Microbial Aesthetics Symposium


Since the new millennium, myriad reports in both popular and scientific press have described the vast networks of previously unidentified bacterial life inhabiting the deepest regions of earth as well as our own bodies. Many of these microbes have been identified only through their DNA sequences - the microbiome - and therefore retain mystery. Microbiota in ocean depths, volcanic fissures and arctic climates evidence unique metabolisms and complex inter-relationships that challenge our definitions and categorizations of life. The human body hosts such an immense quantity and diversity of microbial life to challenge our sense of what it means to be human, since human cells in our bodies are vastly outnumbered by these microbes that facilitate most of our metabolism, immune response, and other bodily functions. Human beings can now be considered symbiotic organisms or networks of distinct ecosystems, and provoke us to re-define this form of subjectivity. Anthropocene research, which explores the relationship between human activities and the geology of our planet, has noted the impacts of agriculturally selected bacteria on natural ecosystems and the blurring of boundaries between natural and man-made organisms. These dramatic observations force us to re-think our relationship with microbes and to perhaps move away from a way of thinking in which “bacteria are bad”. In fact, they are essential and integrated into every aspect of our lives, often without our awareness.



Practitioners across the arts, humanities and sciences have used varied methodologies to make sense of the profound challenges to our understandings of self and “life itself” afforded by microbiome research. The aim of this two day symposium is to propose and discuss methods and aesthetics of engagement with microbial life from multidisciplinary perspectives in order to afford new vantages for inquiry. The lectures, presentations and workshops engage this aim by:

• describing complex symbiotic interactions across organismal and material categories

• rethinking ontologies and hierarchies of life and living processes

• questioning foundations of bioethics such as anthropocentricism

• examining limits of rule, law, morality and ethics of engagement with microscopic life

• exploring alternate methods of representing and relating with microbes

• re-engaging the modern opposition between ethics and aesthetics in this context


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Coalesce Center for Biological Art, Hochstetter 359, University at Buffalo, North Campus.

1:00-3:00PM: Aeolian Microbe workshop. Joel Ong, Coalesce Artist in residence, Assistant Professor, York University, Toronto.

3:30-6:00PM: Winogradsky Column workshop. Nicole Clouston, Coalesce Artist in residence, Artist, Toronto.

Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave, Buffalo.

7:00-7:30PM: Symposium welcome meet and greet.

7:30-9:00PM: Screening and artist talk by Cosima Herter, Film Producer, Scientific advisor Orphan Black television series.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Coalesce Center for Biological Art, Hochstetter 308, University at Buffalo, North Campus.

12:00-12:50PM: Tour and open laboratory demonstrations. Dr. Solon Morse, Coalesce Lab Manager; Leonardo Aranda, PhD Candidate, Media Study.

Student Union, Room 330, University at Buffalo, North Campus.

1:00-1:30PM:  Welcome Lunch

1:30-2:00PM: Introduction. Paul Vanouse, Professor of Art, Director of Coalesce Center for Biological Art; Dr. Jennifer Surtees, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Co-Director Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment, Microbiome; Dr. James Bono, Associate Professor of History; Dr. Gerald Koudelka, Professor of Biological Science, Associate Dean for Research & Sponsored Programs.

2:00-3:00PM:  Symbiotic interactions, methods of engagement. Dr. Lauren Soussubre, Assistant Professor of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, UB; Nicole Clouston, Artist, Toronto; Joel Ong, Assistant Professor, York University, Toronto; Gunes-Hélène Isitan, Artist, Montreal.

3:15-4:15PM:  Non-humans, Ethics, Law, Ontology. Dr. Adam Zaretsky, Artist, Lecturer, Marist College; Dr. Irus Braverman, Professor of Law & Adjunct Professor of Geography, UB; Dr. Randy Schiff, Associate Professor of English, UB.

4:30-5:30PM:  Post-anthropocentric aesthetics and practices. Dr. Monika Bakke, Plenary lecture, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.

5:30-6:00PM: Closing remarks.

This symposium was sponsored by Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) Community of Excellence at the University at Buffalo

For more information contact: Paul Vanouse, Director of Coalesce Center for Biological Art, Professor of Art, University at Buffalo.  vanouse@buffalo.edu

Coalesce Center for Biological Art

308 Hochstetter Hall | UB North Campus | 716-645-9121