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Demonstrating Attention: inviting agency, conjuring co-creation, and transforming preconceptions with the more-than-human

Thursday, 1 December 2022 at 12:00:00 am UTC

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Session Convenors

Samantha Dennis, University of Tasmania

Session Speakers

Samantha Dennis, University of Tasmania
Sonja Hindrum, University of Tasmania
Heather Hesterman, RMIT University

Attention, the action of applying the mind to a subject/object, is inherently situational as well as bilateral. Artistic research has tacit capacity to demonstrate attention through modes of process, enactment, and re-enactment. After all, art has unrelenting power to invoke empathy.

With each artist embodying and evoking attention as practice, this panel will discuss the capacity for artistic research to offer new discourse of/for/with the more-than-human. The session will give particular focus to esoteric forms of life, those that are often unfamiliar, undesirable, or unrelatable; such as insects, plants, or bacteria. The panel will discuss and demonstrate attention for these life forms through the following topics:

- The artist as conduit for more-than-human advocacy with resulting exhibition as provocation for audience self-awareness.
- Manifesting non-human agency to extend beyond the domination of human-centered collaboration within performative arts.
- Representation versus re-presentation in imaging the ‘lower’ animal.
- Thinking-of, thinking-for, or thinking-with the more-than-human as three distinct methods, each with specific contradictions and consequences.

This panel will be situated with emerging practice to address a mixture of studio-based and new media methodologies in artistic research regarding the more-than-human.

Reconceiving the Unfamiliar Animal through intersecting filters of Museums and Jewellery

Samantha Dennis, University of Tasmania

Visual Arts researcher Sam Dennis discusses her current research project “Reconceiving the Unfamiliar Animal through intersecting filters of Museums and Jewellery”. This project emerged from dual fascinations: firstly, in the way western societies have sought to explain and order the phenomena of life, as epitomised by the natural history museum, and secondly for the semantic qualities of jewellery. These two ways of seeing, two filters, are engaged to reflect upon and re-present the unfamiliar animal, the forms of life often considered undesirable, unrelatable, or unimportant, such as insects and other ‘creepy crawlies’.

The research proposes that sensuous objects, such as jewellery, can be intersected with or superimposed upon specimen logic, as experienced in the museum. With the hypothesis that this may result in a series of semantic tools for demonstrating, attending to, and potentially shifting preconceptions of unfamiliar animals.

Intersecting these two filters is intended as a methodology of conjuring metacognition. As such, priority has been given to the creation of objects and experiences which conjure a sense of self-awareness (in the viewer/wearer/audience) of preconceptions towards unfamiliar animals (which are often negativistic values such as fear, disgust, or distrust) over the creation of objects and installations which illustrate or debate such mentalities.

The More Than Human Orchestra

Sonja Hindrum, University of Tasmania

Co-creation with bacterial cellulose[1] in the creative process.
Co-creation is being explored through a methodology of care.
As a result, a More Than Human Orchestra (MTHO) has been created.

The MTHO is a timely work that reflects a greater connection to our biosphere and is a current reflection on CARE and CONNECTION. This practice-based research represents a collaborative, cross-disciplinary material investigation that seeks to discover if co-creation could extend beyond the domination of human-centered collaboration and question whether design research could be more aware of interspecies design interactions.

‘Care about’
Understanding and working with the scope of materiality of bacterial cellulose makes the creation of works a collaboration rather than a domination.
‘Taking care of’
A symbiotic relationship between the human and SCOBY shifts to a mutualistic relationship. With a methodology of care in the studio the SCOBY has an opportunity to thrive and when cocreating works the human may benefit by working with the materiality of BC to eliminate steps of labour.
‘Giving care’
This body of work relies on a methodology of care in order for the SCOBY to thrive and to be collaborated with.

Thinking with Vegetal-beings

Heather Hesterman, RMIT University

Plants are perceived as part of the background to human and animal life, with humans enacting ‘plant blindness’, whereby vegetal beings are considered lesser-than, partly due to perceived mobility issues and cognitive facilities. In positioning people, plants and places as sites of attention, investigation, and enmeshment, what knowledges might humans learn from plants, and how might vegetal-knowledges inform artistic practice? New plant propositions are framed within the context of art history and contemporary art practices, aiming to increase human ‘botanical literacy’ and illicit greater care for these photosynthesising ‘world-builders’. Co-breathing and conspiring with plants require humans to acknowledge our historic exceptionalism and privilege. Re-framing a Western-cartesian human position with plants requires recognising the powerful forces and collaborations of vegetal beings from the Plantae Kingdom whose symbiotic relationships with Fungi, Eubacteria and Archaebacteria humans rely upon for survival.



Samantha Dennis, University of Tasmania 

Samantha Dennis is a visual artist working in lutruwita (Tasmania). Sam is fascinated by the ways society has sought to explain and order the phenomena of life, and her art adopts and adapts themes from natural history through the material qualities of fine crafts, such as goldsmithing and ceramics, to reflect on and re-present the relationship between people and nature. Currently, her artistic research focuses on the visual relationship between the way we (humans) conceive (non-human) animals that are often considered unrelatable, undesirable, unfamiliar.  Sam’s commitment to practice has been recognised through a range of project funding, grants, commissions, and residencies through the Regional Arts Fund, Australia Council for the Arts, and Arts Tasmania. She worked on the board of Sawtooth ARI 2014-18 and was invited to join the Arts Tasmania Cultural and Creative Industries Expert Register in 2017. She is the winner of the 2016 Artentwine Biennale Small Sculpture Prize, the 2019 Design Tasmania Jewellery Award and the 2019 FIND Gallery Jewellery Bursary. Sam was a participant of the 2021 Situate program and is currently undertaking a PhD project with UTas.

Sonja Hindrum, University of Tasmania

Sonja Hindrum is a multimedia artist and designer who over the years has developed site-specific artworks and costumes for various companies and festivals. Her more recent works have been exploring human connections. Sonja is currently a PHD student; her academic research is looking at the materiality of bacterial cellulose with the resulting works generated being a more than human orchestra (MTHO). Recent performances of the MTHO include SkinMusic at Mona Foma (2019/2021) and DJBC at Junction Arts Festival 2021. 

Heather Hesterman 

Heather Hesterman is an artist/educator/researcher based in Naarm/Melbourne interested in the intersections of plants, people and places informed by research in climate change, history, philosophy, theory, art and botany. With a background in print, installation and landscape design, Heather activates spaces through plant-human relations, aiming to foster ‘vegetal-love’ through gifting, walking practices, mobile devices, collaborative acts and conversations. Growing gardens, walking amongst vegetal beings, workshops and planting more trees, shrubs and grasses are all forms of active care aimed at increasing human’s love for vegetal beings.

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