Current Research

Symbiophony
Co-investigator with Paul Walde, Department Chair, Visual Arts,  University of Victoria, and birds

Methods in new media art, acoustic ecology, and ornithology inform Symbiophony. The research explores the potential for interspecies making, with free-living birds, to produce symbiotic sonic and visual forms. The research asks: can explorations into interspecies relatings expand on ecologically enhanced art making? Symbiophony investigates this question through two situated field stations—one in Vancouver and one in Victoria—that collects visual, sonic, gestural, and social data from birds visiting the stations. The goal is to learn about their communities, cultures and communications, and find ways to reciprocally engage through cross-cultural forms, such as sound-making.

A first iteration of the research has been output as a Bird Park, providing local birds with water, small amounts of food, caching and perching features. The Bird Park is monitored by a remote computer vision system that captures activities enacted by birds in the Park. (See video above).

supported by:

  • ECU Internal Research Fund, Emily Carr University of Art + Design;
  • Department of Visual Arts, University of Victoria

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More Than Human: Inclusive Ways of Knowing in a Post-Truth Era
Co-investigator with Cissie Fu, Dean of Faculty of Culture + Community, Emily Carr University

Let’s embrace our post-truth condition by acknowledging the interconnections and interdependencies of the more-than-human, towards a generative epistemic disobedience which counters colonial historicism with more inclusive and previously marginalised ways of knowing. This project is derived from transdisciplinary research conversations at ECU since August 2016, with faculty and staff whose academic, activist, and artistic work resonates with more-than-human practices. The project’s initial stages are workshops focused on one of 4 thematic areas and epistemological approaches—biophilic attention, camouflage, indeterminacy, and storytelling—for guided collective investigation.

To approach the more-than-human, we need to be able to attend to the world around us with fingery eyes (Haraway) and re-activate our sensorium (Jones). Through the course of 4 immersive full-day workshops guided by expert-practitioners in the 4 thematic areas, the project group will first experience the epistemological potency of the methods introduced per area, then identify, discuss, and articulate epistemological insights equal to that experience.

The workshops are:

Camouflage is a relational mode of ecological existence. Inspired by the mimic octopus, remarkable for their ability to blend with the local material environment by adapting body shape, and colour and pattern changes on skin surface (Fawcett), we will test our sensibilities and sensitivities in our immediate locale to generate creative material for shape-shifting. Biomimicry can lead to enhanced embeddedness, which is an underappreciated form of ecological action. Workshop April 22, 2017, lead by Su-Feh Lee, Dancer-choreographer and Artistic Director of Battery Opera.

Biophilic attention is an applied experimental method of being fully present in becoming, a real-time practice of wide-awakeness to the liveliness of more-than-human others, and a noticing of affect generated by this attention (Andreyev). An adaptation on verstehen (Schutz, Crist), biophilic attention proposes an expanded epistemology which incorporates creative processes, thus acknowledging the interconnected experience of feeling and knowing (Massumi). Workshop May 13, 2017, lead by Jodey Castricano.

Indeterminacy is a way of navigating complexity (Mitchell). When questions proliferate and answers remain insufficient or incomprehensive, valuable obscurity, echoing the elusiveness of the Oracle of Delphi (Geuss), can present detours through reflexivity and metacognition to illuminate motives, intentions, and situatedness and enable accountable and responsive action in a state of unknowing or non-knowledge (Rorty). Relaxing our grip on clarity and transparency, we can encounter otherness (Lingis) and retain curiosity in a constantly unfolding world (Manning). Workshop fall 2017 (date and leader TBA).

Storytelling, whether traditional or transmedial, speculative or multiplatform, fosters sharing and listening. From founding myths to transformation stories, autoethnography to autobiography, improvisation to recitation, storytelling shifts the pace and focus of deliberation and debate to expose the privileging of propositional argumentation and address associated power imbalances in political speech and action (Young). Workshop fall 2017 (date and leader TBA).

supported by:

  • ECU Internal Research Fund, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

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Biophilic Ethics and Creativity with More-Than-Human Beings
PhD dissertation, Graduate Liberal Studies, Simon Fraser University, 2017

Topic: An interdisciplinary investigation into an expansion of ethics for more-than-human beings, examined through interspecies relational creativity in art processes.  

Abstract: Anthropocentric views historically have limited the potential of respect for other-than-human beings by promoting ideologies of human exceptionalism with regard to consciousness, reason and language. The doctrine of human supremacy has become normalized in capitalistic cultures, driving the domination and exploitation of other beings and natural systems for their ‘use-value’ as ‘resource,’ leading to today’s catastrophic harms of climate change, species extinction, ocean acidification, industrial farming, and animal slavery. As a means to counteract anthropocentrisms, this thesis proposes biophilic ethics and its constituent details—communicative ethics, biophilic attention, intentional relationality, interspecies generative indeterminacy—explored through art-action. The interdisciplinary investigation looks at methodologies in philosophy, ethics of care, ecofeminism, cognitive ethology, biology, naturalist methods, and aesthetics that interrogate beliefs in human superiority, and propose relational approaches to situate the human alongside Earth’s other beings within our shared ecosystems. The epistemological investigation is woven into ontological explorations rooted relational events that happened while conducting interspecies processes in my art practice over the past decade. Each creative instance—with dogs, crows and stones, fishes, and forests—is examined for potentials towards ecological understanding and compassionate action. The projects model improved thinking-feeling-acting with beings that share the Earth.

The thesis expands on previous thought with regard to biophilic ethics by arguing that love for life is a lived-condition beyond human-centred values. Other beings are themselves biophilic—interested in their lives, their families, communities, and cultures. This expansion of biophilic ethics is explored through proto-ethical potentialities that emerge in more-than-human relational encounters. The exploration combines epistemological and ontological investigations with ethics of care to include respect for the autonomy of other beings. Ethics of care calls into question objectivist and utilitarian methods, and instead promotes compassionate practices to sense and feel our interdependent relations.

The attendant details of biophilic ethics proposed in the thesis are adaptations of previous thought, expanded through historical and contemporary aesthetic methodologies. Communication ethics calls for improved relations with other animals through developments in understanding about differing modes of perception and communication. My expansion on this thought is explored through applied interactions with other beings for interspecies communication potentials. Biophilic attention is a development of aesthetic observational techniques, proposing expanded attention towards other beings in relation to one’s own sensing-feeling-thinking in the world. Intentional relationality is proposed as respect for differing minds and life projects, emerging through interspecies participatory art methods that provide open-ended collaborative inquiry. Interspecies generative indeterminacy is informed by thought on agential intra-action combined with generative and indeterminacy methods first articulated in mid-twentieth century practices and more recently explored in computational art. These details of biophilic ethics are examined within ranges of locatedness—the home, the neighbourhood, the territory, the Earth.

supported by:
  • Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
  • Special Graduate Entrance Award, Simon Fraser University.
  • Provost Prize of Distinction, Simon Fraser University.
  • Emily Carr University of Art + Design