E.2 Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Part 1

Fri Oct 22 / 9:00 – 10:30 PDT
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chairs /

  • Kristie MacDonald, University of Guelph
  • Ella Tetrault, York University

In the introduction to the anthology Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, its editors Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing et al. suggest that, "living in a time of planetary catastrophe begins with a practice at once humble and difficult: noticing the worlds around us." The practice of noticing assists us in ameliorating what biologist and indigenous scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer refers to as Species Loneliness, a human-made estrangement resulting from a lost or limited relationship with the natural world, which renders us "visitors" in nature. Today, there is a growing body of scholarship prioritizing practice-based, embodied, and situated ecological knowledge. These burgeoning cross-disciplinary endeavours cast a wide net across the fields of visual art, art history, performance theory, sociology, philosophy, environmental studies, and gender studies, among others. This panel calls for artwork presentations, performance-lectures, autotheorhetical reflections, and alternative approaches to scholarly inquiry that explore climate change, land, relationships to place, species loss, species loneliness, land-based practices, and related subjects.

Kristie MacDonald is a visual artist who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her practice-based research engages notions of the archive and its roles in the evolving meanings and contextual histories of images, artifacts, and places. MacDonald is a recipient of awards from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts. She has exhibited her work in Canada, the United States, Norway, and Iceland. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Visual Art at York University and an Assistant Professor at the University of Guelph, where she teaches Studio Art.

Ella Tetrault is a Nova-Scotian-born artist. She holds an MFA in Public Art and New Artistic Strategies from the Bauhaus University (2011–13) and a BA from the University of Toronto (2003–08). She is co-founder and co-curator of the Fuller Terrace Lecture Series and founder of Miracle Baby Gallery in Oakwood Village, Toronto. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Visual Art at York University, a guest lecturer at the University of Cologne at the Institute for Art and Art Theory alongside Stefanie Busch, and a sessional lecturer at the University of Toronto. She has exhibited in Canada, the United States, Poland, Greece, the UK, and Germany.

E.2.1 "A Hotter Compost Pile": Anicka Yi's Fermented Umwelts

Yani Kong, Simon Fraser University

This presentation explores the experience of scale through the protean creations of Anicka Yi, a Korean-American artist who works with bacteria and microbiome as a medium in her large-scale installations. Her artworks, Biologizing the Machine (terra incognita) and Biologizing the Machine (tentactular trouble), exhibited at the 58th Venice Biennale, develop a symbiosis between nature, bacteria, and Artificial Intelligence. In the former, gigantic chrysalis pods made from kelp leather hang in a swamp-like environment, enclosing the buzz of robotic insects. In the latter, Yi encases AI-controlled soil and scent experiments that follow the life cycle of bacterial stasis, decay, and growth. Each work swells and swarms with active cellular assemblies that adapt with the bacteria in the galleries, indeed, altering to the presence of the viewer whose own biome mingles with the microorganisms in the room. Yi's work demonstrates scaler extremes by exhibiting microbacteria in a macro-installation form to ask how something as imperceptible as bacteria can proliferate to the degree that it both overwhelms and excites. In medium, Yi reminds us of the microbial formations that are not only shared across living entities but blur the lines between animal, vegetable, and human. Just as Donna Haraway (2016) writes that life in our era is closer in form to a compost pile than anything resembling a post-human epoch, Yi imagines "a hotter compost pile," fermented biospheres that allow the viewer to find themselves among an open, mixing, decomposing life world.

Yani Kong is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow of Contemporary Art at the School for the Contemporary Arts (SCA), Simon Fraser University. Kong is the managing editor for the Comparative Media Arts Journal and a freelance writer, editor, and critic for many publications, including Akimbo, Public Parking, and Galleries West. Kong's research areas explore contemporary artworks and reception aesthetics.

E.2.2 and, something like fire dancing

Ella Dawn McGeough, York University

The world is heavy with the weight of its lightest entities: fungi…ants…butterflies, viruses. During the rainy season, in the southern Peruvian Amazon along the Tambopata River, bright yellow fungal polyps appear on the bark of certain trees. Caterpillars arrive to feast on this bright fruit. They are accompanied by a mass of ants-as-bodyguards who drum on their rear gland, extracting a sweet syrup in return for some protection against predation. This affiliation can be called myrmecophily, love of ants, a common mutualism. During metamorphoses, the caterpillars assimilate all the eating, drumming, and licking so that, consequentially, when they emerge as butterflies, these processes are externalized, imagistically — as a picture of sun-bright-orbs blazing the back of their wings. An image that looks and feels like the parasitic fungus that calls them home, an image called the colour orange set free in three dimensions. Relations such as these go by many names: "extimate existence" (Elizabeth Povinelli), "entangled existence" (Karen Barad), "symbiogenesis" (Donna Haraway). But, however called, whether via critical theory or an insect's mimetic qualities, being becomes apparent as densely woven living knots held together through shared sympathy and endurance.

What else imagines ontology on these terms? What else makes this stuff make sense, sensible? Does colour? Specifically, the colour orange? Drawing together stories from the realms of art (Anne Truitt, Robert Ryman), insects (the previously described, Terenthina terentia of the Lycaenidae family), and safety markers (hunting, fashion, construction), this performative lecture will play cat's cradle with the thought-experiment: What if orange is the only true colour? What connections? What emergencies? What vivid worlds would emerge? Perhaps, something like fire dancing.

Ella Dawn McGeough (b.1982, White Rock/unceded territories of the Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo Nations) is an artist and an SSHRC-funded doctoral candidate at York University. She holds an MFA from the University of Guelph (2013) and a BFA from the University of British Columbia (2007). McGeough's practice pursues relays as assemblies of contact, communication, and influence across genre and media. Recent exhibitions include Dancing with Tantalus, School of Art Gallery (Winnipeg); Greener than Grass, Susan Hobbs Gallery (Toronto); I'm on Fire, Spoiler Zone (Berlin); Tools 'n' Shit, Goodwater Gallery (Toronto); and On Pause, Art Gallery of York University (Toronto). She has written for Open Studios, Susan Hobbs, Arsenal Toronto, CMagazine, Public Journal, Erin Stump Projects, and Moire — a publication she co-edits with Liza Eurich and Colin Miner. She has participated in residencies at Trelex (Tambopata National Reserve, Peru), Flaggfabrikken (Bergen, Norway), and The Banff Centre (Treaty 7 Territory).

E.2.3 Craft-Thinking to Save the World: Some Personal Reflections on Textiles

Brandi S. Goddard, University of Alberta

**insert obligatory and all-too-frequently stated statistic on the destructive nature of our contemporary clothing choices that include worker exploitation in the global south, environmental destruction, and the loss of traditional manufacturing jobs in the global north**

By now, it is common knowledge that our obsessions with online shopping and "fast fashion" trends are destructive in many ways. In my presentation — equal parts historical research, memoir, social experiment, and theorization — I will draw from my doctoral research on traditional Irish homespun textile production to introduce my concept of "craft-thinking." Existing somewhere between nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts ideologies and uber-contemporary "design thinking" paradigms, craft-thinking, as I envision it, involves four tenets: quality, holism, authenticity, and skill. Situated within our contemporary globalized consumerist world, I will explore the complexities of craft-thinking in relation to reflections on my own personal clothing habits, the broader current enlightened movement towards sustainable manufacturing and consumer practices, all the while viewed through a historical lens of traditional textile crafts and their ecologies of production.

Craft-thinking, I contend, is a historical concept but also a call to re-evaluate how our sartorial decisions affect our self-representation to the world, and also how these choices reflect our own complicity and inaction in the face of destructive industrialism, exploitation, and catastrophic environmental change. The textile and clothing industries are among the largest in the world, and at some point, the role of clothing became reversed — instead of our clothing being a creative reflection of our identities, we have come to allow our clothing to define us.

Brandi S. Goddard is a Doctoral Candidate (ABD) in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, Canada. Her dissertation research examines the Irish Homespun Society, a co-operative craft organization in mid-20th century Ireland that advocated for and exhibited traditional cottage textiles and handicrafts. She has published book and exhibition reviews in Irish Studies Review and History Ireland and has an article forthcoming in New Hibernia Review. She was the recipient of an academic award to study the Irish language in the Connemara Gaeltacht on the west coast of Ireland and has developed and taught an introductory course on the art, design, and visual culture of Ireland at the University of Alberta.