Page 1


ISSN 2206–9615

Critical Path is a biannual online publication. The next issue is scheduled for late 2019. Sign up to Critical Path’s e–news to stay informed –

PUBLICATION STAFF Guest Editor – Rebecca Conroy Copy Editor – Claire Hicks Designer – Kathleene Capararo

CRITICAL PATH STAFF Director – Claire Hicks General Manager – Laura Osweiler Project Manager – Jennifer Gardner


Let’s hack the Anthropocene, shall we? An Invitation Rebecca Conroy


Making Space: Feeling the Anthropocene Astrida Neimanis


Henrietta Hacks the Anthropocene Henrietta Baird


Hacking the Anthropocene Lab – reflections/refractions/ thoughts on collaborating with other disciplines Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


Small Gestures for big trouble: a choreographic response Jodie McNeilly-Renaudie

46 Synthetic organisms: performing promise and doubt Sarah Pini and Jestin George



Choreo-hack Lab was an initiative of Critical Path that brought together five artists with a choreographic practice to participate in a week-long laboratory in January 2019. The laboratory was co-presented with Strange Attractor and Sydney Festival in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Each artist invited a critical thinker from a range of other disciplines to respond to the idea of the ‘Anthropocene’. This term—a measure of geological time—proposes that we have entered a new epoch, where we are shifting from the relatively stable planetary climate of the past ten thousand years (known as the Holocene) to an epoch in which human activity is being measured as a geological force impacting and disrupting the earth’s ecosystems. For many of the artists, this was their first time encountering the term. For others, the concept had already entered their thinking and practice—but for everyone, it was an opportunity to explore this discursive and conceptual terrain from a number of different arrival points. Our many varied approaches and readings of the scene uncovered an interesting and contested field. Hacking into its blunt opacity, we splintered off into many fragments, as we discovered that all our bodies are entangled and complicit in its charge, albeit in uneven ways.


Similarly, the Anthropocene was a blunt instrument we used to hack into our many more-than-human ‘selves’. Who is this Anthropocene? Is it all of humanity? Or should it be more aptly renamed the ‘Manthropocene’ as the literature of majority cis white male scholarship seemingly demonstrates? How can we speak to this human—that word again—and the human-engineered catastrophe of worlds ending, whilst continuing to discount the experience of First Nations and indigenous peoples? It was their worlds that were first violently altered from contact with European settlers and capital; just as it was the black and brown bodies that were traded across oceans to new lands, whose

own lands were colonised and rendered instruments for capital. As we consider the histography of this phenomenon, we also bear in mind those whose lived experiences continue to evidence this violent impact. We do not need to look far from this place on which we gather: Gadigal country of the Eora Nation, whose land we acknowledge and whose leaders—past, present and emerging—we pay our respects to. So we begin: Which bodies and whose bodies does the Anthropocene speak to and for?


A structure We commenced our lab with a public forum featuring guests Kenneth McLeod (Anthropocene Transitions Project, University of Sydney) and Dr Astrida Neimanis (Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney) who framed our opening provocation about the kind of human and man-made (sic) world for which the Anthropocene has materialised. The design of the lab allowed for structured and unstructured encounters, consisting of group sessions to interrogate relevant scholarship, alongside presentations from each of the participants concerning their own investigations. Some of these were workshops led by lab artist Dean Walsh with guest participants, while others consisted of more informal sharing of materials among the group. Artists also worked one on one with their collaborators, both on and off site, during the lab. We bookended the lab with a public forum at the beginning and a public showing/sharing at the conclusion. Despite its short and sweet span of time, many fertile lines of enquiry bubbled to the surface with many ideas for future collaborations.

Imprecision and indecision As a score, and series of choreographed gestures, our exploration continued to bump up against the imprecise borders around notions of self, human, post human, and more-than-human. Where do ‘our-selves’ begin and end? Guest ecofeminist scholar Astrida Neimanis joined us for the second day of the lab to help complicate our understanding of this ‘self’ and lay out the threads of this contested field. Neimanis’ work draws on the ambiguities of watery bodies and the materialities inhered in subjectivities that are drawn through a mixed mattering and

confusing of these human/non-human limits[2]. Could our choreographic scores now chart this messiness and ‘troubling of self’ contained within the deceptively linear histories of ‘known unknowns’? Whilst contest over the precise commencement date of the Anthropocene has largely been a matter of science—owing to the fact that its measurement is evidenced in the record captured in the earth’s core, the sediment which traces changes to the earth’s crust—its psychology and its behavioural inducements remain a matter for everyone. Evidence of human activity altering the

L E T ’ S H A C K T H E H A C K T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E , S H A L L W E ? A N I N V I TAT I O N | R e b e c c a C o n r o y


functioning of planet earth may be measured in the sciences, but the theories explaining why the human species set sail on this 6th great mass extinction can only be comprehended fully with philosophic enquiry. This would seem to be an important matter, given the dire consequences for the survival of the species. In many ways, the indeterminate and indiscreet edges of this term Anthropocene demand hacking because of its opacity and densely scientific shape, but also so we can unpack all of the agendas that are rendered invisible by its sheer ‘scientific-ness’—a tactic familiar to discourses that develop in privileged institutions. These knowledges insist on precision and exactness to validate and designate those who may speak as its authority and consequently, which bodies bear its effects. Whilst debate about the exact starting point or which ‘golden spike’ can be used to indicate the commencement is expected to continue for many years, many more debates around the Anthropocene remain concerning who gets to determine who is in the room, what forms of knowledge are considered “scientific” or valid, and what knowledge matters? More importantly, which lives matter? In our lab we attempted to find ways into the Anthropocene that amplified this layering of sedimented materialities.

As Kathryn Yussof so beautifully and brutally deconstructs in “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None”: It is not just that geology is a signifier for extraction but that a transmutation of matter occurs within that signification that renders matter as property, that makes a delineation between agency and inertness, which stabilizes the cut of property and enacts the removal of matter from its constitutive relations as both subject and mineral embedded in sociological and ecological fields. Thus I argue that the semiotics of White Geology creates atemporal materiality dislocated from place and time—a mythology of disassociation in the formation of matter independent of its languages of description and the historical constitution of its social relations.[3] This geology, this stratification, this stratigraphy—these are violent markings inflicted on matter surveyed and gazed upon as property to be extracted and acquired. And this includes, first and foremost, black and brown bodies, and female bodies, as bodies deemed ineligible for owning property but as legible bodies who were themselves deemed property—marked upon and stratified. Yusof makes clear this lack of distinction between the raw materials extracted from the earth, as mixed with the slave bodies that traversed the Atlantic whose



labour would lay the bedrocks—literally with their blood sweat and tears—and the markings of industrialisation. Put differently, geology is often assumed to be without a subject (thinglike and inert), whereas biology is secured in the recognition of the organism (bodylike and sentient). Thinking Blackness in terms of the relations of materiality, of coal black, black gold, black metal, and how these are configured in discourses of geology and its lexicons of matter uncovers the transactions between geology and inhumanism as a mode of both production (or extraction) and subjection (or a violent mode of geologic life). How do Blackness and the terminology of geology slip into each other as equivalent substances? How is such an alchemy of slavery and geology possible? How is geology as a discipline and extraction process cooked together in the crucible of slavery and colonialism? How does this geology (as a colonial and neocolonial strategy) enact territorial extraction (through survey, classification, codification, and annexation)? [3] The wholesale slaughter and genocide of indigenous peoples, as European colonisation marched across the ‘new world’ merged with the witch hunts, and the passage of human misery traded on ships across the Atlantic to serve the new colonial infrastructure. The stratigraphers crown this golden

spike as the orbis period—marked by the mass exchange and transfer of species from the “New World” to the “Old World”, a dramatic increase of carbon released into the atmosphere, and coinciding with the largest single extermination of humans in history (approximately 50 million indigenous people died, mostly from small pox, as a result of increased trade and contact from European colonisation). However, the ‘golden spike’ most likely to win this sad contest is the period marking the nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll, namely 1964 which records a peak in radionuclide fallout. For queer feminist scholar Heather Davis and Métis anthropologist and scholar Zoe Todd, the significance of marking the beginning of the Anthropocene is to recognise that it continues “a logic of the universal which is structured to sever the relations between mind, body, and land”. They go on to argue that “the Anthropocene is not a new event, but is rather the continuation of practices of dispossession and genocide, coupled with a literal transformation of the environment, that have been at work for the last five hundred years”[1] This is to see the Anthropocene as a psychopolitical staging of subjectivity as well as a historical rendering of materiality (Yusoff 2015). If this project seems like a counterhistory of geologic relations that is other to

L E T ’ S H A C K T H E H A C K T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E , S H A L L W E ? A N I N V I TAT I O N | R e b e c c a C o n r o y


current articulation as a linear narrative of accumulation, then mine is certainly an attempt to open an investigation into that history and to the languages that carry the work of geology in the world (as resource, extraction, inhuman, chattel). The birth of a geologic subject in the Anthropocene made without an examination of this history is a deadly erasure, rebirth without responsibility[3] How heavy is this on the body? What subjects are inhered in its layering, it’s sedimentation? How then do we extract from this extraction? How then do we move? How then do we move through? We arrive with many questions, discomforts, bodily contortions and fits and turns. Our lab was an entry point that continues to arrive. We must keep moving.

[Many thanks to the choreographers who

[1] Davis, Heather, and Zoe Todd. 2017. ‘On

graciously participated to stretch their

the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the

embodied selves, to the many collaborators

Anthropocene.’ ACME An International Journal for

who came on board this wild ship; to Critical

Critical Geographers 16 (4): 761–80.

Path for the initiative, specifically director

[2] Neimanis, Astrida. 2017. Bodies of Water:

Claire Hicks and producer Adelina Larsson,

Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London:

along with partners Strange Attractor, Sydney

Bloomsbury Academic.

Festival and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS)]

[3] Yussof, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.



MAKING SPACE: FEELING THE ANTHROPOCENE Astrida Neimanis Senior Lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney



Body Trouble The body is the lesser half of the classic mind-body split—or at least, that is what the history of Western thought has told us. Bodies are messy, irrational, emotional, and unreliable. Bodies need things; to be fed, cared for, cleaned, and to be birthed by another body. They represent a kind of ‘inconvenient truth’ that disturbs the ideal of the self-sufficient, atomistic, individualistic, sovereign Man as subject of the world. Deep traditions of feminist, indigenous and critical race thinking have long countered this denigration of bodies, and reminded us that bodies (which include, and are not separable from ‘minds’) are key sources of information and knowledge generation. We enjoy food not (only) because we read an ingredients list, but because of the taste and feel on our tongue, the scent in our noses, and the visual appeal on the plate. We become attached to places not (only) because we read about the ecosystems services they offer, but because of the sound of the birds and the vibrancy of foliage, and a pathway that opens up to a certain view. Similarly, our bodies tell us that something is wrong: our stomachs feel queasy, or our fingers fidgety; a slight dampness spreads across the back of our necks. To paraphrase mid-twentieth century French phenomenologist Maurice MerleauPonty, embodiment is consciousness of

the world: we can only exist as embodied beings that interface with all that is around us. But when confronting big and seemingly abstract ideas like the Anthropocene, or climate change, or biodiversity loss, what’s a body to do? One of the reasons that these ‘wicked problems’ are so hard to address is their awesome scale. They manifest at scales much larger, and longer, than an individual human body could easily apprehend.

Making Space: Feeling the Anthropocene The Anthropocene is particularly challenging in this respect. A proposed geological epoch, the Anthropocene is only comprehensible against the backdrop of Deep Time. Operating at this scale, all of human history (not to mention the life experience, or ‘feelings,’ of an individual

M A K I N G S PA C E : F E E L I N G T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E | A s t r i d a N e i m a n i s


human body) becomes utterly insignificant. In a memorable metaphor suggested by Stephen Jay Gould, if geological time is the distance from your nose to the end of your outstretched hand, then “one stroke of a nail file” across the tip of your middle finger would swiftly do away with all of human time [1]. When relegated to such vast scales, the question of how one measly body might intervene in the Anthropocene—and its upending of many of our planetary systems as we have come to know them—seems unthinkable. At best, ‘Anthropocene work’ becomes the purview of geoengineers, geologists and abstract climate modellers who are far better equipped to deal with this scale and these abstractions. But as queer feminist anthropologist Kath Weston points out, even when issues become abstracted beyond our ostensible comprehension, we do not simply “leave our bodies behind”—instead we keep finding new “embodied intimacies” that can help us make visceral sense out of this distance[4]. In Weston’s work, these embodied intimacies are engaged by citizen scientists who make DIY Geiger counters to track radiation levels in their own neighbourhoods, or by fisher folk in southern India who consider their hands, in the water, to be the most

reliable source of information on rising ocean temperatures. In different ways, these examples are asking: how does the Anthropocene taste, or sound, or smell? How does the Anthropocene feel? Writers, poets, artists, and makers of all kinds are also well-positioned to undertake this kind of inquiry. Feminist kitchen artist and theorist Lindsay Kelley invites us, for example, to taste our relationship to the Anthropocene through a series of lures[4]; while feminist ecocritic Jennifer Mae Hamilton helps us imagine human impact on land and water by remembering that our bodies are a kind of drain—and all drains lead to somewhere[2]. In these examples, the body’s sensory immediacy is not effaced in the largess of Anthropocene abstraction, but nor is the scale of the problems our planet faces trivialised or individualised, where “saving the planet” is reduced to a neoliberal plea to “do your part.” Instead, as both Kelley and Hamilton demonstrate, we can trace the connections between the intimately local (our bodies) and the unfathomably global (the planet in Deep Time) through incremental moves. Rather than collapsing these incommensurable scales, writing and art help us develop an agility to move across and between them.



Making Space The point is not to paint, or write, or dance, the scalar immensity of the Anthroprocene into a single paragraph or snapshot. This would just reinforce the Anthropocene’s seeming distance from our lived experience. Instead, arts and humanities endeavour to find ways to make connections to that more-than-human scale through the sensory apparatuses of our bodies: a tastebud finds a pathway to a history of colonialism; the affective tenor of a metaphor brings us into the breathless bottom of the sea; a curved arm in an antenna-like gesture establishes our animal kinship to insect species rapidly disappearing. As Weston also rightly points out, though, embodied knowledge (like all singular sources of knowledge) is partial. Coming to terms with something as multiscalar as the Anthropocene works best when different ways of knowing come together. So instead of chucking out climate science, geology, or other sciences that deal in large-scale and abstracted phenomena, what if we used our sensory apparatuses to bring these knowledges back to the body? In other words: how might different kinds of expertise collaborate to produce new forms of hybrid knowledge? What kinds of collaborations would help us better understand how the Anthropocene feels? What kinds of spaces do we need to make to allow these bodies, and bodies of knowledge, to learn from one another?

M A K I N G S PA C E : F E E L I N G T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E | A s t r i d a N e i m a n i s


Launching on March 6, The Sydney Environment Institute’s Making Space event series aims to explore these questions in praxis. We will be joined by performers, artists and academics in an intimate, experimental and transdisciplinary exploration of what it means to be a collaborator and a body in the shifting world of the Anthropocene. Making Space I: Bodies, Space and the Anthropocene was held on March 6 from 6pm at 107 Projects in Redfern with guests from the Critical Path Hacking the Anthropocene Lab. This essay was originally published [http:// making-space-feeling-anthropocene/] by the Sydney Environment Institute as part of the 2019 Making Space event series, which brought performers, artists and academics together for an intimate, experimental and transdisciplinary exploration of what it means to be a collaborator and a body in the shifting world of the Anthropocene.`

[1] Gould, Stephen Jay, and International Society for Science and Religion. 2007. Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. [2] Hamilton, Jennifer Mae. 2017. ‘All The World’s A Drain. Bodies of Water by Astrida Neimanis Review Essay’. Sydney Review of Books. 14 November 2017. [3] Kelley, Lindsay. 2017. ‘Digesting Wetlands: Cooking and Eating Across Species’. Edited by Lanfranco Aceti, Paul Thomas, and Edward Colless. Leonardo Electronic Almanac 22 (1). [4] Weston, Kath. 2017. Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech, Ecologically Damaged World. ANIMA. Durham: Duke University Press




This lab was the first time I encountered this word ‘Anthropocene’. But my people have been living the effects of it since European settlers arrived on our country. On the first day, we came together to explore our ideas and the various ways our practice could be a way into Hacking the Anthropocene. To be honest, this process was a bit much for me; big words were getting thrown around the room and their explanations left me (or all of us) mentally drained. But as an Aboriginal woman, artist and performer, I know my family have spoken about this subject for a long time—our cultural practices of living sustainably have been an important practice for more than sixty thousand years, and continue to be implemented today. Cultural practices such as back burnings, traditional songs and dances and art remain core to our ways of living and are passed down from each generation to the next.


Learning Dance As a Kuku Yalanji/Yidinji woman, when I was little, I never learnt any traditional dances from my country, but I do remember crying at nine years of age and having a tantrum to jump in the car with my mum’s older sister, Aunty Reatha and her husband Uncle Mario with their three kids to go to the Laura festival, a dance festival that happens every two years in the Cape York. This festival is where all the different clans from Far North Queensland come together with their family members to celebrate culture in a place which is also a sacred site of cave paintings. I could never go because there was no room in the car for me. So, my very first chance

to be part of learning traditional dance was at NAISDA, (National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association) when it was located in Sydney. This college is for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, and many young students every year travel from all over Australia just to learn Aboriginal and Torres Strait Dance as well as contemporary. My training at NAISDA started in 2001 and I learnt songs and dances from Darnley Island, Murray Island, Tiwi Island, Saibai Island just to name a few; then there was contemporary dance, Jazz, Tap, Ballet, and Capoeira, among others.


H E N R I E T TA H A C K S T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E | H e n r i e t t a B a i r d




Indigenous Astronomy One of the main dances I remember learning—“Morning Star”—came from North East Arnhem Land. After I had graduated from NAISDA in 2005, I started teaching at the Royal Botanic Gardens (RGB). It was during this time that I encountered a visiting astronomer. I remember when he gave a talk about his knowledge of astronomy and he referred to the Morning Star. This was an important realisation for me; I had already danced this science, this western knowledge. Like many indigenous people, I already knew about the Morning Star. There are many ways to arrive at understanding the Anthropocene; I didn’t realise that I already had this knowledge through my cultural practices, in particular song and dance. This scientific knowledge is considered specialised and expert by white people in white lab coats. But not only was this knowledge passed onto me as a NAISDA student through dance, it has been a part of the Yolngu peoples’ cultural practice and Lore for tens of thousands of years.

Indigenous botanicals Botanicals or knowledge of plant matter is passed on in interesting ways through our cultural practices and through kinship systems. I recall learning plants at an early age because my uncles and aunties were cane cutters and my Grandmother was a lover of plants. She was always in the garden with her hands in the soil; she also loved drawing the hibiscus flowers. I was also introduced to plants at an early age because it was quicker walking through the rainforest to get to town, and it was also where my mum and her siblings grew up for part of their life before they moved into an actual house in Kuranda. My relationship to botanicals became professional when I started working at the Royal Botanic Gardens as an Aboriginal educator. This site is significant because it marks ‘first contact’ with the Gadigal, Cameraygal, and Wongal clans of the Sydney basin; it is also home to Bennelong and Barangaroo who both figure significantly in white colonial narratives. Their names now mark prestigious cultural landmarks on our harbour foreshore.

H E N R I E T TA H A C K S T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E | H e n r i e t t a B a i r d


‘ This performance

can be considered a way of Hacking the Anthropocene for an audience who may only have a narrow conception of White Australia’s history and the genocide of our First Nations people in Australia.’



I brought this interest in botanicals to the lab; I wanted to look at plants from a molecular point of view and think of the plant anatomy (phytotomy) as a way into Hacking the Anthropocene: Leaves, Veins, Blood, Oil, Stem, connection to animals and to people, and how these are markers of life cycles, and also record the effects of time and human impact.

The Golden Spike I remember a particular work by Bangarra in 2007, which explored the devastating impact humans were having on earth. Bangarra called it True Story which was a double bill consisting of Emerit Lui and X300. From what I understand about the ‘golden spike’ – the markers of when scientists think the Anthropocene began—we have danced these stories too. X300 was a performance which unfolded the history of the British nuclear weapons testing, which occurred on Anangu country in remote South Australia between 1955 and 1962. The test was called X300. This performance can be considered a way of Hacking the Anthropocene for an audience who may only have a narrow conception of White Australia’s history and the genocide of our First Nations people in Australia. This event—a marker of the

anthropocene—directly affected the Aboriginal tribes in that area, who went through such a terrible experience, as well as impacting on artists and storytellers for generations to come. Aboriginal people, my people, have experienced the effects of the Anthropocene for a long time: drastic changes like loss of land, loss of language, removal of children (stolen generation). We have been Hacking the Anthropocene for a long time. Our stories are ancient but they also speak to a sophisticated philosophy that appears to only be emerging now in academic scholarship—in their so called “more-thanhuman” worlds. Our song and dance have always told a story about human and nonhuman relations and between human and more-than-human worlds.

H E N R I E T TA H A C K S T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E | H e n r i e t t a B a i r d


In The Lab As an Aboriginal artist in Sydney, my practice has involved looking at native bush plants from a microscopic view and talking about the human impact from this perspective. For these reasons, I decided to interview Aunty Fran Bodkin and Clarence Slockee. I was interested in what they had to teach me and hear their perspective and consider how else to explore Human Impact on Earth within my practice. Aunty Fran Bodkin is an Elder in Sydney who lives near Mt Annan Botanic Gardens, a site that she fought to establish because it was once a meeting ground for many Aboriginal clans and is considered now an asset that is protected for all to enjoy. I also interviewed Clarence Slockee — a Mindjingbal-Bundjalung man— and the Director and Co- Founder of Yerrabingin, a new enterprise which

applies indigenous design solutions within the corporate sector. Here is a link to this interview online. https://www.dropbox. com/s/s7kpvrrurtdbiwf/clarence.m4a?dl=0 On the final day I presented this interview to the audience along with some of the native plant species. These could be viewed under the microscope by audience members after the talk. In my presentation I also presented the very beginnings of my choreographic ideas for exploring movement based on phytotomy. The microscopic view reminds us how connected we are in even the tiniest plant cell. After spending a week hacking the Anthropocene with the other choreographers, this process was a long one, but I know it was an important one.




From a time of abstraction toward a ghost friendly politics We would like to begin by acknowledging that this Lab, and the writing of this piece, took place on the unceded land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. We offer respect and gratitude to elders, past and present, and future. What follows is a sharing of our collaboration during the Choreo-Hack Lab: diving into a network of ideas, swimming on big pieces of paper, pacing back and forth, in dialogue and eventually in a presentation to the public which took the form of a somewhat haphazard attempt at a lecture, as a piece of writing for this edition of Critical Dialogues and as an ongoing friendship with a continued life in and


through the conversations we have and share, and with potential for further public sharing in opportunities on the surrounding and simultaneously unfolding horizons. Some context: Ivey and Riki are both in the department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney; Ivey is an undergraduate, and Riki is a PhD candidate. We began by talking about how we might meet one another and begin to develop a shared logic for thinking through the choreographic concerns that Ivey was bringing, which generally concerned the temporalities and rhythms of contemporary capitalism, and more specifically that the capitalist labour condition can be (provocatively) thought of as a state of living dead, and more. We read Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis (1992)[1] before the lab as a shared ground for our research. We were both taken by the chapter on dressage and on the four different rhythmic types illustrated; eurhythmia, polyrhythmia, arrhythmia, and isorhythmia.


We also problematised the term Anthropocene, as a human-centric, western scientific (abstract) notion that we perceive to be both too narrow and not specific enough, with an exclusive ontology. Drawing upon a shared history of reading, we agreed on the potential for rethinking this concept of the Anthropocene as embedded in the concept of the ‘Capitalocene’ from Jason Moore’s 2015 book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital[2] . This refactors the discourse of the Anthropocene as resulting from expressions of capitalist society, not human activity in the aggregate. This notion speaks to the discipline we are both busy with and, we think, helps draw out the inter-relationality of capitalism (as the social property relations we live in), human nature (including production, ideas, abstract space, space and all the wonderfully innovative, destructive and beautiful things that can emerge), and non-human nature (including all of the wonderfully awe-inspiring, beautiful, hideous, grimy, wet, dry, frightening, quiet, subtle and overbearing things that it encompasses).

been laid out in a map (particularly because we were working in spatial and geometric logics). Written pieces typically follow a linear progression; we invite you to take your own movement through the following segments, as disparately but internally and spatially connected fragments across and through various intersecting lines. We would also like to note that we are drawing on, as references, a limited collection of sources so as not to be disingenuous about what we were directly in relation to throughout the project.

In what follows we have worked together to tease out some take-aways from the experience; in reflections, statements and extrapolations. They could have been put in any order really. Or would have ideally

HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


1. ANTHROPOCENE Consider the Anthropocene. It’s a fantastic notion: there is a fantasy to be found in it for anyone. For the rabid denialists—the notion that we might have done anything to the world. For the true believers—the notion that humanity is the defining element of this world. The two views go hand-in-hand, but everyone argues over the first and never over the second. Our thinking was provoked by the idea of the Golden Spike: the all-too-poetical term that signifies the start or end of a geological epoch. If the ‘Anthropocene’ has a ‘beginning,’ might it not be found in how humanity (or certain human beings) etch their stories into history? Might we better understand it by looking at the self-imagination of the dominant ideologies of our society? Does this etching; a demarcation of the ‘beginning’ not do some damage to the history that came before it; the context that brings it into being? Is not a ‘beginning also in some sense then an erasure? Might we better resist these kinds of historical inscriptions by finding another imagination, another way of remembering? But Anthropocene thinking is here, and so what can we take from its emergent concerns? The general one—that human activity is rapidly and irreversibly having negative impact on



Image: Sketched diagrams from our lab. | Photo credit: Ivey Wawn

2. APOCALYPSE the world system at an alarmingly fast rate—might be a start. One need only to look at the latest CSIRO State of the Climate Report[3] to see that the trends are frightening, or look at the immanent environmental refugee crisis, or go outside and feel that it is an unseasonably warm April. Clearly there is an urgent need for some kind of response.

Anthropocene-talk invokes a certain apocalyptic tendency—as it should. In this Lab there were many diverse conversations moving through these ideas. A key point of interest for us was the potential of thinking of the apocalypse as an ongoing and generalised phenomenon. Specific to the Australian context; first nations people endure an ongoing social and cultural apocalypse, a destruction wrought through the

HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


dispossession that characterises European invasion. Apocalypse is a many-headed hydra, with specific historical causes and evolutions, and each head needs to be understood on its own terms. But the word ‘apocalypse’ in its original conception simply meant ‘revelation.’ With the Biblical Book of Revelations came a reinterpretation of Apocalypse to mean the End of Times (Oxford English Dictionary[4]). We see an opportunity in that etymology to understand the apocalypse on the horizon as not simply a process of ending or destruction, but a process of beginning and creation. This is not to overlook the negatives of destruction, but to accept that things are essentially fucked already, and until the centralities of society are eroded, we need to begin thinking about what we can do, or how we can be in a situation where the odds are inevitably stacked against us—us being people who don’t have individual political power or influence in a situation of relative democratic impotence. But, also, Anthropocene thinking is often concerned with the impending doom of human destruction wrought on planet earth and beyond through discussion on the climate. Perhaps, then, we might be better off calling the Anthropocene the ‘Anthropocalypse’. We might then evoke a thinking-through located in the present, but

oriented towards the futures and pasts that are produced in a perpetual revelation—or, as Walter Benjamin describes it: “the true picture of the past whizzes by”.[5]

3. SOLVENTS What mainstream politics tells us is that what we need is to solve The Problem of The Climate. But we need to ask of any solution: on whose terms and to whose advantage? What are these solutions, really? We rename these solutions ‘solvents’: they dissolve, they do not solve. The policy triumvirate of sustainability, resilience, and management are entirely geared to a perpetual management of The Problem. They do not change the source of the problem, but only fiddle with the symptoms. This is perhaps best personified by the ‘utopic’ and profitable technocracy of certain pompous figures (Elon Musk, etc). But there is an underlying logic to solvents: A solvent has the ability to dissolve other substances. To be solvent is to be able to pay your debts. What, then, are these solvents dissolving? And who is remaining solvent? The awful pun came after the idea, of course, but the



point is that there is a financial logic to notions of environmental apocalypse, especially in the area of ‘climate solutions’. The solvents dissolve the substance of life itself. And it is clear who can and cannot pay their debts. But the financial logic is not just in the solutions. It rests at the heart of capitalism itself. These kinds of points are raised in current critiques such as Moore’s offering of ‘Capitalocene’ over Anthropocene; or in Ariel Salleh’s ecofeminist and ecosocialist approach to embodied materialism.

4. HISTORIES The idea of a golden spike (introduced to us through the material presented in the lab and in the ideas brought by guest presenter Astrida Neimanis) became a powerful provocation for our thinking about the Anthropocene. We became fascinated with the idea and understood it as a kind of etching which says; “this starts here”. A mark within the geological strata which tells scientists where a new epoch begins and the prior one ends.

HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


But we join growing concerns about the kind of thinking implied by ‘golden spike’ histories. Everything after that moment becomes reactionary and recursive upon the spike. But if the production of apocalypse is continual and co-located across history, then the golden spike cannot see history, except through the lens of power that constructed it. It is left only to maintain itself through a series of increasingly desperate solvents. Financial speculation operates in precisely the same way, except the spike is riven through with the profitability of the present and ultimately into our rhythms of life. Don’t these historical markers thus negate the possibility for an ongoing presence, for an ongoing potentiality, for a provisional history? As I recall reading something from Hegel, something like, “the owl of Minerva takes off at dusk”—meaning we only grasp history at its end—but what Hegel fails to see, is that dusk is constantly recurrent. We insist on eroding these epochal geological markers. On thinking history as changing and amorphous; as carried through each emergent moment. Such that, just as it won’t mark a beginning, it will neither mark an end. This requires a transformation in thinking of the present into presence; it may be where

dance and choreography, and art can do some work—by making opportunities for dialogical unfolding and for magic. This is the difference between present and presence: the former there, in commodity, object, product, thing; the latter here, in dialogue, speech, action.

5. DRESSAGE In dressage of horses, the horse is ‘broken in’: trained to trot in circles at the will of the rider. Likewise, human lives under capitalist relations are ‘broken in’ by their reliance on wages for subsistence, or through primitive accumulation and dispossession, with no access to land except under grand financial burden – most often provisioned by access to debt. We are conceptually reduced to a value on the labour market, and we purchase goods that have gone through similar abstractions, and everything is exchanged in order to keep the world turning, and these conceptual abstractions have material manifestations. The history of capitalism is the history of breaking in dissident subjects. It works to reproduce capital at the expense of liveliness. The rhythms of our lives are subject to the flows of finance. The paradox is that our own reproduction depends on us reproducing capitalist spaces. We work so hard to keep afloat that we then have little capacity to question, criticise, or resist.



‘ Don’t these historical markers thus negate the possibility for an ongoing presence, for an ongoing potentiality, for a provisional history? ’

HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


Art, and especially time-based art, has a potential power to stimulate presence as a dialogical process, which is not centred on an object produced for exchange, but takes place in the vacuum of exchangeable goods; in the transformation of the subjects who negotiate the vacuum in their meeting. This rupture in the laws of capitalist space

makes possible a break-out from the automaton of daily experience, the on again, off again of the rhythms trained into our bodies by the necessity of work as a means of subsistence in capitalist social relations.

6. TOWARD A GHOSTFRIENDLY POLITICS This human activity stripped of its liveliness is a characterisation of the condition of labour within capitalist space. But it’s not the same for all of us—some experience greater alienation, exploitation, exhaustion and dispossession than others, and these differentials operate on and through various categories; through class, race, gender, sexuality, beliefs/religion and more. We propose a ‘ghost-friendly politics’; a mode of being with the past that thickens presence and acknowledges the histories that have unfolded simultaneously (known and unknown) and made possible each moment. This position brings with it an insistence on a change in the way we view property—one that is deeply communal (where community is not only constituted

by humans, but includes non-human life, land and shared ideas). An example of an approach to dancing has emerged in Ivey’s practice from this research, which seeks to embody this preoccupation with the past in a practice of ‘mourning dancing’. As the gesture, or movement emerges, it brings with it a spirit. These spirits of the gestures and uttered movements do not disappear, but remain among us, albeit invisible. By mourning over that which is passing while dancing, we are witnessing its becoming-spectral; there is an opening up of a presence that has potential to be less oriented to the future. And in this, there is the potential for teaching a soft resistance to the demands of capitalism.



HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan




7. THE TIME OF THE LIVING DEAD We propose that the question in a time of the living dead then becomes a question of resistance: How to resist the speculative tendencies of finance and of capitalism, with its drive for the maximisation of profit at the expense of, and on the back of the most vulnerable people in our societies? How to resist histories that silence alternative ones? How to resist

logics of capital do not necessarily impact how it unfolds. The role of the artist is then one of resistance, and one of creativity in at the site of ‘being’, where being is always relational. We cannot escape our humanness and so the question becomes how we can be humans in better ways, where better is not just a question of better for us, but better for all. Performance provides the opportunity for community-making. And it is in communities where ideas are shared, and collective action becomes possible. And collective action is the only way to make change in a time of such a-symmetrical power relations.

How to resist How to resist Art as a space tethered to any real social change continues to ignite much debate as to its efficacy; likewise, its complicity with the forces of neoliberal capital. Nonetheless, it provides a platform for sharing, and a platform for pulling together seemingly unrelated ideas in original ways. Choreography is an especially wonderful platform for thinking through alternative modes of social organisation in response to current problems; in that it is a practice of organising and building space for humans to exist in, where the violent extractive

It is hard to say how much of this work will be visible in the content of projects that emerge therefrom. But the politics will embed itself in a mode of being. And is this not the place where politics matters?

HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


[1] Lefebvre, H. 1992 Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, Bloomsbury, London [2] Moore, J. W. 2015 Capitalism in the Web of Life:Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, Verso, London [3] [4] [5] Benjamin, W. 1940, On the Concept of History, archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm




HACKING THE ANTHROPOCENE L AB | Ivey Wawn and Riki Scanlan


Jane Bennett asks:

Why advocate the vitality of matter?

She responds:

Because my hunch is that the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption. It does so by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of the nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies. These material powers, which can aid or destroy, enrich or disable, enoble or degrade us, in any case call for our attentiveness, or even “respect”.

While I’m strongly drawn to Bennett’s words here that evoke the vitality and “vibrancy” of matter (non-human things we encounter and make), there is a something missing that any dancer or choreographer would immediately see in her bodily-based list of how we might detect these non-human forces—moving. If moving is also prevented from allowing us to have the kind of attentiveness, respect or care that matter deserves in this new materialist response to big trouble in the Anthropocene, then it seems to me that we require some deeper motivation to get us sensing the very soma and kinetics of this most fundamental aspect of being—movement.


Hacking the Anthropocene I came to the lab with strong onto-ethical concerns about the Anthropocene without knowing the diversity of perspectives already wrestling it out within this contested territory. In response to my own concerns, my ideas were far from offering a solution, or a belief that dance as an aesthetic practice could be an answer. Instead they hesitatingly pivoted upon the simply posed but impossible question of “How to be?” within a world that (because of our first world, white privilege) we are only beginning to experience as an intractable crisis. We encounter violence in our everyday relations with each other and the biosphere; a pressure builds, accumulating with toxic effect in our diseased somas.

Economies of consumption The circular economy was my departure point for the lab. This concept has a long and varied philosophical history with its proponents spanning as far as China to Europe and North America. I was interested in exploring the movement of its circular logics as a disruptor to the linear economy (‘take make waste’/ ‘cradle to grave’) in the processes and actions of upcycling, reuse, repairing and repurposing. A fascination for the circulation of consumption in both linear and circular contexts was ignited by a deeply personal reaction to the disappearance of my elderly mother behind all her stuff. While hoarders value objects and often stymie the waste, they also can (as in the case of my dear mother, born of poor immigrants during the Depression) compulsively consume (because she can in the age of free trade and cheap manufacturing). My

dalliances with intercontinental mobility, tiny home living and minimalist fads have also contributed to this heightened concern for everyday objects and how we consume. While we rightly become activated in our non-speciesism, isn’t it time to extend the same concern toward the things we make? —those products of industrial design and mass production that are the disposable and dispossessed. “Thing power”, writes Bennett, is “an efficacy of objects in excess of the human meanings, designs or purposes they express or serve”. She advocates a “thinking beyond the life-matter binary” so that humans and things are valued on an even, collaborative playing field as “vital materialities”. The idea harks back to the Ancient Epicurean and Atomist Lucretius who believed that all of nature, animate



system: “work and spend less, create and connect more”. A true materialist turns with open arms to the made (often with the blood and cost of another’s dignity) and moves differently within these economies of consumption. It takes motivation; it takes effort. And while the gestures are small, the cumulative, cooperative and creative effects can, at the very least, be a way to be.

and inanimate, were composed of bodies and space, and that objects never reduce to nothing. All things are made of the same stuff and are irreducible to the meanings we impose upon them: useless, scrap, ugly, broken and old. New Materialism, I baulk somewhat at the use of ‘new’ when considering responsive ontologies in a consumerist space. I prefer to combine Bennett’s understanding of materialism with Sociologist Juliet Schor’s idea of “true materialism”, where we care about the materiality of things rather than their symbolic status. An idea which overcomes the anti-materialist undervaluing of what we make in its reflex to over consume. Consumer plenitude is still important on her account, no “hair shirts” or lack of nice things, but a well-balanced social-labour

The chair friend series takes place in the back streets of the Inner West in Sydney. My daily walks are now less about a bit of fresh air and pushing my toddler in a swing. The journey, or drift, is a spree without the shopping, for documenting abandoned chairs. Often alone, or in pairs, cavorting, sleeping, unwanted. They have become my friends. If I had a ute, I would give them all a home. They would tell me their stories and we would make alternate futures. This project is about loving the things we make in their teleological unfolding from cradle to grave. It’s a form of choreographic craftivism that will take me clumsily into the sheds of the Bower where I’ll tinker, sand, rub and upholster those that need care. Chair rescue, chair awareness; the love is already spreading and an alternative movement of consumption is happening in a public choreography that motivates a creative kinaesthetics of care.





There is something about the chair on the side of the street that evokes emptiness, loneliness and the precarity of waiting.



A Towards Death Practice A pivotal moment of my process during the lab was meeting with Artist and Futurist Clare Cooper who in one lovely coffee date, introduced me to a technique of futuring: the “double variable method”—an entirely foreign world. Futuring strategies encourage “creative, collaborative storytelling” in order to “consider possible, preferable and or avoidable futures”. The method (appearing below) is a scenario-based technique that “open[s] up the present” outlines “uncertainty”, provides “alternatives”, develops “more flexible” thinking and “predict[s]”.

is irreversible and inevitable? How about a practice that incites living toward death as a creative, flourishing and humorous enterprise? As macabre and counter-intuitive as this sounds, the prospect of being creatively open in the face of extinction opens the Anthropocene to choreography in efficacious ways. Combing (in a highly improvisational fashion) the double-variable method shown to me by Clare with the ideas of facing one’s own species extinction and performing death, the following grid emerged:

At “Talking Dance: Hacking the Anthropocene”, Eco-Feminist, Philosopher Astrida Neimanis was frank in telling us that the “apocalypse is already here” suggesting that to think we are still waiting for it to come was ignorant. Drawing upon this diagnosis, I began to think about the idea of ‘performing our death’ or exploring death through some kind of ‘faux-ritual’. Death as human instigated extinctions of the past and present, but with an emphasis upon the future. How can we potentially perform within the everyday our personal and species-based mortality as a towards death practice? Our quest of How to Be is, in fact, paradoxically a practice for living. Do we mourn or celebrate? Are we fearful or confident in the face of something that in reality



Taking this into the studio, I’ve been moving the grid (imagine this on the floor at room scale) in loose conversation with my choreographic system of transitions (2009): weight · speed · intensity · rupture · stillness · direction · locomotion · levels · imagery · texture · facings · breath · temperature · pleasure metre · scale · focus · e-motion. Bodies activated and performing their species death move on the grid through a questioning and story-telling process: How

do you feel about our future existence? Moving together, individual agency breaks down into a distributed and affective mobilisation of thoughts and feelings that whips up our kinaesthesia; no longer the Kantian ‘I think’ or even embodied ‘I can’, but the uncertainty and flexibility in a ‘we move’. The grid is a responsive probe, one rousing the body and its deepest transitional perceptivity. It troubles cognition, enticing other ways of sensing and doing.



Hacking Choreography For choreography to hack the Anthropocene, the Anthropocene hacks at choreography. It’s necessary for dance to open itself in different ways, to break down its paradigmatic bodies of thinking that fail to stretch its frames of possibility. To choreograph the public is not a democratising of aesthetics, nor company for the untrained. Neither is caring for objects through craftivism, a nod to conceptual dance. Understanding a responsive kinaesthetics for moving in the everyday as choreography is—to invoke Bojana Cvejic—a way of ensuring that these ideas ‘temporally subsist and ‘transform’ beyond performance and the problem of ephemerality. The concept is broadened, yes, but does not

endanger its ontology or potential for efficacy; choreography becomes sublimated in the most salient of ways. Meg Stuart believes that dance is “one of the few places where people collectively experience a physical event”. The Anthropocene is as much a physical space as it is a cerebrally infused epistemic battle field. Our modes of detecting big trouble in this space (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) depend upon something far more fundamental and dynamic—our moving. So if those in this space are looking our way to help rethink its problems, choreography must ask itself how it can be, however small the gesture.

[1] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010), ix, emphasis in bold mine. [2] I follow Phenomenologist Maxine Sheets Johnstone’s understanding that movement is the most primary dimension of animate life. See Maxine SheetsJohnstone, The Primacy of Movement (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, expanded 2nd ed. 2011). [3] Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 20-21



[4] Lucretius, On The Nature of the Universe, trans. R. E. Latham (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1994). [5] Juliet B. Schor, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (New York: The Penguin Press, 2010), 13-14. [6] The Bower Reuse & Repair Centre Workshops [7] Kinaesthesia is a “sensory modality” innate to most humans just like vision, hearing, taste, smell and tactility. It is the ability to sense movements of the body and limbs. There are qualities of self-movement that “anyone can discover for him/herself in the very experience of moving”. I am interested in this discovery through attention and awareness in designed action, close to what Jeroen Fabius calls a “kinaesthetically-based choreography”, but for the everyday not just staged performance. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, “Phenomenological Methodology and Aesthetic Experience: Essential Clarifications and Their Implications,” in Performance Phenomenology: To The Thing Itself, edited by Stuart Grant, Jodie McNeilly-Renaudie and Matthew Wagner (UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 50. Jeroen Fabius, “Choreographic investigations of kinaesthetics at the end of the twentieth century,” in Contemporary Choreography: A Critical Reader, edited by Jo Butterworth and Lisbeth Wildschut (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 331-45. [8] In futuring, the double variable method is a scenario technique that identifies the two major uncertainties of the problem/question/provocation and develops alternatives based on them. Sohail Inayatullah, “Future Studies: Theories and Methods,” in There’s A Future: visions for a better world (BBVA Openmind), 55-56, [9] Clare Cooper, Futuring Inner West Arts and Culture 2036 (Sydney: Fiction Groups for Inner West Council, 2017), 2. au/26956/documents/68390 [10]Inayatullah, “Future Studies”, 55. [11] Bojana Cvejic, Choreographing Problems: Expressive concepts in European Contemporary Dance and Performance (UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 13. [12]Meg Stuart in Myriam van Imschoot, “On the Edges of Deserts: an exploratory discussion with Meg Stuart,” Carnet, 12 (1997): 24.




In January 2019, Sarah Pini, interdisciplinary researcher, anthropologist and choreographer, was selected as one of the five artists with choreographic practice to take part to the ‘Choreographic Hack Lab’, a week-long laboratory co-presented by Critical Path, Strange Attractor and Sydney Festival in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). The Choreographic Hack Lab asked artists and specialists from other disciplines to respond to the idea of the Anthropocene, the present geological epoch in which the earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity are being disrupted by human impact on the planet. Sarah’s artistic practice investigates the interconnections of movement, emotion and environment and how their dynamic relationships give shape to embodied narratives and sense making. Her previous work has explored these themes through an investigation of the transformational aspects


of illness, following her cancer diagnosis in 2006. For this, Sarah collaborated with award-winning filmmaker, Ruggero Pini, to produce the experimental short film series, INFINITO, based on her autoethnographic experience of illness. INFINITO tells a story of healing and resistance by collecting and reframing the dance performances Sarah created during her 10-year long experience of the illness, exploring ways to rewrite a disrupted life narrative through dance and filmmaking. Recently, the research informing the scope of this project was

published in the video article Resisting the ‘patient’ body: a phenomenological account (Pini & Pini, 2019). This was the beginning of Sarah’s artistic engagement with the Anthropocene, intended as surviving an epoch of great uncertainty and coping with disruptive transformations.


Collaborative research across practice boundaries The Choreographic Hack Lab provided an opportunity to experiment with new ways of working across disciplinary boundaries. Sarah collaborated with Jestin George, a genetic engineering and biotechnology PhD candidate based at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and a freelance artist. In recent years, Jestin has become more involved in the synthetic biology community in Australia by supporting the Synthetic Biology Australasia not-for-profit scientific society as Communications Assistant, as well as teaching and developing the curricula for UTS Biodesign undergraduate course. Jestin is interested in how we can engage with diverse publics about the future of biological technologies through collaborations with artists and designers.

She uses non-conventional platforms to contribute towards two-way knowledge sharing to improve research in the field of synthetic biology. Using the opportunity provided by the fluidity of the artistic medium, we were able to explore the concepts of the Anthropocene without being restricted to one particular approach or method; together we looked at ways to reframe synthetic biology through choreographic thinking.

Rethinking the Anthropocene The concept of the Anthropocene raises fundamental questions about the sustainability of the planet and the organisms and carbon-based life forms that co-exist within. The obstacles threatening the wellbeing of these entities are vast and occur at both the micro- and macro- scales: from microplastics impacting virtually every marine ecosystem including in deep sea trenches

(Cรณzar et al., 2014; Jamieson et al., 2019; Nelms et al., 2019), through to exploited human beings throughout human history (Biko 1987; Neimanis 2017; Skloot 2010); and onto the rapidly changing climates resulting from non-renewable technologies and growing human populations (Polasky et al., 2019; Vitousek et al., 2016). In considering the consequences of living in

SYNTHETIC ORGANISMS | Sarah Pini and Jestin George


the Anthropocene, it feels as though we are only provided with two options moving forward: (1) continue advancing unsustainable technological practices –for example, in preparations to relocate to Mars should Earth no longer be habitable– or (2) halt progress and ‘revert’ to more natural, biological practices of the past. Considering this, we came to the Hack Lab with the intention of interrogating these limited options, as well as investigating the other possible roles that biology might play in our Anthropogenic future. Does this role have to be a reversion to the past? Do nature and progress have to exist in mutual exclusion of each other? Our initial starting point for this collaboration intended to challenge the binary concepts of nature and technology. We commenced with an interrogation of the linear relationship between these two concepts in the context of the Anthropocene.

Predominantly, they are understood as being at loggerheads with each other. Nature and natural products are considered to be safe and sustainable compared to those associated with technological or laboratory-originating processes. Furthermore, nature and technology are each deeply entangled in emotional and cultural perceptions. Nature is often associated with the pristine, the good and the pure. On the contrary, technology is usually connected to socioeconomic power and perceived as existing through the destruction of the natural world and natural behaviours. These highly reinforced concepts of nature and technology do not leave much room for considering and criticising the space somewhat in-between them. However, this space does exist and is increasingly occupied by the growing development of biological technologies.





Synthetic Biology and the Anthropocene Biology is the most advanced technology on the planet – “An apple is far more complex than your Apple iPhone” for example (Molteni 2018). Our ability to understand and harness nature means biological technologies have received increased attention to provide possible ‘solutions’ to coping in the Anthropocene. Synthetic biology and the redesigning of biological systems could offer such solutions. Such an alternative, written in DNA and based on biological principles, could offer a living, growing, biological technology capable of disrupting many fossil fuel-based industries to possibly help divert the poignant course of the Anthropocene.

Alongside our initial intention to unpack the dichotomous relationship between nature and technology, we also began to question the need for solutions—and the role solutions play—in overcoming the vast and overwhelming complexities of life in the Anthropocene. During the Lab, we began to unpack some of the assumptions embedded in the systems in which these solutions, such as biotechnological technologies and other sustainable alternatives, are developed. We also began to challenge existing definitions of progress and the contexts in which progress is recognised and valued.

As a result of these investigations, we modified our representation of the linear


NATURE (past)


SYNTHETIC ORGANISMS | Sarah Pini and Jestin George



relationship between nature and technology to a circular one. We suggested that instead of existing in isolation from each other, nature should inform our future technologies; technologies should work with nature and biology in order to be sustainable and renewable. In this way, the relationship between them is constantly being modified through infinite reiterations through the circle. Although various exciting fields of research such as synthetic biology are poised to radically improve unsustainable processes, should they strive to be the next ‘highly disruptive technological revolution,’ given the repercussions of previous industrial revolutions (Calvert 2018)? Furthermore, what can we learn from groups who have

actively worked with nature to solve problems? Who are these groups? Is their knowledge valued—both intellectually and financially—in the same way as the academic sciences (in which synthetic biology is based)? These questions lead us to define a FourPillar Model of Scientific Application informed in part by Jestin’s decade-long experience in academic science across institutions based in South Africa, United Kingdom and Australia. Together we defined this model as being founded on four-pillars: the science and research itself, the associated ethics (defined by appointed ethicists and communicated by science communicators and scientific journalists), the consequent legal policies



NATURE (past)


Anthropocene PUBLIC





At first glance, this model felt relatively satisfactory and appeared to cover all the necessary and appropriate aspects. This is partly due to the common assumption that academic science exists in an unbiased, fact-based vacuum founded. While we both practice the scientific method and greatly value its empirical rationale, we see how every perspective is in fact situated and that naturalistic assumptions can have damaging effects (Yong 2018). In understanding this, it is critical that a common set of values in a shared society be at the forefront of such a radical future technology. It is also crucial to understand that these values are not static. Instead, they require a constant refinement and renegotiation via engagement with various public spheres, as well as an understanding that ‘the public’ does not exist as a singular monolithic group of non-scientists (Mathews 2018). Therefore, we revised the Four-Pillar Model of Scientific Application to consider other factors that were unpacked over the course of the Lab. This revised model applies a more systems-based approach, adding critical aspects such as various power structures including colonialism, patriarchy and ethnocentrism, which are frequently absent from a scientific discourse. Sometimes these analytical frames are overlooked because people do not understand how these factors interfere in the process of collecting scientific knowledge. Other times these factors are not considered relevant, such as two-way knowledge sharing, in which both the scientific researchers and members of diverse publics together inform the design of the

SYNTHETIC ORGANISMS | Sarah Pini and Jestin George



NATURE (past)

Ethnocentrism Mass production Capitalism Consumerism Indigenous cultures


Arts (eg. Choreography) Religions Critical thinking Economics Power structures

scientific investigation and associated outcomes (Mathews 2018). In place of the aforementioned Four-Pillar Model, our Complexity Model demonstrates an unlimited number of interconnected nodes that cannot discreetly be untangled from one another. The image used in this model is an actual scientific complex system-wide analysis, conveying genetic data about how bacterial cells coordinate multiple signals from multiple


Knowledge Accessibility Education Values Design

Wellbeing Non-human organisms Materiality Institutions Yet to be defined

sources in a complex environment (FreyreGonzalez and Trevino-Quintanilla 2010). We have based our model on this analysis and suggested that instead of four separate pillars, scientific application is made up of an indiscriminate number of nodes (red dots) that represent an unlimited number of factors. These factors may include those which should affect scientific application, such as ethics, or factors that should not but do affect the application of science, such as exploitative power structures.



Considering biological technologies through the Complexity Model To challenge the concept of the Anthropocene we engaged with choreography to explore the movement of ideas by reconsidering the impact of colonialism, the violence imposed on many bodies and lands, and the pain that the body endures through different illnesses across different epochs and stories. Upon entering the Hack Lab, we were initially asked, “How can we engage with these themes from our situated and embodied experience; and, can we start this consideration from our own place within our own bodies?” Choreographic thinking allows us to engage our thinking through our body, which is permanently in a state of change and is made up of a multiplicity of elements that cannot be neatly pulled apart. Using this approach to knowledge enabled us to navigate the expansive issues and loose framework encompassing the Anthropocene.

what we learn how to see” (1988, 583). Following the research undertaken during the Hack Lab and Haraway’s concept of feminist objectivity we started developing a collaborative series of visual installations addressing the relationship to synthetic biology’s lab practices and the organisms that enable them. Through the creation of a video installation series, our project challenges dominant perspectives on progress and technological advancement. Grounded in a feminist post-humanist approach that recognises a continuity between all living creatures including plants, animals, microorganisms and humans (Haraway 1991), our work invites the audience to reconsider the Anthropocene through different perspectives, such as through the node of dance and embodied knowledge, and to hopefully offer ground for transformation.

We also considered the need to find a form of feminist objectivity that philosopher Donna Haraway states, “is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object” (Haraway 1988, 583). We reflected on the importance of taking this standpoint for our approach to visual works, because it would “allow us to become answerable for

SYNTHETIC ORGANISMS | Sarah Pini and Jestin George


‘ Choreographic thinking

allows us to engage our thinking through our body, which is permanently in a state of change and is made up of a multiplicity of elements that cannot be neatly pulled apart.’



Collaborative research across practice boundaries During the Hack Lab, we worked on exploring synthetic biology’s core principles kinaesthetically. We addressed synthetic biology as a possible solution to the problems entailed by the Anthropocene, considering what synthetic biology is and what it can do through choreographic thinking. We believe that it is necessary to rethink inflammatory terms such as nature and technology and the relationships between them, as well as the way synthetic biology can help with overcoming issues regarding life in the Anthropocene. By moving away from binary thinking–and rethinking the idea of ‘solution’ (from the Latin verb solvere, which means to untie, to release, to undo)–we suggested a reconsideration of

the relationship with our lived environment and its inhabitants, including the ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’ we interact with as part of our practices that shape and are shaped by this discourse. By looking at ways to rethink the apocalypse, and how can we reorient, act, think, move, and feel differently, our creative research brought into dialog dance and synthetic biology, the redesigning of biological systems. By intersecting ideas and principles from synthetic biology and choreography, we interrogated the human era of impact on the earth to contribute to creating an interdisciplinary space for sharing such viewpoints and explore new ways to engage with the anthropogenic epoch.

SYNTHETIC ORGANISMS | Sarah Pini and Jestin George


[1] Biko, S. (1987) I Write What I Like. Pearson Education Limited. [2] Calvert, J. (2018). Synthetic Biology, Biodesign and Society [Video file]. Retrieved from https:// [3] Cózar, Andrés et al. 2014. “Plastic Debris in the Open Ocean.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(28): 10239–44. http://www.ncbi. fcgi?artid=PMC4104848. [4] Freyre-Gonzalez, J. A. & Trevino-Quintanilla, L. G. (2010) Analyzing Regulatory Networks in Bacteria. Nature Education 3(9):24 [5] Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 575–99. [6] Haraway, Donna J. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–81. [7] Jamieson, A. J. et al. 2019. “Microplastics and Synthetic Particles Ingested by Deep-Sea Amphipods in Six of the Deepest Marine Ecosystems on Earth.” Royal Society Open Science 6(2). [8] Mathews, D. 2018. ‘The Role of the Public in Shaping Research’, presented to 7th International Yeast 2.0 and Synthetic Genomes Conference, Sydney, 26-28 November 2018. [9] Molteni, Megan. 2018. ‘Ginkgo Bioworks Is Turning Human Cells Into On-Demand Factories’. Wired, 24 October 2018. ginkgo-bioworks-is-turning-human-cells-into-on-demand-factories/. [10] Neimanis, A. (2017) Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. Bloomsbury Academic. [11] Nelms, S. E. et al. 2019. “Microplastics in Marine Mammals Stranded around the British Coast: Ubiquitous but Transitory?” Scientific Reports 9(1): 1–8. s41598-018-37428-3. [12] Pini. S., and Pini, R. (2019). Resisting the ‘Patient’ Body: A Phenomenological Account. Journal of Embodied Research, 2(1): 2 (20:05). DOI: [13]Polasky, Stephen et al. 2019. “Role of Economics in Analyzing the Environment and Sustainable Development.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(12): 5233–38. http://www. [14] Skloot, R. (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishing Group [15] Vitousek, Peter M et al. 2016. “Human Domination of Earth ’ s Ecosystems IT ,’ IFll.” Science 277(5325): 494–99.



ARTIST BIOS Astrida Neimanis is a feminist writer

Henrietta Baird is from the Kuku Yalanji

and teacher who currently works at the

people in Far North Queensland, and now

Department of Gender and Cultural Studies

resides in Sydney. A graduate of NAISDA

at the University of Sydney on Gadigal land,

Dance College, Henrietta has performed in

in Sydney, Australia. Often thinking and

many notable productions across Australia,

making in collaboration with others, her

as well as being an accomplished playwright

work focuses on water, weather, and other

with her first script “The Weekend�

environmental bodies in the Anthropocene.

premiering at the 2019 Sydney Festival.

Her most recent book is Bodies of Water:

When not performing Henrietta is part of the

Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (2017).

Aboriginal Education team at Barangaroo and the Royal Botanical Gardens where she leads tours and talks about native bush

Bek Conroy is an artist and independent

plants and the history of the Sydney people.

scholar working in interdisciplinary and intercultural contexts, who has been active in developing an artist led practice and

Ivey Wawn is an independent artist

philosophy in Australia, the USA and South

working between Sydney and Melbourne.

East Asia. She has worked with key arts

Her practice emerges from dance into

organisations across Australia: Vitalstatistix,

the choreographic, dealing with systems

Diversity Arts Australia, Performance Space,

to build live performance situations for

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Pact Theatre,

a range of contexts. Her work has been

ArtSpace, Urban Theatre Projects, Watch

shown at Underbelly Arts Festival, Firstdraft

this Space, Lismore Regional Art Gallery,

Gallery and at RMIT Design Hub among

as well as collaborating with many leading

others. She was recipient of the DanceWEB

artists in Sydney and internationally.

Scholarship in 2016, a Responsive Residency



through Critical Path in 2018, and the

for FilmExplorer (Switzerland) and is a

2019 Performance Space Experimental

philosophy lecturer in ethics for Clemente at

Choreography Residency. Ivey is a student


of Political Economy at the University of Sydney and also sells her labour as a waiter between projects.

Sarah Pini is a choreographer, anthropologist and PhD candidate at Macquarie University working in an interdisciplinary manner on embodied cognition in distinct dance

Riki Scanlan is a PhD candidate in the

practices. Her PhD project adopts an

Department of Political Economy. Their

ethnographic approach to the study of the

PhD research currently focuses on the

cognitive ecologies and the dimensions

intersection of debates around urbanisation,

of variation in the enactment of ‘stage

rent, and colonialism. They are fascinated

presence’ across different dance genres and

by theoretical questions of space, time, and

performers. Sarah is currently developing a

capital and buy more books than can be

longitudinal documentary dance film series

reasonably read.

(INFINITO) that explores the relationship to illness and its transformational aspects from a phenomenological and autoethnographic

Jodie McNeilly-Renaudie is an independent


choreographer, researcher and dance dramaturg working across the disciplines of dance and philosophy. Her performance

Jestin George is an artist biotech PhD

work has been presented at Performance

student and. Jestin sees a vital gap between

Space, Carriageworks, Seymour Centre,

the types of exciting technologies being

Riverside, Campbelltown Arts Centre,

developed in life sciences research and

as well as residencies supported by

the creatives who could be designing with

Critical Path, Dirty Feet, and Sydney

them. Jestin is committed to engaging with

Conservatorium of Music. Jodie has lectured

diverse publics about the future of biological

in choreography, theatre and performance

technologies through collaborations with

at Monash, Macquarie and UNSW. She holds

artists. She aims to use non-conventional

a doctorate in Performance Studies (Sydney

platforms to contribute towards

Uni) and is completing a second doctorate in

two-way knowledge sharing to improve

philosophy on the phenomenology of belief

biotechnology research.

at ACU. Currently she writes film reviews



M A K I N G S PA C E : F E E L I N G T H E A N T H R O P O C E N E | A s t r i d a N e i m a n i s

Millions discover their favorite reads on issuu every month.

Give your content the digital home it deserves. Get it to any device in seconds.