Sensibilities Symposium - Artists, Animals and Plants (supported by Vollmer Fries award)


Sensibilities Symposium - Artists, Animals and Plants (supported by Vollmer Fries award)


April 22, 2014 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Steve Baker -  The redescription of the world

A persistent problem in the relation of art and theory is the tendency for artworks to be appropriated as mere illustrations of theoretical perspectives.  If anything, the problem is exacerbated in the case of art that engages with questions of animal life, where both the art and the animals are frequently drained and flattened in the process of their theoretical appropriation.  How might this be resisted?  How might the work of language and the work of material animal form find productive common ground without one diminishing the other?  The relatively modest notions of description and redescription will be explored in order to build on Niklas Luhmann’s resonant observation that “the function of art is to make the world appear within the world.”


Steve Baker is Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Central Lancashire.  His new book Artist|Animal (published in 2013 by the University of Minnesota Press) has been praised by Mark Dion for its “deep understanding of the nuance, intricacy, and contradictions in how artists work today.”  Chapters from his earlier books The Postmodern Animal and Picturing the Beast have been translated into French, German, Dutch, Swedish and Italian.  His work is currently included in the exhibition Ecce Animalia at the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture in Orońsko, Poland.


Monika Bakke - And the plant responded

We are now rediscovering plants as we start realizing that “plants are complex organisms that live rich, sensual lives.”[1] While looking for the uniqueness of humans, hence for ‘human nature,’ so anticipated in relation to the Human Genome Project, we actually found out something quite the opposite: despite the many metabolic differences, we share about eighteen percent of our genes with thale cress. These similarities reflect not only a common ancestry shared by all organisms, but also open our eyes to the complexity of plants’ lives.

Recent years have brought more and more significant evidence that plants behave intelligently and that some decision-making is taking place in the roots.[2] This is no longer only the concern of plant biologists, but also of philosophers who claim that ‘plants can be considered to be minimally cognitive and that they constitute an important domain for cognitive studies’[3] 

The basic curiosity about plants may be also practiced in a nonexpert face-to-face encounters – a strategy also used by artists. By developing plant-related projects in corporate and academic biotech environments, as well as in kitchen labs in a do-it-yourself biotech mode, artists examine the territory where plants grow, but are not always given a chance to flourish. The art projects reveal the exploitation and admiration but above all the necessity of human-plant relations, allowing the public to see where and how far we can go with plants under existing ethical frameworks. In working with living plants, artists are motivated by curiosity and a desire to know more, which as Haraway points out, underscores the issue of responsibility. But in many cases, art simply celebrates plants as active and autonomous beings that perceive the world in ways we still know so little about. Accepting the position that ‘[t]o view plants as entirely disposable objects is to do them an injustice’[4] is becoming one of the new challenges facing us in the twentieth first century.

Dr. Monika Bakke, associate professor, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland, Philosophy Department. She writes on contemporary art and aesthetics, with a particular focus on posthumanist, gender and cross-cultural perspectives. She works in the Philosophy Department at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland. The author of two books: Bio-transfigurations: Art and Aesthetics of Posthumanism (2010, in Polish) and Open Body (2000, in Polish), co-author of Pleroma: Art in Search of Fullness (1998), and editor of Australian Aboriginal Aesthetics (2004, in Polish), Going Aerial: Air, Art, Architecture (2006) and The Life od Air: Dwelling, Communicating, Manipulating (2011). Since 2001 she has been an editor of the Polish cultural journal Czas Kultury (Time of Culture).

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