[-empyre-] Living Experiments

Phillip S Thurtle thurtle at uw.edu
Tue Sep 17 05:42:34 EST 2013

Thank you for the wonderful discussion so far. I’ve been tasked to
share with you how I think about “living experiments”. This is my
first exposure to Empyre (which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed) and I don’t
have a sense of the distributed dynamics of the group. So I apologize
in advance for what may appear as any unnecessary simplifications,
redundancies, or obfuscations.

For me, one of the most enduring lessons of bioart is how it tangibly
demonstrates the ways we enable, privilege, and promote specific types
of lives through daily practice. For instance, what are the types of
lives that can occur through laboratory practice (such as the
semi-living that Oron has talked about).

I’m especially interested in thinking about extending this insight
into how this occurs outside of the laboratory, how the other ways
that we are embedded in political economy, aesthetics, and daily
practice create new lives while changing others. This is where some of
my work now focuses, thinking about the historical and material
conditions for the emergence of new types of life.

The first reason, I think this is interesting is that it is a
necessary perspective for any type of “affirmative” biopolitcs, where
“affirmative” is thought of in the Zarathustrian sense of an embrace
of that which may come to pass (not that it is good, productive, or
positive but that it happens). Second of all, as we have seen echoed
in previous posts, bioart can encourage thinking beyond typical
ethical formulations, such as how do I behave in a specific
circumstance, to something that might be called “aesthetic”,
“political”, or even “moral” ways of thinking, such as can how can the
distributed “I” that I participate in might encourages less oppressive
and more creative lives. Also, this isn’t just an issue for what one
might constitute as various forms of life; rather, it is a way of
navigating a world where complexity and material constraints often
produce unintended consequences (although I would argue that studying
what we call “living” can give special insights into processes of
change). In short, I’m interested in the bioart experiments that we
keep performing on each other.

The way that the idea of “experiment” links past, present, and future
is what really fascinates me. In any complex, immanent system,
responses are not always what one expects. Approaching life (your
life, others lives, my life) as an experiment places a focus on the
unexpected outcomes that come about through multiply linked and
variable ontologies. One of my favorite examples is the echolocation
of bats. Bats send special audio signatures into the environment to
find out what is out there. The return of the echo can tell bats not
only about distance, but also about movement, surfaces, even the
histories of objects (as long as that history changed the reflective
properties of that object). Listening and acting are intertwined in a
way that the term “experiment” can suggest.

Thanks for making it this far. Phillip

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