Interactive Futures 2014: More-Than-Human Worlds

Workshop: Apr 24 and 25, 2014
Exhibition: Apr 24 to May 8, 2014


Interactive Futures 2014: More-Than-Human Worlds, Compassionate Interactions and Ethics of Aesthetics combines interdisciplinary academic research with explorations in new media and interactive artistic practice to consider alternative conceptions of human relations with other animals and the environment. The inquiry calls upon methodologies within environmental studies, philosophy, Eastern beliefs, First Nations’ mythologies, critical animal, culture studies, and art practices using new technologies and interactive modes, to propose approaches towards improved human awareness about and relationships with more-than-human worlds.

A workshop and exhibition, open to the public, will be held at Intersections Digital Studios, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, engaging faculty and graduate and undergraduate students from 5 partnering universities (Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Ontario College of Art and Design, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Simon Fraser University, York University).

Scholarly research within philosophy, environmental studies and critical animal studies proposes that our current environmental crisis is a consequence of long-standing beliefs that humans are distinct and separate from nature, and superior to other-than-human beings and the environment. Historically, how humans dominate other animals and the natural world has been described by philosophers since Aristotle; his contribution to the anthropocentric view of current culture introduced the idea of the “great chain of being” which defined the hierarchy of species groups privileging humans. Descartes’ later elaboration of anthropocentric beliefs argued that animals’ apparent lack of language was evidence of lack of thought and that animals are not active agents but natural automata. More recently, Donna Haraway critiques the human use of categories such as “species” to separate humans from the environment: “drawings of inside-outside boundaries in knowledge are theorized as power moves, not moves towards truth” (1991).

The thematic of IF’14 More-Than-Human Worlds combines academic study with artistic practice through a look at compassion as an ontological ‘lens’ of practical investigation. More active than empathy, compassion calls for engagement to alleviate the suffering of others. Compassion considers the subjectivity of the other—moving beyond the self—and creates a space for intersubjective action towards transformation. Husserl suggests an affinity between the body of the self and the bodies of others that forms a collective landscape of intersubjective phenomena, experienced by a multiplicity of sensing beings. Zen Buddhist philosophy considers the connectedness of all things and beings, rather than the separation and categorization of things (self/other, human/nature etc). This is achieved through a practice that proposes a structural coupling of the perceiver and the perceived as one, employing qualities of attention to change “categorized seeing” and dualist thinking (self/other, human/nonhuman) into “witness seeing”, taking into consideration the viewpoint of the other. When directed towards alleviating the suffering of the other, this viewpoint has agency.

Similar to modes of Zen seeing, artistic methodologies offer means for focusing deep attention on the subject being considered—the tree one is drawing, the landscape one is filming, etc. Many practicing artists will attest that by applying witness seeing practices to artistic exploration, judgmental thinking or categorized seeing falls away, often revealing expression that is much more vitally representative of the subject at hand. Interactivity and new media forms are specifically explored in IF’14: More-Than-Human Worlds as a unique mode of research/creation, having potential for compassionate action and witness seeing. In this way artistic research/creation (aesthetics) can be seen as having potential for ethical practice.