[ISEA2020] Panel: Patricia Olynyk, Ellen K Levy, Meredith Tromble, Bob Gluck & Joel Ong — Some Provocations from Skeptical Inquirers about Animal Sentience

Panel Statement

Keywords: Sentience, cognition, perception, animality, ethics, social memory, affordances, CRISPR technology, phylogenetic, cultural transmission, molecular phylogenetics, microbiome, quorum sensing, zoomusicology, interspecies, sensorium, Umwelt, genetic engineering

Artists at the art/biology, human/animal interfaces have embraced evolving technologies, particularly over the past half-decade, producing works that explore sentience and non-human subjectivity; cognition and perception; animal welfare; and interspecies communication. This panel will discuss a selection of works that engages technology to explore the territories of human/nonhuman sentience, agency, interactivity and collectivity. This panel will also consider DIY biology and a host of exhibitions over the past decade in which polarizing debates concerning animal welfare, censorship, and the claim of racist culturalism have emerged.
Those whose works we reference include: philosopher and social theorist Brian Massumi, who views the body and media as cultural formations that operate on multiple registers of sensation and who also claims that through animality, humans can ascend to an ethic that is creative, expansive and vital; art historian, curator, and critic, Caroline Jones and her critical writing on the mediated sensorium; Professor of Comparative Literature Daniel Heller-Roazen and his theories on the archeology of sensation; and ornithologist Richard Prum whose research on birds substantiates the role of avian and human songs and their impact on gesture and language, social memory, the social ecologies of songs, and the conditions that make cultural transmission possible.

  • Ellen K. Levy, PhD, is a multimedia artist and scholar, and is known for exploring art, science and technology interrelationships since the mid-1980s. Levy works to highlight their importance through exhibitions, educational programs, publications and curatorial opportunities; often through collaborations with scientists including NASA, some in conjunction with Leonardo, the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology. She is a past president of the College Art Association (USA) and has published widely on art and complex systems. Honors include an art commission from NASA and AICA show award. Former chair of Leonardo/ISAST’s LEAF (Leonardo Education and Art Forum) initiative, Levy co-directs, with Patricia Olynyk, the NY LASER program, part of Leonardo/ISAST. She is a former Special Advisor on the Arts and Sciences at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts(IDSVA) and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Arts and Sciences at Skidmore College (1999) and has published in many books and journals. With art historian Charissa Terranova, she is publishing an anthology with Bloomsbury Press about the ongoing influence of D’ Arcy Thompson. She is co-editor with Barbara Larson of the Routledge Press science and art since 1750 book series. routledge.com/Science-and-the-Arts-since-1750/book-series/ASHSER4039
  • Patricia Olynyk, Chair, Graduate School of Art, Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art, Washington University, USA. Olynyk’s art and writing investigates the ways in which social systems and institutional structures shape our understanding of science, human/non-human relationships, and the natural world. She was appointed inaugural director of the Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School at Washington University in 2007, where she was also appointed as an endowed professor. She holds a courtesy appointment in the university’s School of Medicine and is a fellow in the Living Earth Collaborative. Earlier, Olynyk was faculty in the School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, where she also became the first non-scientist appointed to the university’s renowned Life Sciences Institute. She is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions and has exhibited her work nationally and internationally at: Palazzo Michiel, Venice; the Saitama Modern Art Museum, Japan; The Brooklyn Museum; the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.; and the Los Angeles International Biennial.
  • Bob Gluck, Professor, University at Albany, NY, USA. Bob Gluck is a pianist, composer, writer, rabbi, and professor of music at the University at Albany. Born and raised in the New York metropolitan area, his eleven recordings include works for jazz ensemble, duets, and electronic media, most recently “Early Morning Star” (FMR 2020). His interactive installation, a collaboration with Cynthia Beth Rubin, “Layered Histories,” has toured internationally. Gluck is author of “You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band” (2012) and “The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles” (2016), each published by University of Chicago Press. “The Musical World of Paul Winter,” an Intelligent Arts eBook (2019), surveys the work of the saxophonist/ environmentalist. His current work is an exploration of human music making within a trans-species context. Gluck completed an MFA (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2001), and master degrees in Social Work and in Hebrew Letters.
  • Meredith Tromble, Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies / Art & Technology, San Francisco Art Institute, USA. Meredith Tromble is an intermedia artist and writer who makes installations, drawings, and performances, often in collaboration. Her curiosity about the links between imagination and knowledge has stimulated a number of collaborations with scientists, including the Vortex series of drawings, interactive artworks, and performances. Her work has been presented nationally at venues ranging from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco to National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C and BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn. She holds joint appointments as artist-in-residence at the Complexity Sciences Center and visiting scholar at the Feminist Research Institute at the University of California, Davis. She is the editor of two books, The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, co-edited with Charissa Terranova, and The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman, University of California Press. Her recent publications include PUBLIC Journal #59, Interspecies Communication, co-edited with Patricia Olynyk.
  • Joel Ong is a media artist whose works explore emergent ways of interfacing with the environment through hybrid discourse of art and science. His works involve a triangulation of field work, wet lab and computational art and are often presented as on-site experiments. Ong is an alumni of SymbioticA, the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts and DXARTS at UW (Seattle, USA), and is an affiliate artist with the UCLA Art|Sci Collective. He is currently Assistant Professor in Computational Arts at York University in Toronto, Canada, and Director of Sensorium: the Centre for Digtial Arts and Technology.

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