appropriate - or ethical - to contain organisms in glass terrariums and keep them for our own purposes, aesthetic, cultural, educational or scientific?

In vitero is an ArtScience research project enabled by SymbioticA, the Centre of Excellence in Biological Art, UWA. It has received generous support from the Tea Tree Oil Research Group; Microbiology & Immunology, UWA; the School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University; the Aquatic Ecology & Ecosystem Studies, SESE, UWA; Plant Energy Biology, UWA; & the SABC, Murdoch University.

Tarsh Bates is interested in the body as material and as a site of intervention, in evocative objects, and in the aesthetics of care: embodied encounters that are durational, affective, relational, proximal, and particular. Her artistic practice is concerned with the aestheticisation of bodies, our capacity for alternative possibilities for care and reproduction, and the ambiguities of embodiment in a biotechnological era. tarsh explores these concepts through biology, sculpture and performance, using artistic and scientific tools to explore the nexus of bodies, meaning and culture.


Is wide angle consciousness possible?

Date: 12 August 2011
Time: 3:30pm
Venue: SymbioticA

The duo Art Object Oriented (Marion Laval-Jeantet & Benoit Mangin) aim to use an interdisciplinary approach to expand the amazing ability of art to communicate non-verbally. Through anthropological, environmental or biotechnological experiments, they try to understand the limits of their own conscience. Whether with the traditions of pygmy Bwiti, meditative experiences or horse blood injection, they try to overcome their underst...anding of the world and to transmit a newly acquired wide-angle vision.

The artistic partnership of Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoit Mangin began in Paris in 1991. The duo, that calls itself Art oriente objet, places ecology, defined as the scientific interrogation of the conditions of our existence, at the center of its artistic preoccupations. From the beginning their output has included installation, performance, video, and photography dealing with the various themes around Life. This approach is inclusive enough to have led their work into the domains of biology, behavioral sciences (their work in psychology and ethology introduced a strong animal presence), ecology, and ethnology leading to poetic and surprising art that is both visionary and political.

Art oriente objet’s ecological concerns resulted in art which seems to have strong links to a craftwork tradition in which recycling and reusing are important. Their use of recycled materials confers upon their art an aspect of masterly tinkering. In fact, their notions of recycling also extend to already established ideas that they defined as ready-thoughts from the very beginning of their collaboration.
Their work relating to biotechnology has earned them a place within the BioArt movement (Jens Hauser, Le Lieu Unique, 2003) and they are often counted among the artists at the frontier between art and science. In addition, they can be considered as social observer artists or as anthropologist artists who promote experimentation on systems that they formally analyze. Furthermore, Marion Laval-Jeantet faces these issues head on as a professional practitioner of ethnology and psychology. Their modus operandi is to gain life experiences from a direct immersion in a “field of experience” upon which they base the creation of a transmittable Vision and an “active object.”

In their quest to promote art that resists systems which limit artists only to the role of creators of artworks, Art oriente objet have, from the start, partook in activities of research, teaching, and activism on a parallel track to their artwork production. They have also organized art exhibitions, notably the Worldwatchers [4] project, which focuses on the theme of art and the environment and which has taken place on an international level in both the northern and southern hemispheres for over ten years (in Benin, Cameroon, France, Norway, etc.)


Listening and being

Date: 29 July 2011
Time: 3:30pm
Speaker: Lauren Brown

'Silence is not the absence of sound, but the space from which all sound is made'  (paraphrased from R. Murray Shafer, Tuning the World)

'Being itself is essentially finite and reveals itself in the transcendence of Dasein, which is held out into the nothing' (Martin Heidegger, What is Metaphysics?)

Last year, whilst trying to understand Heidegger and his idea of The Nothing (my capitals) - a topic which he believes science has forsaken, a friend paraphrased Shafer's ideas about silence in the universe and I wondered if the two ideas were not, in fact, linked.

Is Sound to Silence, what Nothing is to Being? If so, how does listening relate to the metaphysical idea of Being?

From a philosophical and performative standpoint, is the act of listening an action that is continuously replicated throughout our humanity and so continues to 'perform' the notion of being? Is 'listening' at the crux of what it means to be a life-form? And if that's the case, why do I need to wear headphones on public transport nowadays?

From philosophy to biochemistry, through to psychoanalysis and contemporary culture, this discussion meanders through ideas about the role of listening and the politic, through the ears of an artist.

Lauren Brown is an interdisciplinary artist influenced by conceptual, performance and installation practice. Her work primarily focuses on sound and the act of listening in the public realm. She is usually based somewhere between Melbourne and Berlin, and always online at she sees red.

Aesthetics of the Multicosm

Presented by SymbioticA and the Institute of Advanced studies.

Date: 22 July 2011

Time: 6:30pm

Speaker: Joe Davis, MIT

Location: Alexander Lecture Theatre, UWA

Artists operate within both the miniscule contexts of cells and molecules and the vastly larger macrocosm of human experience. While scientists ponder higher dimensions and the existence of multiple universes, the scope of knowledge encompasses once inconceivable reaches of space and time.  Art is no longer confined to this world or even, to this universe.

For more than 30 years, Joe Davis, a research affiliate in the Department of Biology at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created art both physical and conceptual using diverse scientific and artistic practice.
His research and art includes areas of molecular biology, bioinformatics, "space art", sculpture, radios, prosthetics, magnetic fields, and genetic material.

As an educator Davis has worked in the MIT graduate architecture program (Master of Science in Visual Studies) and in undergraduate painting and mixed media at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Davis has exhibited in the United States, Canada and at Ars Electronica in Austria.



Speaker: Jim Chisholm

Date: 15 July 2011

Location: SymbioticA

What is “value”? What is “goodness” and “badness”? What does our only scientific theory of life have to say?

The mathematical logic of game theory shows that cooperation can evolve, as does the adaptationist logic of biology. Both kinds of logic rely on the assumption of optimality. In mathematical games, “agents” maximize “utility” through the optimal (rational) analysis of costs and benefits; in the adaptation game, organisms maximize fitness through the optimal allocation of limited resources to the most pressing adaptive problems. “To allocate” means “set apart for a purpose.” The consensus in affective neuroscience is that emotions are about nature’s purpose; they make animals “want” to do what they need to do to enhance fitness. The biological capability to have a “purpose” implies the existence of value in nature. To illustrate, I’ll focus on the idea that art is “the synthesis of feelings and ideas” (as someone once said).

E/Prof Jim Chisholm received his BA with Honors in Anthropology from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. and his MPhil and PhD in Anthropology from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. He taught anthropology at the University of New Mexico, human development at the University of California, Davis and human biology at the University Western Australia. He uses the principles of evolutionary ecology, life history theory, sexual selection theory, and parental investment theory to investigate the role of early psychosocial stress and attachment history in the evolution and development of theory of mind and the capacity for culture and the development of alternative reproductive strategies and their implications for health and health inequalities. He is currently writing a book about the role of emotion in the evolution of culture.



SymbioticA Friday Seminar with Aimee Smith

Date: Fri 8th July 2011

Speaker: Aimee Smith

Location: SymbioticA

"I am a choreographer and dance artist because of my interest in the capacity of art to makes sense of the world around us and the capacity of imagination to dream up the future. I hope, in some small way, that my art practice can contribute to the transformation of our world. This vision has led me to a constantly diversifying practice, across multiple disciplines and diverse communities. At SymbioticA I would like to share, through video and conversation, my recent body of works including Wintering, a work currently under development and inspired by an artist-led voyage to the High Arctic in 2010, The Futures Project, a work I recently created during a 2-month residency at Taipei Artist Village, and Accidental Monsters of Meaning, a durational installation performance that was presented at the WA Museum earlier this year."

Aimee Smith is a choreographer and dance artist inspired by the capacity of art as social specimen, art as beauty, art as social commentary, art as communicator, art as celebrator, and art as transformer. Since graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2004, Aimee has been creating, performing and collaborating on contemporary dance works and installation environments, in both Australia and overseas. Her choreographic works include Accidental Monsters of Meaning (2011), Breakings (2010), Courageously Heroic Gallantry (2007), Refund Policy (2007), and Alpha.Beta. (2006), for which she has received numerous nominations and awards including Most Interesting Australian Artist in the 2007 and 2010 Dance Australia Critic’s Survey and the 2007 WA Dance Award for emerging artist. Alongside her choreographic practice Aimee works as a performer, teacher, community arts practitioner and is completing her masters in sustainability, constantly searching for ways it intersects with art.





"Science isn't about why, it's about why the hell not!" (Cave Johnson, Portal 2)

Date: Fri 1st July 2011

Speakers: Jenna Downing & SKoT McDonald

Location: SymbioticA

The Artifactory is Perth's manifestation of the world-wide phenomenon of hackerspaces; free-form communities of "Makers" that band together to build their own robotic CNC tools, explore cutting edge DIY fabrication such as 3D printing, share electronics and crafting skills, and generally build useful and creative stuff. Now 2 years old and 25 members strong, this creative collective of engineers, artists, artisans and technologists are based in a warehouse in Osborne Park where they run training days for topics such as computer-aided design and machining, talks and lectures by guest Artists and Scientists, and regular meetings of minds and manufacturing to produce a bewildering range of Artifacts.

Funded purely by member subscription, open to all, The Artifactory promotes curiosity and experimentation in all directions.

Jenna Downing is a visual artist interested in the ethics of technology, socio-political illustration and high-tech design. She is an honours graduate of the School of Art at Curtin University.
SKoT McDonald is an audio & music technologist as CTO of UK-based software house FXpansion, and part-time Eccentric Gentleman Inventor. He studied automated music transcription and machine listening at
UWA's Computer Science Department.


Vision Underwater: Beauty in The Eye of the Beholder

Date: Fri 17th June

Speaker:  Professor Shaun P. Collin, WA Premier’s Research Fellow and Winthrop Professor, The University of Western Australia.

Location: SymbioticA

At least 540 million years ago, the first vertebrates appeared and survived in shallow, marine water bathed by sunlight with a spectral composition similar to the environmental conditions of the present day. Over this time, fishes have radiated into the largest vertebrate taxa and now occupy an incredible range of ecological niches. Our Neuroecology Group has traced the evolution of the vertebrate eye, the origins of colour vision and the environmental influences on spectral tuning, focussing on representatives of the earliest vertebrates. Today’s talk will examine a diverse range of visual specialisations for vision underwater. At the same time, the complexity, regularity and colourful inclusions of each of the components of the eye will be presented not only in the context of their structure and function but also for their inherent artistic beauty. In order to understand and appreciate life underwater, we must first put ourselves in the eyes of beholder.

Professor Shaun P. Collin is a world leader in comparative neurobiology. He completed his BSc (Hons) and MSc at The University of Melbourne and his PhD at The University of Queensland. Using a range of vertebrate models, he has investigated the sensory systems of lampreys, elasmobranchs, teleosts, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from a diversity of environments in order to investigate broad concepts of plasticity and adaptation. Having spent time at a large number of Universities and research institutes around the world, Professor Collin is now a West Australian Premier's Fellow at the University of Western Australia and heads a large laboratory dedicated to neuroecology and behavior of a range of vertebrates with a particular focus on sharks. He has held many of the world’s most prestigious fellowships in places such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the US, the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole in the US, The University of Tuebingen in Germany, the University of Montreal in Canada, the University of Washington (Friday Harbor) in the US and The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Prof. Collin is the author of over 160 international scientific publications on sensory systems (vision, electroreception, lateral line, olfaction, gustation and audition) of primarily aquatic vertebrates including two books. As a Premier’s Fellow, he has introduced innovative technologies combined with both basic and applied research to trace the evolution of light detection and image formation in order to explore the impacts of light on biodiversity, sustainability of animals native to Western Australia and (animal and human) health. His research galvanises existing strengths in eco-physiology, neuroscience and marine science.

Cellular Performance

Date: Fri 10rth June 2011

Speaker: Verena Friedrich

Location: SymbioticA

Verena Friedrich talks about her project "Cellular Performance" which she has developed during a residency at SymbioticA from February until June 2011.

“Cellular Performance” deals with our notion of the human body being perpetually redefined by science, technology and commercial objectives. It is based on a collection of terms pulled from the advertising language of care products and cosmetics industry – incantations that address our corporal substance as if it was a faulty material to be revised and improved, trying to suspend the course of time.

During her residency at SymbioticA Verena worked with tissue culture, cell patterning, microfabrication and live cell imaging techniques to generate legible text structures of product names composed of human skin cells. In this talk she will speak about the technical realisation of her work-in-progress, together with some of it´s background and conceptual framework.

Verena Friedrich is an artist who avails herself of diverse media to develop concept-driven artworks in the form of installations, objects and robotics. Her work includes the use of electronics, digital and sculptural media as well as the use of biological material.

After graduating from and teaching at the Academy of Art and Design Offenbach (Germany), Verena is currently based in Cologne (Germany) where she is working as scientific research assistant at the Academy of Media Arts. Shown internationally at various media art festivals and exhibitions in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Turkey, Japan the USA, her work has been granted the International Media Art Award for Science and Art from ZKM Karlsruhe as well as a nomination for Transmediale Award. The SymbioticA residency was funded by a scholarship of the Arts Foundation of North Rhine-Westfalia and by a sponsorship award of the Saxon Ministry of Science and the Fine Arts, Germany.


Reflections on Matter

Date: Fri 3rd June 2011


Speaker: Paul Thomas

Location: SymbioticA

In this talk Paul Thomas will discuss his current processes and references looking at silver and the refraction of light. The talk will look at art historical connections with Silver which was the selected substrate researched at a nano level for structural and metaphorical reasons exploring its potential for absorption, reflection, refraction, pattern and randomness.

Dr Paul Thomas, has a joint position as Head of Painting at the College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales and Head of Creative Technologies at the Centre for Culture and Technology, Curtin University. Paul has chaired numerous international conferences and is co-curating a show of Australian artists for ISEA2011. In 2000 Paul instigated and was the founding Director of the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth.

Paul has been working in the area of electronic arts since 1981 when he co-founded the group Media-Space. Media-Space was part of the first global link up with artists connected to ARTEX. From 1981-1986 the group was involved in a number of collaborative exhibitions and was instrumental in the establishment a substantial body of research. Paul’s research project ‘Nanoessence’ explored the space between life and death at a nano level. The project was part of an ongoing collaboration with the Nanochemistry Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology and SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia. The previous project ‘Midas’ was researching at a nano level the transition phase between skin and gold. In 2009 he established Collaborative Research in Art Science and Humanity (CRASH) at Curtin

DECIBEL: Walking the artistic collaborations tightrope between academy and industry

Date: Fri 27th May 2011

Speaker: Cat Hope

Location: SymbioticA

Cat Hope is the artistic director of Decibel, a new music ensemble based in Perth, Western Australia devoted to performing works that explore the nexus of acoustic and electronic instruments. Pioneering unique electronic score formats and giving electronic music instruments a voice in the acoustic space, Decibel also arrange electronic works for live performance. Decibel are committed to Australian music and emerging Western Australian composers, as well as sharing important international works with Australian audiences.

Decibel¹s annual program 2009-2010 (their first) won the 2011 AMC/APRA Art Music Awards Inaugral Award for Excellence in Experimental Music.

In this presentation she will discuss the various approaches to the practice led research this group has undertaken, how it came to be and the challenges they have undertaken since they formed in 2009.


Alien Agencies: Performance, Science and Experimental Practice

Date: Fri 20th May 2011


Speaker: Chris Salter, PhD Concordia University/Hexagram Montréal

Location: SymbioticA

What is “performance” in a scientific context? Who or what is performing? How do we articulate such performative practices that take place in hybrid studio-lab environments such as SymbioticA? What kind of knowledge arises and why is it important? Early microstudies from scholars like Bruno Latour/Steve Woolgar, Karin Knorr-Cetina, Michael Lynch, Andrew Pickering and others exposed the ways that laboratories were sites for what Hans-Joerg Rheinberger labels the “local, technical, instrumental, institutional, social, epistemic and aesthetic/experiential aspects” of scientific practice. By examining the manner in which human scientists are intertwined with what Latour famously labeled the “non-humans” (such as instruments of observation and measurement or materials such as cells, particles, electrical charges, etc), many of these studies sought to “study science as it happens” in its performative context rather than as a fixed object. Now some thirty years later, what could the lessons of this pioneering work in laboratory ethnography offer new hybrid art-science practices, particularly in understanding how artists work with new performative materialities or what Andrew Pickering calls “material agencies?” Could the so-called “performative turn” in science studies offer new ways of doing laboratory ethnographies that acknowledge the peculiarities of the epistemic and experiential cultures of artistic practice.

Bio: Chris Salter is an artist, Director of the Hexagram Institute for Research-Creation in Media Art and Technology at Concordia University in Montréal and Associate Professor, in the Department of Design + Computation Arts (Concordia). He studied economics and philosophy and received his PhD in Theater Sciences and Computer Generated Sound from Stanford University. He collaborated with Peter Sellars and William Forsythe and co-founded the collective Sponge. Salter’s performances, installations and research has been presented at numerous festivals and conferences around the world, including the Venice Architecture Biennale, Ars Electronica, Exit Festival-MAC Creteil, V2, Elektra-Montréal, Dance Theater Workshop, Transmediale, Attakkalari India Biennial and many others. He is the author of Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (MIT Press, 2010).


Composing Catastrophe: Robert Polidori’s Photographs in “After the Flood” and Comparative Visual Records of Post-Katrina New Orleans

Date: Fri 6th May 2011

Speaker: William Taylor

Location: SymbioticA

The form of cities, their design, and construction have long made it possible to think about human society, its representation and values. Likewise, the destruction of cities through various means, accidental circumstance or human error, and the representation of urban ruin have given historical, visual, and narrative form to diverse values governing ethical conduct, individual desires, and collective responsibilities. Recently, a spate of films in which cities are destroyed by natural disasters have been counterpoised by images of such events as earthquakes in Iran and Pakistan, the wreck of tsunami–devastated regions of Southeast Asia, and the inundation of New Orleans. The fictional and documentary representations of disaster are mutually reinforcing. They invoke, though fail to encompass, the immensity of suffering accompanying the fall of one or the other city. They are also highly evocative and symbolic, representing (equivocally, no doubt), the end result of a series of causes and effects for which no one person is likely responsible, on the one hand, and a call for fortitude and renewal in the face of great adversity, on the other. Taking its cue from representations of fallen cities and the possibilities they engender for thinking about the meaning of disaster, this paper will consider how their portrayal serves as a vehicle for questioning our seemingly precarious relationship with nature and the future of the city. It focuses on one recent undertaking to represent urban ruin, Robert Polidori’s photographs of New Orleans that have appeared in an exhibition “After the Flood” and accompany book/catalog.

William Taylor is Winthrop Professor of Architecture at the University of Western Australia. He has written on a range of subjects including the history and theory of the built environment and architecture and landscape project reviews. His publications include a major monograph The Vital Landscape, Nature and the Built Environment in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Ashgate, 2004) and an edited collection of essays The Geography of Law, Landscape and Regulation (Hart, Oxford, 2006). He has also co-authored with Michael Levine Prospects for an Ethics of Architecture (Routledge, 2011) and co-edited with Philip Goldswain An everyday transience: the urban imaginary of Goldfields photographer John Joseph Dwyer (UWA Press, 2010).

For more information:

Creative Work and Long-Distance Collaboration

Date: 29th April 2011


Speakers: Anne Niemetz and Andrew Pelling

Location: SymbioticA

Media artist Anne Niemetz (Victoria University Wellington) and cell biophysicist Andrew Pelling (University of Ottawa) will speak about their past projects and present experiments in the art-science realm. They first met in 2003 in Los Angeles, where they created “The Dark Side of the Cell”, an audio-visual event based on the sound of living cells. Since then, they have moved to countries thousands of miles apart, posing new challenges to their collaboration. This is their first visit to SymbioticA, and they are very much looking forward to meeting its researchers and sharing thoughts about creative work, and the relationship of art and science.

Anne Niemetz studied Media Arts at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe (HfG), Germany, with a focus in digital media and interactive sound installation, and in 2002 received the German “Diplom” degree. She continued her studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and graduated in 2004 with a Master of Fine Art granted by the Design|Media Art department. In 2007 she moved to New Zealand, where she holds the position of Senior Lecturer in the Media programme, which is situated in the School of Design of Victoria University of Wellington.

Her interests and work span a variety of digital and analog media, including video, audio, installation, physical computing and stage design. She is particularly fascinated by the areas of convergence of art and science, design and technology, and she pursues collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects. Her work has been exhibited internationally, also see:

Dr. Andrew E. Pelling is an assistant professor cross-appointed in the Departments of Physics and Biology at the University of Ottawa. He was named a Canada Research Chair in 2008, received an NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplement Award in 2009 and an Ontario Early Researcher Award in 2010. 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 Biological Physics, 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. The research in the Pelling Lab exists at the interface of several disciplines in both the arts and sciences. Andrew's work is highly collaborative and exploratory and is always open to new directions and ideas.

To Cre or not to Cre?

Date: 15th April 2011


Speaker: Dr Rob James

Location: SymbioticA

Molecular solutions to ethical obstacles precluding human enhancement through genetic engineering.

Emerging biotechnologies promise to turn the idea of eradicating genetic disorders into a reality, but ethical issues related to consent and eugenics appear to preclude the option of human enhancement through embryonic genome engineering. However, by combining existing technologies, such as IVF, microRNA, artificial chromosomes, and the Cre/LoxP recombination system, a strategy for enhancing the genome of your child without taking away their right to consent, and without altering the genetic make-up of future generations, is conceived.

Will mankind be allowed a moment to ponder the question: to Cre or not to Cre, or does the absence of an ethical safety net mean that the emergence of genetically enhanced humans is already an inevitability?

Rob obtained his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from University College London in 2007 and has since held positions at the Wellcome Trust and Royal College of Art in London. Rob has been working as a teacher, researcher and wildlife conservationist in Latin America and Australia for the last two years, before embarking on an exploratory visit to SymbioticA in March 2011.

What is the place of the non-human?

Date: Friday, 8th April 2011


Speaker: Dario Magnani

Location: SymbioticA

In this week’s Friday seminar, Dario Magnani will analyse the objectification of science and art at SymbioticA, in order to understand how this fusion has developed and how it can be related to anthropocentrism and the cultural narcissisism in western societies.

The analysis will be strengthened by brief examples of different cultures' perceptions of the ‘non-human’ and how understanding of the concepts of ‘we’ and ‘other’ can change the relationship between humankind and their surroundings. Frameworks will be derived from cultural and visual anthropology, anthropology of art, zoo-anthropology and ethno-psychology.

Dario Magnani (b. 1983, Turin, Italy) has a degree in Intercultural Communication from the University of Torino. The perception of identity has been the central thread of Dario's research during his studies and collaborations with artists. He is interested in analysing the spaces where a culture opens the dialogue to ‘diversity’ in order to question cultural choices.

His current research is about the role of art in contemporary cultural change and his focus is on the relationships among artists, scientists and institutions involved with SymbioticA, the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts at The University of Western Australia. He has spent the past five months in Perth researching and interviewing people for his Master's degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at the University of Torino.

The Rise of the Edge: New Thresholds of the Ecological Uncanny

Date: Friday, 18th March 2011


Speaker: Rebecca Giggs

Location: SymbioticA

“The age of systemic climate change has displaced more than just the physical borders of coastal territories. In attempting to conceptualise contemporary ecological threat we are confronted by the collapse of many types of boundaries; divisions between self and other, nation and planet, being and seeming, here and there, everywhere and nowhere. “It’s all in your head,” declare the skeptics. What they’ve missed is how the unique psychopathology of ecological threat has supplanted the reality of the experience, so that the part that’s “all in our heads” is the only real and relevant part. This is not the same thing as simulacra, correlationism or even paranoia – the complexity of scientific thought is now more urgent than ever. Yet as the sciences move towards proving the intimacy of ecological threat, so is that threat paradoxically rendered abstract. Thinking about climate change is predicated on the inundation of the outer world by an internal reality, and vice-versa, by the flooding of an inner world with an external reality. We might call this a delusion but as will become clear, delusions proliferate around actualities more readily than around illusions. One thing is clear – the old modalities of nature and nature’s political analogue, the environment, are defunct.

Surrounded by convulsing geographies of the philosophical and the representational, the discourse of ecology has emerged as a new apparatus for structuring threat. Ecology works with interconnectedness to override the dualities that have been displaced by thinking on climate change. Ecology, as it is deployed in this context, has a specific relationship with semiotics and other networks, and is energised by narrativity. But in the new state of absolute liminality and openness we must be prepared for ecology to undergo an uncanny reversion – ecology will not look like it did when nature was around. Instead of ecology working to isolate the unfamiliar and bringing it into knowledge, ecology will integrate the familiar and make it seem foreign. Indeed, in many instances the familiar thing will be us: the ecological uncanny is perhaps best encapsulated as the experience of ourselves as foreign bodies. Ecology will cease to be about naming, taxonomy and codification – rather it will move to charting the perimeters of the unspeakable, the unfathomable and the irreconcilable. These are going to be anxious adjustments to make, and will largely be modulated through the uncanny (as opposed to the sublime, or the out right horrific). But ultimately, I argue for the radical potential of the uncanny to motivate a denaturalised ecological politics, and to speak from – rather than simply about – green consciousness.”

Biography: Rebecca Giggs completed her doctorate in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia in December 2010. Her thesis comprised two components: an exegetical inquiry in eco-philosophy and fictocriticism, and an extended work of fiction with environmental themes. She holds degrees in Law and Arts with First Class Honours. In 2010 Rebecca was awarded the UWA Matilda Award for Cultural Excellence for her contributions to the field of literature. Rebecca is interested in the kind of writing that pushes productively against a silence, and has more recently been working on the psychology of climate change.

A Reflection on Visceral

Date: Friday 11th March 2011

Speakers: Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, Guy Ben-Ary, Tanya Visosevic, Phil Gamblen

Location: SymbioticA

SymbioticA and Science Gallery, Dublin recently collaborated for an international event exploring when science and art collides in Visceral: The Living Art Experiment.

The exhibition explored and provoked questions about scientific truths, what constitutes living and the ethical and artistic implications of life manipulation. The exhibition also marked ten years of intensive and challenging work carried out at SymbioticA.

Curated by SymbioticA’s Director Oron Catts and SymbioticA’s leading researcher Dr Ionat Zurr, Visceral brought together more than a decade of work developed through SymbioticA’s residency program.

For the first Friday Seminar of 2011, we will take a look back at the now completed exhibition, view videos and images taken during the exhibition and its accompanying symposium and artist talks, and discuss Visceral and the interesting issues surrounding it.

For More information visit the Visceral page and the Science Gallery website

One month of Friday's as part of Visceral: The Living Art Experiment

Date: Saturday 29th January


Speakers: Prof. Miranda Grounds, Oron Catts, Kira O’Reilly, Adam Zaretsky, Meredith Walsh, Adele Senior, Deborah Dixon, Marta De Menezes, Tagny Duff, Jennifer Willet and Ionat Zurr

Location: Science Gallery, Dublin


From 28 January - 25 February 2011, SymbioticA will be re-located to Dublin, Ireland, where SymbioticA and Science Gallery, Dublin will host the exhibition VISCERAL: THE LIVING ART EXPERIMENT.

The exhibition will explore and provoke questions about scientific truths, what constitutes living and the ethical and artistic implications of life manipulation. The exhibition also marks ten years of intensive and challenging work carried out at SymbioticA.

VISCERAL will be accompanied by a rich program of events and talks involving artists and scientists connected with the exhibition. Events will include the VISCERAL SYMPOSIUM on the 29th of January 2010 which will review the cultural strategies that engage and scrutinise the life sciences, with a particular emphasis on hands-on artistic research embedded within a biological laboratory.

Alternatively known as ‘one month of Fridays’, in acknowledgement of the regular Friday seminars SymbioticA has run over the past seven years, the VISCERAL SYMPOSIUM is a celebration of the variety of researchers and the repercussions of the research undertaken at SymbioticA over the years.

Art and biology, from a philosophical, art historical, geographical, political and scientific perspectives will be discussed by two of SymbioticA’s co-founders (Prof. Miranda Grounds and Oron Catts) and some of the researchers who have been SymbioticA residents over the last decade (Kira O’Reilly, Adam Zaretsky, Meredith Walsh, Adele Senior, Deborah Dixon, Marta De Menezes, Tagny Duff, Jennifer Willet and Ionat Zurr).