[ISEA2020] Panel: Marie-Pier Boucher, Kathy High & Kira O’Reilly — Scaling Sentience: The Earth, the Sky, and Outer Space

Panel Statement

Keywords: Scale, Body, Gut, Menopause, Womb, Biology, Animals, Space travel, Collective Survival

What can sentience teach us about politics? Sentience is often tied to human perception and apprehended in the (false) distinction between thoughts and feelings. As if feelings needed consciousness to find concrete expression. As if the political was primarily a brains affair. Departing from a definition of politics as that which problematizes the relationship between perception and action (and also from a definition of politics that acknowledges the possibility for organisms to think with their guts), we here question
modalities of engagement with sentience beyond the human. In our consideration of sentience, we are cautious of collapses into animism, wary of panpsychism, and wish to evade simplistic misanthropism and anthropomorphism. In an attempt to avoid these pitfalls, we approach the question of sentience by considering scales, from the biological to the cosmic, from the molecular to the planetary, from the microbiome of one body to that of many (social). We ask: How can sentience move across scales? What are the socio-political implications of scaling sentience? Can scalar sentience bring new economies of care? This panel takes the form of a trialogue among the three presenters, structured so that our thoughts are read or spoken in a rotation of sections so that three perspectives combine and triangulate into a whole. We propose a threefold problematization which, instead of searching for the truth of scaling, performs sentience at different scales: the Earth (O’Reilly), the Sky (High), and Outer Space (Boucher), will act as three distinct poetic structuring devices of spatio-temporal sentience.

  • Kathy High (USA) is an interdisciplinary artist / educator who collaborates with scientists, and considers living systems, animal sentience, and the ethical dilemmas of biotechnology and medical industries. She produces photographs, films, sculpture and installations posing queer and feminist questions into areas of bio-science that have been exhibited across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia. High is Head and Professor of Video and New Media in the Department of the Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. She has a laboratory at RPI’s Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and also is a supporter of community DIY science and ecological art practices. High is the project coordinator for a non-profit urban environmental center and community bio lab, NATURE Lab at The Sanctuary for Independent Media. Among many honors, she is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Guggenheim Foundation.
  • Marie-Pier Boucher works on the impact of science and technology at an interplanetary level with a specific focus on the design of habitats for sustaining life in extreme environments. She is co-editor of Being Material (MIT Press, 2019), Heteropolis (2013), and Adaptive Actions (Madrid) (2010). Her research residencies include: Johnson Space Center, NASA; Banff Center for the Arts; Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and; SymbioticA: Center for Excellence in Biological Arts. She is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada.
  • Kira O’Reilly (Independent artist, Helsinki, Finland) works with ephemeral forms to consider ideas of the body, it’s mutability and limits. This includes collaborations and articulations with other species, living materials, objects, and audience. Crossing disciplinary categories her practice arcs visual art, art, science and technology, performance, live art, and dance. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout Europe, Australia, Asia, and North America where she has also taught widely. Currently based in Finland where she writes, makes art, mentors. Her book was co-edited by Harriet Curtis and Martin Hargreaves, and includes essays by Marina Abramović, Shannon Bell, and Tracey Warr.