SymbioticA is an artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning, critique and hands-on engagement with the life sciences.
Under the direction of Oron Catts, SymbioticA’s emphasis is on experiential practice. SymbioticA facilitates a thriving program of residencies, research, academic courses, exhibitions, symposiums, seminars and workshops.
As a research centre within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia, SymbioticA enables direct and visceral engagement with scientific techniques. Crossing the disciplines of art and the life sciences, SymbioticA encourages better understanding and articulation of cultural ideas around scientific knowledge and informed critique of the ethical and cultural issues of life manipulation.
SymbioticA has recently established a new stream of research – “Art and Ecology” – which has inspired some of their researchers to depart from the controlled environment of the lab and venture into the field. The SymbioticA research and residency project – ADAPTION – seeks to encourage the engagement of artists with the field site of Lake Clifton (south of Perth, Australia) and it’s unique ecology, history, surrounds and community.
A major focus of the Adaption program in 2010 was the unruly ecologies: biodiversity and art symposium (26-28 November). As part of the symposium – SymbioticA built a collection of artists working in the area of biodiversity/art.
Artists highlighted by the Biodiversity Art Online Showcase include the following artists – Perdita Phillips and Kate Foster – who have been involved in art-geography collaborations:
Phillips is a Western Australian contemporary artist interested in ecosystemic thinking and our interactions with nonhuman worlds. Phillips, who also holds a PhD in Cultural Geography, works across installation, photography, digital projects, walking, sound and new media. From her earliest works about land degradation to the recent Adaptation project, The Sixth Shore, she has worked with the issues surrounding biodiversity.
Phillips will be showing the work The Summer Flurry at Visceral: the living art experiment, a SymbioticA Exhibition at the Science Gallery, Dublin from 28 January – 25 February 2011. The exhibition will explore and provoke questions about scientific truths, what constitutes living and the ethical and artistic implications of life manipulation. It will include 15 artworks from ten years of SymbioticA’s residency programme.
Phillip’s Viceral work “The Summer Flurry” – a GPS spatial sound walking project – “presents a landscape of droughts, dry lakes and wildfires from Lake Clifton in Western Australia, imagined as Dublin’s antipodean alter ego. A postcolonial invasion from somewhere else inverts the deep history of Dublin’s spoken and scribed streets with sounds of wattlebirds and Australian Shelduck. Participants experience the meshing of two very different locations. The piece aims to create linkages at different scales across human and nonhuman worlds.”
Kate Foster is an environmental artist, whose artwork is concerned with documenting human and animal lives in an era of species loss. SymbioticA showcases Foster’s series of “interventions in the after-lives of zoological specimens”, a series she collectively terms as BioGeoGraphies which have taken shape through the support of staff at the Hunterian Zoology Museum at Glasgow University, and academic and creative collaboration with Hayden Lorimer and Merle Patchett (me!), cultural geographers at Glasgow University.
Foster states that “BioGeoGraphies is environmental artwork that draws on a Scottish university zoological collection, a project that refers to zoological and geographical concerns. The zoological collection has been gathered across continents, and repeatedly re-arranged and dispersed to facilitate the study of modern biology. Put to artistic use in this project, particular BioGeoGraphical specimens are chosen as exemplars of patterns of climate change and extinction, or persecution by humans. However, detailed investigation of the unique history of individual specimens enlivens them as individuals and this defies their categorical interpretation. Each work in the series starts by gathering different forms of expertise and this process builds a network of enthusiasts around the object, generating dialogue.
We have found the process enlivens the dead animal parts, endowing them with a haunting presence and provoking an interdisciplinary re-working of potential meanings. Typically, the specimen has been redisplayed in its museum context, entwining cultural and zoological facets of its life and afterlife. To the artist, it appears that the specimens demand their own re-presentation. For example, the talons of a hen harrier shot in the 1920s on a distant Scottish estate still dig deep and our creative responses are tinged with fury and atonement. The overlooked skull of an extinct South African antelope has compelled traverses of time and place and offers generative possibilities within a degrading legacy of loss and humiliation.”
We make an argument for a ‘biogeographical’ approach to the study of zoological collections in the following forthcoming essay:
Patchett, M. Foster, K. and Lorimer H. (2011) ‘The ‘Biogeographies’ of a Hollowed-Eyed Harrier’, in Alberti, S. (ed) The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie, Virginia: University of Virginia Press.