[-empyre-] [–empyre–] Refiguring the Future, Week 3: Hackability of the body

High, Kathy highk at rpi.edu
Sun Mar 24 04:59:23 AEDT 2019

Hi Empyre and my esteemed colleagues,

Forgive my delayed response this week. I am head of my arts department at present and, as a result, often my time is not my own!

I thank you all for these interesting comments by Camille and Lee and others. And for your great questions Lola. 

I have been working with art, tech and science questions for a very long time. First as a filmmaker making experimental documentary fictions about the position of women as patients within the medical system. These works were a feminist analysis of power structures, and the ways women’s bodies were under control within a traditional medical practice. 

Since the late 1980s I have researched alternative medical treatments, such as acupuncture and DIY donor insemination and more. I think that Lola’s questions are poignant: “Can alternative conceptions of science, from biology to ecology, be expanded to offer ways in living differently in relation to land, self, and other? Would these alternative systems or methodologies challenge the structural injustices embedded in technology?”  I would add to this list medical technologies such as assisted reproductive technologies, and the treatment of epidemics as AIDS, etc.

Through my artwork I have tried to open up conversations around these kinds of “alternatives” mentioned by Lola above: in 1990s I started working with animals as acknowledged participants and contributors to my work. In many videos I looked at animal treatment, their contributions to our world, and approaching them as seminal sentient beings. These works included: Animal Attraction (about an interspecies animal communicator); Everyday Problems of the Living (how my animal friends humorously thwarting my fears of dying);  Lily Does Derrida (a posthumous conversation between my dog Lily and philosopher Jacques Derrida); and Death Down Under (about the ethics of burial, the treatment of pigs in science, and body’s decomposition). These experiments taught me a lot. I hoped to share my questions through these films.

“Would these alternative systems or methodologies challenge the structural injustices embedded in technology?”

My artwork shifted to include more sculpture, installation and performance when I started working with biology and art. In 2004-2006, I worked with transgenic lab rats, transgenic rats in Embracing Animal to understand their contributions to the pharmaceutical industry, and in particular, to medicines designed for bodies like my own with inflammatory autoimmune diseases. What were the ways these animals’ bodies were changed through transgenics? What did transgenics mean moving forward with genetic alterations and control for all creatures? Could extended care and exposure of these systems make any difference in our use of animal bodies in research, particularly rodents, whose toll is basically uncounted, undocumented?

I will jump to my more recent work around the gut microbiome and the microorganisms we share in our environments. Thinking about fecal microbial transplants (FMTs) and how this simple recouping of a waste material is now saving lives of patients with Clostridium difficile. This new understanding of the body’s microbiome could be an absolute paradigm shift in the ways that medical treatment of many diseases moves forward, considering the body as a living ecology system. This thinking can be extended to other ecologies, other networks of nature (mycelium for example). (see Kathy as Bowie - and other works)

Without a constant consideration of alternative methodologies, we stay locked in a capitalist, militaristic holding pattern – using the language of war around the human immune system, using bodies only for profit. Together I would like to continue considering these alter methods - please.

Refiguring the Future gave me a glimpse of many other alternative experiments carried out by the brilliant artists in the exhibition. Not experiments to bodies, but positive experiments with bodies – opening up new conversations, new considerations, new possible futures we can all create together. 

I look forward to furthering this exchange. 
Many thanks, Kathy

On 3/18/19, 10:28 AM, "empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Lola Martinez" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of lola.martinez at eyebeam.org> wrote:

    ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
    Last week’s reflections on accessibility offered insights from
    creative utilizations of digital platforms to perspectives on
    world-building. Following these insights, we continue onto week 3 with
    conversation on Refiguring the Future’s exploration of the bodies
    entanglements with technology.
    Technoscientific biases categorize individuals according to markers
    such as race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship, and in turn
    undermine how we live and navigate our present and future worlds.
    These discourses attempt to remove agency from the body—either
    accidentally, as an insignificant detail, or intentionally, as a shell
    to be surpassed. Yet how can we lay claim to the position of a
    diversity of bodies as indispensable? Can alternative conceptions of
    science, from biology to ecology, be expanded to offer ways in living
    differently in relation to land, self, and other? Would these
    alternative systems or methodologies challenge the structural
    injustices embedded in technology? Ultimately, we aim to host
    dialogues that engage with the messiness and hackability of the body
    as an essential substrate of culture.
    I’m honored to be joined by Lee Blalock, whose work is on view as part
    of the exhibition at 205 Hudson Gallery, Kathy High and Camilla Mørk
    Røstvik, both who are a part of the REFRESH collective.
    Lee Blalock is a Chicago-based artist and educator who presents
    alternative and hyphenated states of being through technology-mediated
    processes. Inspired by science fiction, futurism, and technology, her
    work is an exercise in body modification by way of amplified behavior
    or "change-of-state." Blalock also works under the moniker L[3]^2,
    whose most recent live work embraces noise and fissure as a natural
    state of being for bodies living in the information age. Superimposing
    custom module-based "Instr/augment" systems (what the artist calls
    “sy5z3ns”) onto performers, L[3]^2 creates conditions for meditation
    through generative and repetitive behavior. Blalock is an Assistant
    Professor in the Art and Technology Studies Department at the School
    of the Art Institute of Chicago. She holds an MFA from the School of
    the Art Institute of Chicago and a BS from Spelman College, Atlanta.
    Kathy High is an interdisciplinary artist working in the areas of
    technology, science, speculative fiction and art. She produces videos
    and installations posing queer and feminist inquiries into areas of
    medicine/bio-science, and animal/interspecies collaborations. She
    hosts bio/ecology+art workshops and is creating an urban nature center
    in North Troy (NATURE Lab) with media organization The Sanctuary for
    Independent Media. High is Professor of Video and New Media in the
    Department of Arts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. She
    teaches documentary and experimental digital video production, history
    and theory, as well as biological arts.
    Dr. Camilla Mørk Røstvik is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the
    School of Art History at the University of St Andrews. She works on
    the visual culture and institutional power structures of menstruation
    from 1970s to the present day.
    Lola Martinez | they/them
    Eyebeam/REFRESH Curatorial and Engagement Fellow
    Visit Refiguring the Future: Exhibition Feb 8 - Mar 31
    empyre forum
    empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au

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