[-empyre-] Introducing Week 2: Mediated Natures, Speculative Futures and Justice and thank you to Week One

Tyler Fox tylersfox at gmail.com
Mon Oct 16 04:58:24 AEDT 2017

Hi Benjamin,

This is a great prompt. I've tried to focus on personal shifts through
experience rather than the broader, larger, and honestly more daunting
societal shifts that you point us to. "What would a world look like in
which the media works that you (co-)produce with animals were taken as
informing policies of land management,  social organization, agricultural
practices, etc.? Do your films/videos/installations imply a larger, scaled
up, possible method for tackling the kinds of design questions that Brian
raised? "

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about speculative design
practices, which I suggest offer a different focus of design practice than
what might be considered "mainstream" design. I have been writing about how
speculative design focuses on problematics rather than problems. If design
if (normally) seen as a solution to a specific problem for a specific user
audience, then speculative design seems to focus on the thickly, entwined
relations of (usually) technology and society. The goal is not to solve
problems, but to understand the social impact of specific technologies in
specific contexts and to critically evaluate what may happen with the
advent of a new form of technology. Dunne and Raby, Auger-Loizeau, and
Suptniko! are just a few designers/design teams working in this area. So,
it's not quite an answer, but a suggestion of yet another place to look for
answers and strategies.

There are strong connections to be made between speculative design and
contemporary art practices, especially those the prompt action.

Thanks for the great prompt from you and Brian, as it has sparked me at
least to consider how to shift my own practice to scale up to tackle these


On Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 3:40 PM, Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa <
baschult at ucsc.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi all,
> I wonder if it's possible to bring together some of the different threads
> of this conversation? On the one hand, we have the pressing problems of
> incoming climate disaster, which Brian observes "will now force new
> experiments in land management." The question of how this management
> manifests, and what role nonhuman animals will play in this realization, is
> paramount. As Brian concludes: "Can we imagine a world in which
> ever-larger numbers of people change their own behavior according to the
> cues they receive from animals?"
> On the other hand, we have a really amazing collection of encounters
> between human artists and animal subjects. Collections of humans, crows,
> salmon, oysters, among others, have worked together to produce a variety of
> mediated conversations about ethics, land-use, and point-of-view (human or
> otherwise).
> Drawing from the basic theme of science fiction that Margaretha began this
> week with, I'd love to hear this week's artists speculate about how they
> might answer Brian's question. What would a world look like in which the
> media works that you (co-)produce with animals were taken as informing
> policies of land management,  social organization, agricultural practices,
> etc.? Do your films/videos/installations imply a larger, scaled up,
> possible method for tackling the kinds of design questions that Brian
> raised?
> All the best,
> -Ben
> On Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 1:21 PM, Norie Neumark <norie5 at mac.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Thanks for opening this vital can of worms, Julie. I was first alerted to
>> these issues by vegan colleagues at an Animal Studies conference in
>> Australia earlier this year. We were talking about new materialism, which
>> for me has been so rich an opening for my thinking, and Fiona Rapsey Probyn
>> asked the same sort of questions you raise about real material political
>> and ethical concerns. I think the way you put it about “the real material
>> lives of the animals they theorise” provides an acid test for new
>> materialism and one that will be the key question I’ll put to theories now
>> — thank you. Given that all thinkers have limitations, there are still
>> important things that Haraway and Braidotti have to offer, I think --
>> though I certainly agree these are serious limitations to new materialism
>> thinking when it cannot recognise the different pains suffered by things
>> and by lab animals and food industry animals. I guess what I wonder is are
>> these limitations inherent to new materialism or can it be ethically and
>> politically attentive to the real material lives of animals.
>> best
>> Norie
>> www.out-of-sync.com
>> https://workingworms.net
>> http://unlikely.net.au
>> On 12 Oct 2017, at 6:11 am, Julie Andreyev <jandreye at ecuad.ca> wrote
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Hi Meredith
>> Thank you for pointing out the Braidotti reference, and reminding us of
>> her concept of zoe.
>> I’d like to open a bit of a worm-can so see if there is room for debate
>> on Braidotti’s, and Haraway’s thought on more-than-human animals. I do
>> appreciate the creative thought that both philosophers present on the
>> vitality of other animals, and our need to expand our thought and ethics.
>> The recent speculative fiction by Haraway is an example. However both
>> theorists fall short of extending their thought into applied practice that
>> is meaningful for the lives of other animals. In their writing they stick
>> with a utilitarian view on other animals, such as supporting work on
>> animals in the laboratory. They seem to have a fatalistic, or entrenched
>> anthropocentric view, that the lab and meat industry is a given,
>> indisputable fact of contemporary culture, and that this warrants the
>> continued exploitive actions of humans. For example, while Haraway talks
>> about ‘companion species’ her version of this category includes those
>> animals utilized in labs and food industry. How may a companion
>> relationship be actualized in this hierarchical and harmful, even lethal
>> system? In an similarly un-problematized way, Braidotti draws some
>> equivalents between living beings, and those computational intelligences
>> produced by humans. I would argue that real live animals are presented with
>> more risk than computers.
>> My question about both Braidotti’s and Haraway’s thought is: What is at
>> stake for the real material lives of the animals they theorize?
>> best
>> Julie
>> On Oct 10, 2017, at 5:11 PM, Meredith Drum <meredithdrum at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Dear Empyre
>> I am writing in response to Benjamin’s post about animal research films,
>> specifically the three rats films. I was pleased that Joyce Wieland’s ended
>> the post. Hers is refreshing and funny -  a nice shift after the
>> frustrating, humorless films by Miller and Mowrer. The difference between
>> the albino lab rats, bred over many generations as science products, and
>> the wild, brown rats (staring as political dissidents in Wieland’s piece)
>> bring me to Rosi Braidotti’s use of the terms bios and zoe. The lab rats
>> are clearly bios, animal life that has value within capitalism. While
>> Wieland’s rebellious brown rats are part of zoe, which Braidotti champions
>> as a vital, materialist and affirmative life-force, part of a
>> post-anthropocentric shift. While Wieland is using her rats for allegory,
>> celebrating resistance in humans not in rats, her film does point toward
>> the positivity of zoe.
>> Best,
>> Meredith
>> On Oct 9, 2017, at 4:52 PM, Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa <baschult at ucsc.edu>
>> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> First off: Thank you Margaretha for moderating such a fascinating
>> discussion! I’ve been really interested in what has been said so far, which
>> resonates with my own work in generative ways.
>> I thought I’d take the opportunity of being paired with such an
>> exceptional group of practitioners working in collaboration with nonhuman
>> animals to discuss my own research as a kind of alternate- or pre-history
>> of such work. I study the films produced in scientific contexts and am
>> currently focusing on the animal research films made by behavioral
>> psychology throughout the 20th century. These include the primate films
>> made by Robert Yerkes and the pigeon films made by B.F. Skinner. But for
>> the purposes of this conversation, I think the most useful works are the
>> laboratory rat films that were made by psychologists such as Neal E.
>> Miller, O. H. Mowrer, and John B. Calhoun. Examples of a couple of these
>> films can be viewed here:
>> “Motivation and Reward in Learning” by Neal E. Miller
>> https://archive.org/details/Motivati1948
>> “An Experimentally Produced ‘Social Problem’ in Rats” by O. H. Mowrer
>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2jS0J86d5U&t=7s
>> These filmmakers used the combination of rats and celluloid to create
>> models of human behavior and history which played influential roles in
>> generating educational programs, military policy, and anthropological
>> theories. In the above examples Miller is claiming to demonstrate how the
>> process of learning operates in both humans and nonhumans, while Mowrer is
>> attempting to image how the psychological stratifications of class emerge
>> in particular experimental settings. These are clearly meant to reflect not
>> only on rodent behavior but also the rules governing human society. Unique
>> among these figures are the films of John B. Calhoun, who claimed to not
>> only simulate human social structures past and present, but also in the
>> future. Calhoun built massive industrial “utopias” for his lab rats and
>> then filmed their interactions in these spaces over several generations.
>> (An image of Calhoun in one of his cities can be viewed here:
>> http://ru-an.info/Photo/QNews/n28969/1.jpg?dummy=1456779958) Based on
>> these observations, Calhoun produced a series of dire predictions about the
>> effects of over crowding in urban spaces, which he claimed would lead to
>> violence and “deviant” sexual behaviors, and which were deeply rooted in
>> heterosexist and racist fantasies about the dangers of the city. He
>> proposed that he could design a city where such moral pitfalls could be
>> eluded, and spent most of his career designing and re-redesigning new
>> environments for his rats.
>> Many of these films, and Calhoun in particular, are ethically and morally
>> bankrupt examples of thinking alongside/with animals. Calhoun largely
>> failed to acknowledge any personal responsibility towards either his
>> animals in the lab or the communities they were meant to model (refusing to
>> acknowledge what Haraway calls the “shared suffering” of the lab). In this,
>> he stands as a warning for the dangers of an absolute management without
>> mourning, of the position of disembodied design while resisting any
>> connection to the subjects of that design.
>> At the same time, as Elaine rightly points out, we are not in a position
>> where we can be seduced into being monopolized by mourning. We have to
>> build new structures, imagine new possibilities, shape new futures, and to
>> do so requires engaging in morally muddled collaborations and comparisons
>> with animals. From this perspective, Calhoun and his peers can perhaps be
>> seen as interesting examples of people thinking the future alongside animal
>> partners (even if they weren’t acknowledged as such) which were
>> structurally central to creating policies in their historical moment.
>> Without forgetting the dangers and moral hazards of their approach, many of
>> the behaviorist filmmakers stand out as singular examples of human/animal
>> collaborations that directly impacted the discourses and policies of major
>> governmental, educational, and legal institutions. Calhoun was engaging in
>> a reactionary brand of co-written speculative fiction with his animal
>> test-subjects, which had lasting effects on his political and cultural
>> milieu. How might we design our own models for such collaborations? How can
>> we produce not only visions of the future in which animals continue to
>> exist, but also create systems that allow animals to participate in the
>> process of speculation itself? What institutions need to be created for
>> such speculations to have a lasting impact?
>> I'll conclude with an interesting alternative and detournement of the rat
>> research film genre, Joyce Wieland's 1968 "Rat Life and Diet in North
>> America," which might help in answering some of the above questions:
>> https://vimeo.com/18594507
>> Looking forward to reading everyone's posts throughout the week!
>> Sincerely,
>> -Ben
>> _______________________________________________
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>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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> --
> --
> Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa
> *Film & Digital Media Ph.D Program | University of California, Santa Cruz.*
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu


“It's impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving
traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information.” ~
William Gibson
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