[ISEA2022] Paper: Devon Ward — In Sight of Allo-states: Tracing the Path from Environmental Personhood to Agentials, Performances of Personhood and Other Artworks on the Agency-Personhood Continuum (APC)


Short paper, theme: Natures and Worlds: Ecosystems and hibryd agencies
Venue: CCCB, date: June 15

Keywords: Allo-states, Environmental Personhood, Agency-Personhood Continuum, Agentials, Performances of Personhood

In the spirit of combinatory play, this paper examines how the concept of environmental personhood may impact art, design, and culture in novel ways. It introduces the landmark legal decision in 2017 that granted legal personhood to the Whanganui River in New Zealand. Legal decisions such as this have the potential to provide productive conceptual fodder for artists, designers, and architects whose work imagines new relations between humans and the environment at a time when ecological degradation is ubiquitous. This paper then presents a heuristic framework called the Agency-Personhood Continuum (APC) that traces broad esthetic strategies used in artworks that engage with concepts of nonhuman material agency and environmental personhood. Finally, it seeks to open new imaginatory space by positing a new class of supra-governmental entities called allo-states. Allo-states are organizations that represent massive ecological entities such as the Amazon River which that transcend a single nation-state. Theoretically, allo-states could exist alongside, but independent from nation-states in supra-governmental parliamentary proceedings such as the UN General Assembly. Ultimately, Allo-states provide a hypothetical means for environmental persons to receive representation that focuses on their intrinsic worth instead of their resource value. Through speculation about emerging notions of environmental personhood, the aim is to activate new areas of social, cultural, and creative inquiry.

  • Devon Ward is an artist, designer, and educator who creates digital and living systems to explore notions of time, place, and identity. His works often rely on speculative allegories that examine current social conditions affected by emerging technologies. These works often focus on the changing relationships between humans, non-humans, and the environment at a time when the environmental degradation is ubiquitous. Ward holds a Master of Biological Art from SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia and a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Florida. He is currently Assistant Teaching Professor of Graphic Design and Visual Communication at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, USA. He has exhibited nationally and internationally, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, US; Chronus Art Center, CN; 798 Art District, CN; Science Gallery Dublin, IE; and Melbourne Design Week, AU. http://devon-ward.com