2020 Seminars

Flesh Out of Water

Date: 23 October 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Tony Jones

In this informal artist's talk, Tony Jones will take us through some of his prominent public sculptures including 'Eliza' (the bronze diver in Crawley Bay) the CY O’Connor Horse & Rider in North Coogee and Standing Figure in East Perth. Through his experience as a Western Australian artist Jones will discuss initiatives such as Praxis, PICA & AGWA through to teaching and the work of Western Australian artist Brian McKay and theoretician Donald Brook.

Tony Jones is a sculptor/artist/teacher working in Western Australia for some 50+ years whose public artworks can be found in the Perth metropolitan area and the regions. The sculptures often but not exclusively reflect a life lived close to and on the Indian Ocean and the Swan River.

Cultivating Compassion and the Capacity to Respond Collectively

Date: 16 October 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speakers: Mindy Blaise and Vanessa Wintoneak

Drawing on insights from Donna Haraway, Deborah Bird Rose, and Isabelle Stengers, we will explore what it means to cultivate compassion and the capacity to respond collectively to, and with others, in a rapidly changing world. We draw from a year-long river-child-walking collective that involved walking-with young children, educators and a river, Derbarl Yerrigan, to shift the common practice of learning about place and water, towards learning with the world. Our methodological approach involved experimenting with a feminist common worlds framework to follow multispecies relations and recognise that our encounters with the more-than-human are non-innocent, awkward, imperfect, and provide opportunities for bringing other worlds into being. We offer a series of happenings with Blowie (also known as the common blowfish and Torquigener pleurogramma) to delve deeper into how radical shifts of noticings and caring-with are required in cultivating attunement and collective intention among children to strengthen some worlds, while holding others at bay.

Mindy Blaise is a Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. She is a co-founder of the Common Worlds Research Collective, #FEAS: Feminist Educators Against Sexism, and The Ediths. Her interdisciplinary research is committed to generating critical and imaginative practices that respond to the conditions of our current times. Her research in early childhood draws from feminist theory and the ‘posts’ to challenge the colonial and progress project of development/alism in the early years.

Vanessa Wintoneak is a PhD candidate and lecturer at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. She is a co-founder of The Ediths, a feminist, interdisciplinary research collective and member of the Common Worlds Research Collective. Her research interests are situated in feminist, posthuman theory and include relational, creative, and experimental practices.

Raising Heritage Breeds: A Futuristic Love Story

Date: 2 October 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Catie Gressier

Long-held fantasies of human mastery over nature are increasingly difficult to sustain as we watch a 125 nanometre virus wreak havoc across the globe. This is but the latest manifestation of the wide-ranging ecological crisis that has illuminated humans’ inability to control nature, and the detrimental impacts stemming from historic attempts to do so. On farms across Australia, through their efforts to perpetuate heritage breed livestock despite the considerable challenges this entails, rare breed farmers exemplify alternative configurations of the mastery model through engaging in multispecies relationships characterised by interdependence, mutual benefit and burden, and love. In this paper, I explore reciprocity in cycles of nurture, labour and suffering, and the role of love in sustaining rare breed farming operations. Recognising the centrality of love not only recognises emic relationships, but serves as a valuable tool within a politics of conservation of humans and nonhumans alike. This is as loving and perpetuating rare breeds is both an ode to the past and an offering to the future. Unlike the relatively delicate, but highly productive industrial breeds dependent on exogenous feed and high fossil fuel inputs, heritage breeds have been selected over generations to survive and thrive in diverse, often marginal, environmental conditions. Raising heritage breeds thus speaks to Lesley Head’s (2016) call for ‘planning for the worst’ and can be regarded as a contribution to future proofing food security through conserving climate adaptable, pest and disease resilient, hardy heritage breeds.

Catie Gressier is an Australian Research Council (DECRA) Fellow in the Anthropology and Sociology discipline group at UWA. She has published widely in the anthropology of food and the environment. She sits on the Editorial Board of Anthropological Forum, is a former University of Melbourne McArthur Fellow and has a PhD (anthropology) from UWA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee, Conflict and Urban Life

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

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

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

Bricolage: Cellular Performance of Bioengineered Automatons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ex-Utero: A Sculptural Exploration of Ectogenesis

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeping with the Fishmen: Reimagining the Anthropocene through Oceanic Chthonic Couplings

Date: 14 Feb 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speakers: Prema Arasu and Drew Thornton

This Valentine’s Day, seek “love and deeper understanding” through mythology, pop culture and ecocriticism.

Prema Arasu and Drew Thornton dive into the world of fish-human hybrids, exploring romantic and sexual couplings of the monstrous and the human in fantasy and myth.

From The Little Mermaid (1837) and Shadow over Innsmouth (1931) to The Shape of Water (2017), fantasy’s engagement with myth makes it a powerful force in constructing stories about what it means to be human, animal, or monster. In these texts the world of the human butts up against forces that are primeval, diluvian and Chthonic. But could these fishy intimacies function as a metaphor to articulate a new relationship with nature?

In this presentation and discussion session, examine what present-day myths express about our identity and ask the question: why are fish-men so damn sexy?

Prema Arasu is an emerging writer and PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australia. Their research is practice-led with a focus on gender in fantasy, science fiction and speculative fiction. They hold a BA (Hons) in English and Cultural Studies from UWA and an MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture from the University of St. Andrews.

Drew Thornton is a monster enthusiast and artist/researcher, and has just graduated with SymbioticA's MBiolA. Drew's project explores conceptualisations of non-human consciousness through a cooperative sci-fi arcade game—played by humans and houseflies—on an original game console equipped with a "virtual reality" display for the fly player.

DNA Zoo - Tracking Genomes in Space for Fast, Inexpensive, and Accurate Chromosome Length Scaffold Assemblies

Date: 7 February 2020
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Parwinder Kaur

Over a quarter of all assessed species are threatened with extinction. The DNA Zoo consortium, a not-for-profit organisation incorporated in Houston, TX, USA, with sister labs in UWA, Australia and ShanghaiTech University, China focused on facilitating conservation efforts through the rapid generation and release of high-quality genomics resources. We believe that these efforts can not only aid threatened nonhuman populations, but will enhance our understanding of life, its varieties, and its origins, and will greatly facilitate our understanding of our own species – Homo sapiens.

A global network is being created with >58 collaborating partners across 8 countries for comprehensive worldwide sampling of biological diversity with the participation of geographically localised communities dedicated to this cause. DNA Zoo collaborations between academic labs and zoos across the world will facilitate comprehensive sampling of global biodiversity, including the vulnerable and threatened species across the 'tree of life'.

Parwinder Kaur is a Genetics and Biotechnology expert at UWA and the Director of DNA Zoo Australia. She leads an innovative translational genomics research program, spearheading the use of novel CRISPR platform, single-cell, 3D genomics combined with AI and machine learning, and transforming fundamental science into solutions across agriculture and medicine. With DNA Zoo, she is on a mission to facilitate conservation efforts for Australia’s threatened and endangered species through genomic empowerment.