Zooetics+ Symposium

The Zooetics+ Symposium at MIT, hosted by the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) invites renowned scholars, artists, philosophers, scientists, anthropologists and cultural theorists to address cohabitation of human and other forms of life as an urgent issue that unfolds through a variety of discourses: indigenous and vernacular knowledge, biosemiotics, posthumanism, and human-animal studies, among others. Zooetics proposes re-imagining the role of ecosystemic thinking and artistic imagination in this context.

Engagement with conviviality (living-with) and sympoiesis (making-with and coming-together) in a multispecies world is threaded through ecosystemic thought, established both in life sciences influenced by system theories and cybernetics, as well as in art that engages with systems, as seen in the tradition of Hans Haacke, Helen and Newton Harrison, and others. What Donna Haraway advocates as “sensible materialism” puts relationalities at the forefront. The 2018 Zooetics+ Symposium explores how to address interspecies relations through art-led models, prototypes and pedagogy. What kinds of systems can be created? What kinds of models work collectively with nonhumans? What kinds of encounters might they generate? How do they reconfigure both multispecies relations and existing practices of knowledge production and pedagogy? How can the work of Zooetics help us to explore and define new habits of thought that allow us to think sympoietically?

Employed by psychoanalysis as well as biology, the term symbiosis describes a system in which members of (different) species live in physical contact. It connotes the pre-linguistic relationship between mother and infant, as well as how partner species “abide in the same place at the same time, literally touching each other or even inside each other” (Lynn Margulis). Cohabitation, characterised by mutual help or fragile truce, can result in symbiogenesis, the appearance of new bodies, organs, and species—in other words, evolutionary novelty. But as Margulis points out, evolution is all of history, a study that “is vast enough to include the cosmos and its stars as well as life, including human life, and our bodies and our technologies.” The idea of symbiosis is endowed with the possibility of a syn-epistemic and syn-ontological dimension, we can say: A bringing-together of knowledges and forms of being, in a merger or togetherness that is synthetical (and not ‘natural’ or original). Sympoietic intelligence can be used in the encounter with present urgencies that necessitate a reply predicated by the thinking and doing in concert in order to stimulate multiplicity and diversity. If the sympoietic is seen as immanent to culture and artistic agency under the aegis of the more-than-human, what possibilities for subjectification, and what new political ecologies could emerge from such a perspective?


Friday April 27

ACT CUBE E15-001

9:30 AM Registration + Breakfast

10:00 AM Opening Ceremony
Erin Genia, ACT Graduate Student and 2017 First Peoples Fund fellow

10:15 AM Introduction to Zooetics+
Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas

10:30 AM – 12:00 AM What Does Ecosystemic Thinking Mean Today?
Genealogy, impact and legacy of ecosystemic thought since the dawn of cybernetics. How have the infrastructures changed today since the publication of “Limits to Growth” or “Whole Earth Catalogue”? What tools are there to attune ourselves to perceive the interconnections of natural and man-made systems and to be able to make ethical, political, aesthetic decisions? This session is engaged with the question of how to transition from the habits of thought associated with cybernetics towards new thinking… perhaps sympoietics?

Cary Wolfe and Sophia Roosth
Respondent: Lars Bang Larsen

12:00 PM -1:30 PM Lunch break and Banner Tow Flight by Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa

1:30 PM – 3:00 PM Knowledge Production Through Making and Living with Other Species.

Visions for species equality. Conviviality. Accessing other-than-human ways of knowing. Learning from other species (vis-a-vis biomimicry of other species)

Scott Gilbert and Stefan Helmreich
Respondent: Caroline A Jones

3:10 PM – 4:50 PM The Radical Imagination: Toward Overcoming the Human

Often reduced to a capacity of either a subject or consciousness, imagination could be thought as a way of opening up to the future and the unknown. Simultaneously being a sphere of change and transformation, it invents the directions of its own development and acts as a link between a human and the powers of the world. However, is it possible transcend human imagination? What would a non-human imagination look like? The field of imagination enables the exposure of radically impossible possibilities, introduces the perspectives of their development, and overcomes predetermined articulations and representations.

Chiara Bottici, Richard Kearney and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Respondent: Kristupas Sabolius

5:00 PM tour of installation at the MIT Plasma Science+Fusion Center

6:00 PM Reception at MIT Museum 

Saturday April 28 

ACT CUBE E15-001

9:30 AM Registration + Breakfast

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM Artistic Intelligence, Speculation, Prototypes, Fiction. 
Learning Through Artistic Methods. Artistic methods of speculation, prototype making, modelling and fiction as pedagogical devices for ecosystemic thinking.

Jennifer Allora, Heather Davis and Sheila Kennedy
Respondent: Larissa Harris


11:45 AM – 1:15 PM Indigenous Epistemologies and the Indigenization of Thought
Indigenous Futures – Indigenous artists discuss their work in relationship to futurity and creative reclamation. Looking ahead to future generations, sustained by the strength of our ancestors and wise to the challenges of living in fraught times, how do we bring our values as Indigenous people to our work in creating Indigenous futures? As artists, how do we apply Indigenous science and technology to creating these futures?

Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock), Jackson Polys (Tlingit) and Suzanne Kite (Lakota)
Respondent: Mario Caro

1:30 PM – 2:30 PM LUNCH — Roth and Wiesner in E15

2:30 PM – 4:00 PM Futures of Symbiotic Assemblages: Multi-naturalism, Monoculture Resistance and “the permanent decolonization of thought”

Emmanuel Alloa, Kim TallBear, with Nuno Gomes Loureiro (Physics Department MIT), and ACT graduate students
Respondents: Gediminas Urbonas and Laura Knott

4:30 PM – 5:30 PM Sympoiesis: New Research, New Pedagogy and New Publishing in Radical Inter-disciplinarity

Florian Schneider, Corinne Diserens, Lars Bang Larsen, Judith Barry, Gediminas Urbonas, Nomeda Urbonas, Viktorija Šiaulytė, Nikola Bojic, Kristupas Sabolius, ACT students and faculty

6:00 PM Chalk by Allora & Calzadilla

6:30 PM Reception at the Muddy Charles Pub

8:00 PM NODE projection

8:30 PM BIOTRICITY by Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits

9:30 PM Performance by Rikke Luther at ACT Cube

Sunday, April 29 

9:30 AM – 12:30 PM Seeding Sympoiesis
A roundtable discussion to explore sympoiesis as a figure of thought, to facilitate new research in radical interdisciplinarity as an approach to seemingly intractable problems of environment and futurity. 

Invitees / content providers: Nikola Bojić, Corinne Diserens, Larissa Harris, Laura Knott, Maxi Obexer, Agnieszka Kurant, Lars Bang Larsen, Kristupas Sabolius, Florian Schneider, Laura Serejo Genes, Viktorija Šiaulytė, Gediminas Urbonas, Nomeda Urbonas, Carry Wolfe


The Zooetics+ Symposium is convened by: Gediminas Urbonas, artist and professor at the MIT Program in Art, Culture & Technology, Cambridge, USA; Nomeda Urbonas, artist and research fellow at ACT, and at NTNU, Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Norway; Viktorija Siaulyte, curator and researcher at the Jutempus Interdisciplinary Art Program, Lithuania; Laura Knott, producer and curator at the MIT Program in Art, Culture & Technology, Cambridge, USA; Lars Bang Larsen, writer, professor at the Royal Institute of Art, and a curator at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden; and Laura Serejo Genes, artist and graduate student, MIT Program in Art, Culture & Technology, Cambridge, USA.