2021 Seminars

Reanimating the Mammoth

Date: 15th October 2021
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Matthew Chrulew, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University

The woolly mammoth has often appeared as a figure of lost connection, of ecological immersion and reciprocity from which we have become alienated. Its distinctive significance lies both in its prehistoric overlap with emerging humans, and its centrality to scientific controversies around questions of extinction, geological time and climate change. Debates over the cause of Pleistocene megafauna extinctions weighed up theories of overkill (human hunting), overchill (climate change) and overill (disease), informed by differing conceptions of the extent and limits of human agency within the natural world. Current rewilding projects (such as the ecological experiment of Siberia’s Pleistocene Park) and de-extinction projects (seeking to clone and breed extinct animals back into existence) draw heavily on perceptions of culpability for the disappearance of the mammoth and other species. Fictional encounters with mammoths (such as Stephen Baxter’s science fiction Mammoth trilogy (1999-2001) and Eleanor Arnason’s alternate history novella Mammoths of the Great Plains (2010)) have drawn upon these themes, exploring both human environmental destructiveness and vulnerability to climate, histories of colonisation and survival, and the capacity for ecopolitical remediation, repair and redemption. A burdened subject of anthropological and ecopolitical speculation, the mammoth can be considered a totem animal of the Anthropocene. What can we learn from the stories we tell about the mammoth—both scientific, and science fictional? What animates this reanimation?

Matthew Chrulew is Senior Research Fellow in the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry at Curtin University, where he leads the Posthumanities, Animalities, Environments research program in the Centre for Culture and Technology. He co-edited the books Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017) and Foucault and Animals (2016), and was founding associate editor of the journal Environmental Humanities. He is editor of the new book series Animalities (Edinburgh UP). His current research focuses on the history and philosophy of zoo biology, ethology and conservation biology. His recent short fiction has appeared in Westerly, Cosmos, Stories of Perth and Ecopunk!

Multimodal Soundscape Synthesis

Date: 10 Sept 2021
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Santiago Renteria

In this work in progress we study various generative probabilistic models as a critical media for producing artificial soundscape elements from multimodal input, mainly natural language. This is motivated by the lack of generative environmental audio models in the deep learning literature and their potential in sound synthesis frameworks. On a technical level we use off the shelf models such as multimodal autoencoders to find semantically adequate sound vectors in the latent space of generative adversarial networks. By controlling raw audio adversarial synthesis engines with multimodal interfaces we flesh out the connections between abstract semantic manifolds and latent sound design spaces.

At this point our results lack the quality and resolution of natural soundscapes, but we propose technical improvements. Ultimately, the models will be evaluated in terms of the degree of conceptual resemblance between generated sounds and semantic contents of the conditioning inputs. As such, this work is not concerned with reconstructing causal or physical processes underlying soundscape generation but seeks to leverage crossmodal correlates in humanly annotated audio distributions for creative purposes. More broadly, by interweaving creative practices in soundscape composition and multimodal learning techniques we contribute to the discussion on the effects of the automation of creative labour.

Santiago Renteria is working at the intersection of machine listening and acoustic ecology. In his research he plays with different techniques such as spatial audio, generative systems and machine learning. As part of his masters degree he developed a “Shazam” for birdsong based on siamese neural networks, a few-shot machine learning technique capable of recognising birds’ complex melodic sequences from very few samples. Beyond computer science one of Santiago’s main interests is to develop and understand non-human forms of intelligence through artistic experimentation. His work as a creative developer has been showcased at Laboratorio de Arte Alameda, Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco, Carnaval de Bahidorá and Tecnológico de Monterrey. 

Making Madness and Machines

Date: 6 August 2021
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Matt Gingold

Are artists always tortured? Scientists always mad? Do machines have souls? And how do we negotiate living with, through or against them?

Matt Gingold is a collaborative and experimental artist with a fuzzy practice that weaves together performance, audiovisual design, interactivity and machine learning. He is currently researching the role of creative production in transdisciplinary practice, and the borders of “mental health” in the context of disability and creativity.

This seminar is an open invitation to discuss ways of transforming and (re)conceptualizing creative practice in light of critical histories of science and technology, including the ethics of artificial intelligence, (non)human biomedical research and pathologies of "madness".

With excursions through the life of Joseph Fourier, magic numbers, AI datasets and the taxonomy of organs without bodies, Matt will give an overview of his previous works and present some recent ideas and future experiments.

Gingold’s mentorship with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr is generously supported by the Australia Councils’ Artists with Disabilities Mentorship Initiative, SymbioticA and the Nicholas Building Association.

Covid-19, Risky Bodies, and the “Perfectly Governed City”

Date: 30 July 2021
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Laura Glitsos

In recent research, I have questioned the production of the discursive construction of ‘risky bodies’ via the rapid absorption of state directives into the home (two-person rule) and into the body (social distancing and notions of face-touching, for example). I argue that these directives have set a precedent for a new standard of state boundary-crossing that should be monitored by cultural studies academics with prejudice.

To do this, I deploy Foucault’s framework of the perfectly governed city, which he used to explain the ways in which state power can leverage health crises in order to implement a shift in control paradigms. He said of 17th century France that we saw the:

“The plague-stricken town traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilised by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies – this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city” (Foucault, 1977, p. 198).

Similarly, I would suggest our duty as academics, even citizens, is to bear witness to the creeping surveillance state unfolding in the rhetoric of public health and ‘risky bodies’.

Dr Laura Glitsos is a Lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University, Mt Lawley. Her work traverses popular culture, popular music, gender studies, and most recently, the exploration of bodies and technologies that reshape our relationships to power.