[-empyre-] experiments, change and repeat

Phillip S Thurtle thurtle at uw.edu
Thu Sep 19 15:32:43 EST 2013

Thank you Adam N, Adam Z., Nik, and Johannes for thoughtful and
interesting posts.

I very much like Nik's urging us into a pragmatist framework when
thinking about experimentation. This was the philosophical
underpinning to my echolocation reference. Very wise of you to
identify and amplify this.

I also really enjoyed Johannes's pictures. I just got back from taking
15 students to the Faroe Islands where we studied sound, recording,
wave forms, and resonance. The title of the program was "when the
islands sing: the human and nonhuman resonances of the Faroe Islands".
I'm afraid that it is this focus on waves and sound that has driven me

I also liked the BADco project as well. I think one of the reasons
that I like the term "experiment "is that it incorporates a
constructivist framework but is broader in that it suggests an open
ended-ness. One experiments because one doesn't necessarily know what
will happen. Thus the artifice is recognized (experiment as
construction), but at the same time the emphasis is on the return
(experiment as echo). These echoes allow one to sometimes notice the
murmurs of how other things have interacted.

Back when I was a scientist, I was constantly amazed that the majority
of science's "is" statements about nature come from highly constructed
laboratory environments. Now I have a much harder time locating the
laboratory. Some of Rob Mitchell's and my past work has looked at how
laboratories are interlinked spaces and require large levels of
support, much like Latour develops in _The Pasteurization of France_.
Consequently, the inside and outside the laboratory distinction is
useful, but constantly needs to be tempered by identifying how labs
are both privileged places as well as highly interlinked places. This
is one of the reasons that I like BADco's formulation "nature needs to
be constructed" (where the "needs" is especially intriguing). Artifice
and nature are interlinked, more like moments in experiments as
opposed to metaphysical antagonists.

And this brings me to Johannes's major point. The one about body/life
modification.  I followed your discussion with Oron on the aesthetics
of care with great interest. For me, "care" is one of the ways to
think about how to hold one's self in a way that open's the self up to
the futurity of one's experiments. Can you care for the lives you
contributed to constructing? What does this care look like? Can you
let yourself be a response to someone else? I think Sarah Jane Pell's
work forcefully confronts this relationship as it plays on audience
complicity (what forms of interaction are not caring), extreme
circumstances (where the architecture of interactions are rendered
spectacularly visible), and the tenuousness of a "lone' biological
self laid bare (a biological impossibility).

This emphasis on the becoming aware of how one is open to these
resonances are what alines the concept of "experiment" with an
aesthetics of care. But I also think it is broader than care. I also
see Rich's comments on when ayahuasca does bioart on you as relevant
to this generosity inherent in the moment of receiving. Nik also
qualified this as "exploratory" and "transformative" dimensions of
experimentation. I also relished Adam Z's description of the "post
alteration being as a post-person familiar".

Thus I'm mostly interested in the pragmatics of specific circuits of
power. In some of its formulations, experimentation is one of the ways
that we can "ping" these relationships to see how they form, congeal,
and change. (This needs to be accompanied by the realization that
every experiment is neither fully a construct or an unvarnished window
on nature.) Consequently, experimentation is a process and not an act.
One needs to continually change how one holds one's self in
relationship to the future. Nik put it as the "change 'statement of
intent' if required and repeat".

Finally, a big thanks to Adam N. for the generosity of his moderation
and his talent in asking open ended questions . . .his willing to


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