Insects, fungi and bacteria are by far the most prevalent species humans encounter. These organisms are easy to ignore, easy to look back at without reciprocity. If we owe responsibility to ‘higher’ animals, those more similar to humans, the furry, the dangerously exotic, don’t we also owe responsibility to all non-humans? Are we drawing another arbitrary line? ‘The Animal’ is not an inclusive term: very little theorising refers to non-humans other than to ‘higher’ animals. Where are plants and fungi in the rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari? How do Irigaray’s lips speak without whispering about skin bacteria? Are vaginal yeasts not companion species?
This paper discusses the aesthetics of care experienced between humans and ‘unseen’ non-humans, that is, the embodied experiences constituted by sustained proximity and care. Most human encounters with non-humans are domestic and mundane and this paper introduces my attempts to explore the complexities and contradictions of these experiences through gentle and lingering meetings rather than abrupt and spectacular confrontations. These attempts are conceived through the lens of alterity, a phenomenological mode of negotiating relationships between Self and Other, and embodied in a series of artistic encounters. The radical difference of the organisms, specifically honey bees and Candida albicans, assists in clarifying and making conscious human negotiations with alterity, and making visible the performative nature of care. I also endeavour to respect them as adults of other species, to understand these organisms “as other, in [their] otherness, and to let that otherness be.
- Tarsh Bates, SymbioticA, University of Western Australia