Responding to Taney's request for images (Paul Myoda)


Fire Cloud Study, 2020
Charcoal on paper
16" x 20"

In response to Taney's request for images (Werner Sun)


Double Vision 3D, triptych, 2019
Archival inkjet prints and acrylic on board
16” x 51” x 2.5” (overall)

We Have Been Here Before (Stephanie Grilli)

 We have been here before. Our questions and concerns have been fertile ground for artists, writers, and thinkers since the eighteenth-century. I suppose one could situate the jumping-off point to be in the post-Lockean world in which the idea that we come to know the world through our senses is established, and along with that a dynamic model of selfhood arises. These coincide with the time in which Art becomes a value in itself, and maybe there is even a connection: Artworks as artworks are a sensory display whether a Chardin still life or a Kandinsky abstraction. Aesthetic coherence and creative subjecthood go hand in hand. [David’s observation of how we need the other to experience ourselves as a unity goes with artworks as well.]

Perhaps there’s an overwhelming aspect to both knowing the world through our senses and the self-as-a-work-of-art that resulted in mechanisms to channel and simplify, and these have become culturally dominant. Think of the old Devo lyric regarding “freedom from choice.” For at least three centuries, artists have been a contravening force to an increasingly one-dimensional society. Influenced by German Idealism, Samuel Taylor Coleridge called for expression that allowed for an ever-expanding consciousness and the dynamic forces out of which the world was constantly becoming. But the Victorian world that emerged that was to become our world was one in which sensationalism stood in place of unfolding revelation and the culture of visibility rested upon appearances, identity, and things.  In the middle of the nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle despaired of “the show and sham of things,” and it seems to be ever so. 

In the context of Art as a value in itself, artworks are image and object as a simultaneity. Perhaps these correspond to the dreaded mind/body dualism, but Art allows for mediating elements in which the two aspects comingle, which is form and process. Image is obviously related to imagination. Object is the subject of consciousness as well as manipulation of materials. In both, the visual artist is bringing something into existence and giving shape. As Western culture has evolved dysfunctionally, the craving for imagery and objects has resulted in a proliferation of both, with an oversaturation of images detached from context and from the physical and objects reduced to reified fetishes within a materialist system.  How strange that there now exists within the artworld itself a kind of iconoclasm that wants to suppress imagination and mastery (excuse the expression) of materials.

We haven’t really touched on the social, economic, and political forces that would make it so, but I have hinted here as to the psychology need that would make an aestheticizing sensibility untenable in ordinary lives. There is an animal need to make quick assessments and seek simple readings of information. That is why it is all the more essential that we go forward by looking backward. To that end, I suggest that we consider the aesthetic act — whether art-making, art criticism, or art history — one of interpenetration rather than interpretation. Here is where I’d like Mr. Wordsworth to body forth: 

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Concluding remarks and acknowledgements (Taney Roniger)

While I couldn’t hope to summarize all the rich material that’s been explored here over the last ten days, what I can say is that on the subject of form and posthumanism there remains so much lush, beckoning, untrodden terrain. My hope is that the dialogue we began here will inspire further thinking, feeling, speaking, writing, and -- not least -- aesthetic forming on the subject, and that any seeds we’ve planted will grow in directions none of us can foresee. 

 Among the many feelings I leave this conference with is a certain reinvigorating optimism. My sense is that there’s a real longing out there -- a longing to recover our sensual immersion in the world, that carnal belonging we traded in for a misguided and moribund mastery. I see this longing in people’s frustration with online life, but more specifically I see it among artists. What I see, hear, feel from us collectively is a deep yearning for all the things that have been banished from art: sensual form, beauty, the sacred, (dare I say it?) love.  And as David Abram has pointed out, this reclamation of our creaturely belonging cannot but bring with it an attitude of humility  (and is there anything we need more right now than a colossal dose of exactly this?). What if art could serve as an agent of humility by fiercely re-embracing all those exiled qualities? The reinstitution of sensual form, beauty, the sacred, eros: this is exactly what I see in a new posthumanist art, and with this a nudging of the human back into the complex web of relations. 

I have many people to thank for the success of this symposium, foremost among them all the panelists, to whom I give a deep bow of gratitude. Thank you all for your passionate engagement, your enormous generosity, and not least your exquisite eloquence in sharing your ideas. I’m truly humbled by you all. I want to give a special thanks to Deborah for her steady infusion of support throughout this project and to Charlene for her astute feedback on my drafts of the session questions. I also want to thank our readers for offering such meaty and provocative comments. And finally, I want to thank my husband, Colin Selleck, for having the patience of Job while I spent so many of our weekends glued to the computer. I pray he’ll still recognize me when I emerge from the cave.

In response to Taney's request for images (Jon Sakata)

    from ex(i/ha)le (2020)

Scout Dunbar (Arthur Whitman)

 I am posting a link, as I don't have the artist's explicit permission. Scout Dunbar's work, which I've written about on a number of occasions, has a tremendous vitality of form and material. It also points to the continuing currency of abstraction in whatever we would like to call our post-post- era.

In response to Taney's request for images (Christine Corday)


2000F 9090p.

Response to David’s talk (from Charlene Spretnak)

First of all, thank you, Taney, for inviting the visuals today! Greatly appreciated.


During David’s talk – always such a catalyst to seeing more! -- and our discussion afterward, one of the things that came to mind was an observation by the late great cultural historian Theodore Roszak, commenting on an essential premise in Freud’s thinking (the foundation of modern psychology, till the relational turn lately), which, oddly, Freud mentioned only in passing. These two paragraphs from Ted’s seminal/ovular essay “Where Psyche Meets Gaia” in the anthology Ecopsychology (1995), which founded a subfield, are cited on p. 77 in my The Resurgence of the Real. Note: Ted used italics at the beginning of the second paragraph, but they get dropped out in posting here. I’m going to type all this out as a labor of love, Thinglies; I have greatly enjoyed and learned from you all during Taney’s symposium. Bonus: you’ll get to enjoy Ted’s elegant prose style. Here ‘tis:


            The preecological science of Freud’s day that became embedded in modern psychological thought preferred hard edges, clear boundaries, and atomistic particularities. It was predicated on the astonishing assumption that the structure of the universe had simply fallen into place by accident in the course of eternity. Accordingly, the psychology of the early twentieth century based its image of sanity on that model. The normally functioning ego was an isolated atom of self-regarding consciousness that had no relational continuity with the physical world around it. As late as 1930, well after the Newtonian worldview had been significantly modified and the very concept of atomic matter had been radically revised, Freud, still a respected figure, could write in one of his most influential theoretical pieces: “Normally, there is nothing of which we are more certain than the feeling of our self, of our own ego. This ego appears as something autonomous and unitary, marked off distinctly from everything else. . . . One comes to learn a procedure by which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal – what belongs to the ego – and what is external – what emanates from the outer world. In this way one takes the first step towards the introduction of the reality principle which is to dominate future development.” [from Civilization and Its Discontents, Norton, 1961, p. 14]


            One comes to learn a procedure. . . .” These are among the most fateful words that Freud ever wrote. Whatever else has changed in mainstream psychological thought, the role Freud assigned to psychotherapy, that of patrolling the “boundary lines between the ego and the external world,” remained unquestioned in the psychiatric mainstream until the last generation. Moreover, his conviction that the “external world” begins at the surface of the skin continues to pass as common sense in every major school of modern psychology. The “procedure” we teach children for seeing the world this way is the permissible repression of cosmic empathy, a psychic numbing we have labeled “normal.” Even schools of psychotherapy as divergent as humanistic psychology could only think of “self-actualization” as a breakthrough to nothing more than heightened personal awareness. As for the existential therapists, they were prepared to make alienation from the universe the very core of our authentic being.


                                                            *     *     *


CS:  It seems to me that the posthumanist turn we’ve been exploring in this symposium necessarily requires that we critically revisit – in our own childhood and in modern socialization in general – that repressive “coming to learn a procedure” by which “we differentiate” our inner reality from the world out there. Our healing, corrective, and compassionate reexamination of that dominate frame of reference opens into a grand liberatory effort, a coming home to the world, from which countless possibilities arise in the arts and all areas.







In response to Taney's invitation to post images (Deborah Barlow)



Invitation to post images (Taney Roniger)

There's been so much talk over the last ten days about visual form, and while this has been wonderful, it occurs to me that we've seen so few images. I'd like to invite our panelists to post any images they'd like to share on our final day -- their own or those of other artists.  Let's close this out with a feast for the senses!

Here's my offering (an installation shot from my recent show Never the Same River):

(click on image to enlarge)

Link to David Abram talk (Taney Roniger)

For our final guest speaker event today we were honored to be joined by cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram. David spoke for an hour and then engaged our panel in a lively discussion for well over another hour.  We all agreed it was the perfect way to cap our penultimate day of dialogue, so I encourage everyone who's been following to watch the video. Questions and comments for David can be posted under this thread. Enjoy!

Link: David Abram talk

More on Decentering (Werner Sun)

As an artist, I've been absorbing all the thrilling ideas in this symposium and wondering: what does posthumanism look like in practice, and how would we recognize it if we saw it? I think even the skeptics among us agree that we humans have overvalued our own positive qualities and dismissed those of other creatures. But what is the antidote to that kind of self-centered thinking? I suggest that it is not by replacing one dogma with another; it is by working against dogma itself.

For this reason, I am intrigued by Stephanie's previous post re-establishing the self as a focal point and drawing a distinction between self and identity (labels). Recovering sensuality in art is probably best done through the unlabeled self because sensory experience is unavoidably subjective. Perhaps the first step in decentering the human is, paradoxically, to embrace the continuous creative fashioning of self as a reminder that human-ness is not a static concept.

In fashioning ourselves, we should examine our assumptions, and one assumption I'd like to address here is the injunction against reductionism. I do not dispute that reductive thinking is problematic. But I would also claim that it cannot be avoided. Strictly speaking, every fact that we gather and every insight we derive is the result of a reductive act. So, how then do we temper its dehumanizing effects?

Here is one speculative answer inspired by mathematics. In math, as in real life, every line of reasoning takes place within a closed system defined by a set of assumptions. These assumptions tame the complexity of the world by carving it up into bite-sized pieces. Change your assumptions, and your reasoning will follow. For example, all of Euclid's theorems can be derived from five postulates defining a planar geometry. One of these theorems says that the angles of a triangle always sum to exactly 180 degrees. However, if we switch to a spherical geometry, the rules are different, and now the angles of a triangle can sum to more than 180 degrees. These two statements contradict each other, but they are both true, each in their own systems.

Then the question arises: which system should I use here on Earth? The Earth is a sphere (more or less), but for most practical applications (like building a house), I can approximate that sphere as a flat plane. So, for convenience, I will use Euclidean geometry for my calculations. But in the back of my mind, I am always aware that these calculations are ever so slightly wrong because of the imperceptible curvature of the Earth. In other words, it's possible to think in two different systems at the same time, even though we can only operate in one.

And so it is with all types of thinking, not just mathematical. I can think like an artist today, and like a scientist tomorrow. I can see myself as a member of society and also as an autonomous individual. We humans are at one with the universe, and we are a differentiated part of it. As Walt Whitman says, "I contain multitudes."

Note that I am not espousing a postmodernist relativism that rejects all truth. Rather, I am saying that every truth rests on a framework, but the choice of framework is ours to make, in an existentialist manner, constantly and fluidly, from one moment to the next. In other words, maybe one way to decenter the human is not to deny the existence of the human or the existence of the center (because we need it as a reference point), but to unmoor that center from any fixed location.

So, perhaps a posthumanist artist does not work with specific forms or ideas, but starts simply with the assumption of a multivalent self and cultivates a deliberate practice of ever-shifting and-ness. Then, whatever material forms emerge naturally from this practice can be evaluated on their own terms.

Final Guest Speaker Event and Introduction to Session V (Taney Roniger)

As we enter our fifth and final session today, I’m pleased to announce our last guest speaker event. Today at 4:00 pm EST, cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram will be joining us to discuss some of the key issues that have come up over the last week in our dialogue as well as some ideas he’s been thinking about in his own work. While attendance will be limited to symposium panelists only, a link to the talk will be made available here shortly after the event’s conclusion. Any reader comments or questions for David can be posted under that link; I’m sure there will be much to discuss after our conversation!

For panelists: David Abram talk: Saturday, December 12th, 4 - 6pm EST

For Readers: Please check back this evening for a link to the talk


Session V
Art Beyond Art: Reimagining Aesthetic Form as a Cultural Force 
Saturday, December 12 – Sunday, December 13 

In the face of the radical changes that the next few decades are sure to bring – not least among them the fallout from whatever we do, or do not do, about climate change – art made by and for an elite insider group is becoming increasingly untenable. In this final session we will consider ways in which aesthetic form might operate in the larger culture to sow the kinds of values we have been discussing in this symposium. 

 5.1     Does the emerging shift away from human exceptionalism open up new possibilities for art’s role in culture? In what ways can we imagine art facilitating – or indeed challenging – the larger cultural shifts underway? 

 5.2     In what ways might a posthumanist art change the way art is taught, discussed, and written about? Can we imagine a way of teaching, speaking, and writing about art that deprioritizes the intentions or biographical narrative of the individual maker? 

 5.3     Can a new understanding of aesthetic form facilitate what Rebekah Sheldon has called choradic reading, a new trend in scholarship that incorporates embodied interactions into the transmission of ideas? 

 5.4     Nora Bateson has speculated that the future will be founded “in the logic of affect,” meaning that the how of how knowledge is conveyed – the tone of an article, the shape of the language – will become valued as a kind of knowledge in itself. Can we imagine ways in which visual art might participate in this burgeoning awareness of the power of form? 

 5.5     The environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht has proposed the word symbiocene for the geological era we are entering as we part ways with the anthropocene. In keeping with the word’s prefix, in what ways might visual form help encourage a sense of interpersonal, interspecies, and intercultural cohesion? 

 5.6     How has the pandemic changed how we think about and experience art, and do we anticipate that some of these changes will be permanent?

On Technology and Contemporary Art (Arthur Whitman)

Taking off from Jon's post in response to 4.4: some disorderly thoughts of my own on the role of technology in contemporary life and contemporary art.

I'm not familiar with McLuhan's account of "amputation" but I'd be more inclined to say that new technologies create attenuations or displacements as well as amplification of ability (and desire) rather than the kind of absolute loss that his metaphor seems to imply. We can, at least in many cases, still recover something of the older ways of doing things. "Old media" tend to stay with us, though they may seem to some to lose their "relevance."

I think that while the use of tools and artifacts is common to many animal species, homo sapiens has taken this to an extreme. This has both advantages and disadvantages; these are hopelessly entwined and we have to face both. Short of a global apocalypse (though that is certainly imaginable), we are caught up in technology and technological society. As Jon suggests, humor and absurdism are a big help.

I just came across an old essay, "On Transcribing and Superliteracy," by the Darwinian aesthetician Ellen Dissanayake, in which she offers a humorous reflection on her "day job" as a transcriptionist as a means of reflecting on the differences between oral and literate cultures and the ways hyperliteracy has distorted contemporary literary and language theory. Some of her language from the article also appears in her wonderful 1992 book Homo Aestheticus, which offers a "species-centric" view of art as a unique human adaption. I'm on the fence about the art as uniquely human (it depends, as I said earlier, on how one defines art--a tricky question for certain). I'd have to revisit her ideas at greater length but I think they are worth taking seriously in the light of questions being raised in this discussion. (As an evolutionary thinker, she is, of course, well-informed about the deep continuity between humans and other animals. But perhaps she is still too much a "humanist.")

Writing, painting, traditional musical instruments--these are all technologies too, with their associated gains and losses (though mostly gains, or so one would like to think). Concerning computers (briefly discussed by Dissanayake as writing tools, interestingly enough, from the perspective of 1990), I think they are a perfectly legitimate means for making art. Hopefully it's not a mere prejudice, based on my background as a painting student, nor sheer backwardness, to suggest that more traditional artistic media have a special role today in offering a counterweight to the effusions of our digital culture. If memory serves (I don't have the book on me), philosopher Paul Crowther concludes his chapter on digital art in his The Phenomenology of the Visual Arts by affirming the primal necessity of painting and other established artforms. These connect (and reconnect us) to our bodies and our senses in ways that images on a screen--even virtual reality immersion--cannot. 

Response to 4.4. Concerning technology and decentering the human (Jon Sakata)

Threading the earlier posts concerning 4E, particularly 'extension,' and Taney's prompt concerning technology and decentering of the human, I'm recalling McLuhan's critical nugget/warning about how each new form of technology (whether a tool or other technological enhancement) brings with it some level, or kind, of compensatory "auto-amputation" (or self-amputation) -- a loss of capacity, ability, faculty, functionality, etc. As my index finger pokes and beaks and swipes the touchscreen to write this post, think of the crude impoverishment of tactility that I'm exercising...[quick, back to the piano!]

With humor and alarm, J. G. Ballard's 'personal computers' entry in his Project for a Glossary of the Twentieth Century also comes to mind: "Perhaps unwisely, the brain is subcontracting many of its core functions, creating a series of branch economies that may one day amalgamate and mount a management buy-out."

In the context of what we've been exploring in this Symposium, McLuhan's "auto-amputation" and Ballard's "subcontracting of functions" raise for me a dark curiosity: if the human species is incessantly committing such amputations and subcontracting (unknowingly, of course) at who knows what rate, then I'm wondering out loud if "decentering the human" may be coming down the pipeline in a way that is less willed action and transformative shift; and more on the lines of blind self-extinguishing and sensorial sewering? Clearly, a very different form of post-humanism.

I'm just beginning to think about this as I write and have no (clear) sense about this; but hopefully others here have been and can share their perspectives on this as I end this improv of a post...

On the question of human uniqueness: link to an essay by David Abram (Taney Roniger)

In light of the question that's come up several times in our dialogue about the uniqueness of our species, I thought I'd share a brief essay by fellow panelist David Abram that addresses this issue. When I first came across this essay several months ago I found the argument he makes beautifully compelling. Reading it again now, I am no less convinced. I hope you will have a look:

David will be giving a live Zoom talk for us tomorrow (Saturday the 12th) at 4:00pm EST. Although he will be speaking about other matters, I'm sure he would be happy to engage any questions about the essay.

Changing the Subject (Stephanie Grilli)

 As a university professor, I taught a seminar “The Self as a Work of Art.” Modernist art is usually viewed in light of the search for self-expression, and the premise of the course turned that on its head. The self itself is a modernist concept that came to be around the late 17th century and the models of selfhood that subsequently developed partake of the visual aesthetic at that given time. So it started with John Locke and his tabula rasa alongside William Hogarth’s series “The Rake’s Progress.” The notion of self relies on the creative principle: we shape ourselves in a continual becoming, and the ideas and influences on that process of shaping have changed. Our selves are not fixed perceiving entities like a fixed star in a swirling cosmos, and they are not distinct from our acting upon any other phenomena. “Subject” is another “object.” 

My interest in teaching this course was trying to encourage students to become more creative in becoming themselves. Sometimes I ended the course by showing Woody Allen’s film Zelig about a character who was the “human chameleon.” It seemed to me that the vast possibility of selfhood had become an operation of “fashioning after.” The last time I taught the course was before the selfie in which tropes reign supreme. This is not to say that critics did not despair of “hollow men,” “one-dimensional man” or “waxworks” in times gone by. It’s more a matter of the social and cultural factors that diminish the creative principle of selfhood seem to be winning, but perhaps it also aligns with the diminution of the model of self in art-making.

That assertion may seem ridiculous on its face in that the art world seems to be all about identity issues. But I would argue that identity is about something quite different from self precisely because it removes us from the aesthetic. I don’t shape myself. I find my identity, and I find it among the various pre-packaged models available today. Whereas artists in the past may have been the bulwark against an increasingly mechanistic world, many artists and critics would have us abandon the imagination in favor of narrowly defined human taxonomies. Generation creativity implies differentiation, but we have become political/economic entities gathered in a limited number of groupings. It is not the subjective that is to blame for encasing us in our humanness. I suggest that it is subjectivity that can be the vehicle (how’s that word choice?) that can extend our sense of being in the world to ever-widening awareness.

It struck me during Christine Corday’s talk that no matter how much she deferred to a system how much of her self was still present. Even though she abandoned painting as evidence of the artist’s hand, she made any number of choices, and it was those choices that prickled and delighted us. The way out of a solipsistic, narcissistic subjecthood is encountering and entertaining the integrity (in its double meaning) of others in their multiplicity (rocks, trees, birds, bacteria…). 

I agree with Arthur and Deborah. There is a distinction between the art that may be getting shows and galleries and artists getting grants and residencies and the art that many artists are making. In running a conversation series for the art community in Denver, I know there is frustration among artists about what decides whether an artist is “relevant’ (there’s another symposium in that word). Years before, I curated a show of contemporary Taos artists, and it was interesting to see such strong, individual work by artists who had chosen to live in an isolated community away from NYC or LA with its own center of gravity and its constant reminder of ongoing human history (Taos Pueblo) in a cosmically resonant setting. 

Two years ago, I curated a one-person show in Denver of the paintings of Margaret Pettee Olsen, who happened to begin her creative life as a dancer. Her gestures recall the vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism, but she works with refraction, dissimilar actions and strategies, as well color bars and floaters that partake of  boundlessness, and sensation. With reconfiguring planes and light-reflective media, the paintings resist any coherent reading and are insistently perceptually interactive — to use Taney’s phrase, decentering the human.

A Reflection: Air to Flesh to Biomes to Bones (Jon Sakata)

In our last performance in Denmark, my wife and I had the opportunity to program music by the Danish modernist, Gunnar Berg (1909-1989). What attracted us to his work was how he viscerally enmeshes music with crystallography and bacteriology (inspired particularly by the work of the 19th century scientist Georg Theodor August Gaffky). His vitalist, atonal music is populated with ‘microstructures’ (microscopic sound entities) that seem to eschew any ‘logic’ of organic growth models that previous composers had explored and developed over the past millennium; rather, the microstructures at times spurt forth and spread, and even detonate to unleash, hosts of further startlingly novel, un-anticipatable structures/entities (whose gradient of temporalities, scales of extensivity/complexity/intensive magnitude, and relational dynamism vary radically). 

What is it like to live with, perform, share Berg’s microbial/mineral music via our favored technological tool (and spiritual prosthetic)—the piano? We like to say that it is music that vehicles air through flesh to intimately vitalize and converse ‘with-/in’ biomes and bones...

[...whose biomes and bones we leave unspecified...]

Part of Gunnar Berg’s compositional practice-process-imagination was to draw diagrammatic and pseudo-axonometric ‘figures.’ While less heterogeneous, multi-scalar, ‘difference’ generating, and symmetry-breaking than his music—here are a few (with gratitude to Jens Rossel of the Gunnar Berg Working Group for providing these images):


While I regret having missed Charles’ talk live, it was kewl to see the long dive into the Mandelbrot set and to hear Charles’ deep psychedelic experience with the iterative spell that Benoit’s generative mathematics prospered.

I had the pleasure to sit around the dining table with Benoit a couple times when he and his wife had moved to Cambridge. He clearly was affected by the years of how mathematician peers, the mathematics field, shall we say, came to look beyond him and his work. It was sad. I mentioned to him a recent article I had read detailing the then research and testing going on in France implementing Sierpinski pyramids into sound barrier walls lining highways; how the researches were indebted to his work both for its acoustical application ‘trapping’ sound waves in the labyrinthine scales of self-similarity AND its aesthetic beauty. Fellow diners chimed in about how his work had been applied in a spectrum of other fields and forms outside of his own. He knew of some of these applications (and was directly involved with a few); but certainly, not all of them. And with the latter, it was beautiful to see his curiosity but also critical problematizing animated with such glee and keen inspection to consider the potentials and challenges each application might pose. 

The conversation turned toward the music of Bela Bartok. We discussed Bartok’s self-proclaimed ‘trinity’ of Nature-Science-Music and his fascination with pinecones, sunflowers (his favorite flower), and other bio-forms as well as application of Fibonacci’s ‘iterative-growth’ sequence. The host of these dinners had just finished a spectral analysis of a solo violin work by Bartok revealing how fractality is found from sub-melodic, to phrase, to overall design of the movement. With this, Benoit just sat back, grinned widely, his eyes became globes...

4.7 Is there a role for other species in posthumanist art? (Sarah Robinson)

Perhaps it is a feature of our Western perspectival mentality to want to boil things down to their "true essence" or to delve into the "core" get to the Truth or to be ever on the hunt for the Center. This habit is manifest in the reductive tendencies that keep repeating themselves by substituting different names: "it all comes down to genes," or the nucleus, or the brain, or bacteria and then focusing on that spotlighted aspect of life to find the key to the rest. These habits are so deep-seated that they remain unquestioned. The ubiquitous term "seeing through the lens" of something to understand another thing in its terms, is symptomatic of a mentality that must narrow the world to the circumference of a lens. This kind of mentality cannot deal with, much less understand relationships and interdependencies. Opening to other kinds of life expands the imagination and possibility. Perhaps the center is everywhere, truth is everywhere, intelligence is everywhere in different forms, voices and languages, and immersing our own consciousness in the rhythms of other kinds of consciousness is one way for us to move beyond our narrow perceptual habits.

Paul Valéry wrote, “To the spiritual eyes, the plant presents itself not just as an object of humble passive life, but a strange will to join in a universal weaving.” This strange will to weaving seems like a good way to think beyond the container/contained model. Life does seem to weave. In this spirit, the artist Diana Scherer makes living textiles from plant roots, the architect Niklas Weisel creates vertical textiles that grow food from ugly skyscrapers, the artist/architect Tomás Saraceno collaborates with spiders, who spin three-dimensional webs that cosmologists study for insight into the cosmic web in which our galaxy is held. This strange will to weaving does not concern itself with categories but with connections.

Suggestions for Art Today (Arthur Whitman)

 As readers of my previous post posts will know, I cannot claim to speak on behalf on poshumanism, nor tell what it might dictate for art. That said, I do have great sympathy for the claim, expressed by Taney in her various writings and in her questions for this symposium, that contemporary art must recover the sensual, the expressive, the embodied. While I take it that that is a common goal among the panelists here, I have some perhaps divergent ideas about how best to enable that that reflect my philsophical differences, expressed previously, as well as other personal experience and attitudes.

I am a newspaper art critic, of nearly fifteen years experience, working mostly in the "college town" of Ithaca, NY (hello to Werner Sun, my neighbor, if you're out there!). While academic thought runs deep in my family background and in my ongoing reading, my primary loyalties are to artists working outside of, or in some cases marginal to, academia. Art is not an academic discipline! Without engaging in broad brush condemnations of academic contributions to current thinking on the arts, I propose that most academic commentators on contemporary art are handicapped in understanding and accepting the broad range of what is, in fact, going on. The temptation to interpret and judge the importance of artists and artistic tendencies on the basis of specialized commitments and esoteric (to be unkind) theories is too strong.

Let me recommend that the best way to recover the sensuous immediacy of art is not to dictate, not in the name of supposedly radical and liberatory intellectual theory, what artists ought to be doing. I think rather, we writers and commentators ought to let practicing artists take the lead. And I while do I identify with modernism in the visual arts, I think the old military metaphor of the avant garde is dead, buried. Radical formal or stylistic innovation, while a generative goal back in the day, is no longer the wide open horizon that it used to be. I think most contemporary radicalism in the visual arts is false and that the posture of perennial oppositionality impedes what is genuinely valuable about art-making. So I think we ought to be open, at least in principle, to the whole gamut, rather than trying to stipulate or predict.

A curiosity of English grammar (Taney Roniger)

At the end of our conversation with Charles Eisenstein yesterday, there was an interesting exchange -- initiated by Wendy and picked up by Jane and Stephanie -- about the inadequacy of conventional English to express the relational and processual nature of agency. I want to bring it up again here because it’s so relevant to the current session. 

I’m paraphrasing here, but at issue is the construction X does Y to Z (active subject - active verb - passive object), wherein something is always doing something to something else. This is a problem because it doesn’t allow for the more nuanced fact that subject and object are both active and passive; each acts upon and is influenced by the other, however subtly. Jane brought up the “middle voice” as a compelling solution. As she says in her most recent book, Influx and Efflux, “[The  middle voice] designates performances undertaken within a field of activities, rather than decisions of subjects who enter a field either to do something (active voice) or to be acted upon (passive voice).” 

Perhaps Wendy, Jane, and Stephanie would like to pursue this further here (and of course I’d also welcome input from other panelists and readers!).

Response to 3.1: Is there a Spiritual Dimension to Form? (Daniel Hill)

     I do think there can be, absolutely, a spiritual dimension to the language of form. Two corresponding experiences during the April pandemic lockdown here in New York City amplified this topic in my mind. 

    First, I chose to re-visit Kandinsky’s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” (1914) while tucked into my quarantine cocoon (coincidentally I was reminded of the book by Taney). This had been a book of profound influence on me as an undergraduate student and played a significant role in me declaring my concentration of study in the fine arts. That 20-year-old version of me was allured by words such as “spiritual” but after years of reading as much as I could on the topic, I realized the word conjures such a wide variety of definitions that its use has become quite limited. It is useful to get a general idea, but with a realm so necessarily nuanced, I hoped another word would come about. It hasn’t. 

    Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And as I re-read Kandinsky, if I updated terms to satisfy that definition, the text came alive and indeed still seems vital one hundred and nine years after being written. I had parted with the notion of “spiritual”, taking the concepts and methods of science in its stead.  Yet science with all its crowning achievements still leaves us in a world with plenty of room for improvement.  We need science to solve problems like the coronavirus.  We need art to find meaning. (By that, I mean the type I referred to in an earlier post.)  Without the moral compass provided by the arts, the future tools of science create a scenario akin to toddlers playing with blowtorches.


    Kandinsky uses the metaphor of an inner world and I find this more apt. Practicing the examined life is a very personal realm where we quietly acknowledge we all have room for improvement. One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of how callous and mean humans can be to each other when inebriated with power, greed, tribalism, and ego. Therefore, we can see that growth within this inner world is an absolute necessity if we as a species hope to navigate the stormy seas of our collective adolescence. The language of abstraction serves as functional vehicle of this inner world. Visual abstraction has the capacity of carrying no temporal, societal baggage and thus possesses the capability of being pure metaphor for those jewels of human experience that are ineffable.  Visual abstraction then becomes a mirror for the viewers mind, recording and revealing a symbolic version of our inner world. It can then be examined as a complex web of tendencies, good habits, bad habits, emotions, intellect, etc.


    Second was my experiment of making a chalkboard drawing a day during quarantine here in NYC. This proved to be of crucial importance for me during such a stressful and anxious time. For me, the drawings are inner work made visible. The process of their making, and the reflection aided by them, were an anchor for me as my family and I recovered from the virus. Below are the exhibition notes for a video montage of these drawings recently on display and also a link to the montage.


    “As the coronavirus tsunami poured through New York City in Spring 2020 and we all hunkered down in the caves of our apartments, it became apparent that short of contracting the virus, successfully coping with the fear and anxiety produced by this extraordinary moment was absolutely essential. We were told to wash our hands, eat well and exercise- but no one mentioned our minds- that most important of elements. As an educator, I tell my students that a practice of seeing and making can benefit them in surprising ways. If such practices are not of indisputable value at a moment such as this, then their place in a future society is truly in peril. No longer able to go my studio and make paintings, I salvaged my kid’s old “Melissa and Doug” chalkboard slated for the garbage in order to make room for our new cramped quarantined existence. In a spark of intuition, I decided upon a daily ritual: I would make a chalkboard drawing a day while in quarantine and post that drawing on social media everyday whether I liked the drawing or not. During one of the most difficult three week periods in memory as my family and I dealt with coronavirus-like symptoms (we later all tested positive for antibodies), this chalkboard ritual emerged as a fundamentally grounding practice which instilled doses of discipline, reflection, and meditation so necessary during this very stressful time.”




Chalkboard Drawings Daniel Hill April 2020

Introduction to Session IV: Posthumanism Made Flesh (Taney Roniger)

Entering the seventh day of our dialogue, it’s become clear to me just how much more there is to be explored on our subject. While there are still four days to go, I’m already entertaining the idea of expanding our conversation in book form. In the meantime, however, I want to thank those readers who’ve offered their comments and to encourage more of the same on any of the material we’ve covered. As always, panelists too are welcome to continue threads from past sessions in addition to considering any new ones that might emerge over the next two days. The introduction to Session IV and its questions are below.

Session IV: Posthumanism Made Flesh: Forging a New Century with a Reoriented Aesthetics

Thursday, December 10 - Friday, December 11

Having laid the groundwork for a new posthumanist aesthetics, in this session we will consider what kinds of embodied forms such an aesthetics might give rise to and how they might be experienced by human (and perhaps nonhuman) bodies. 

4.1    Are there certain kinds of aesthetic form that seem especially consonant with posthumanist values, and if so how might our human artifacts better embody them?

4.2    Are there certain materials that seem especially consonant with these values, and if so how can our human-made forms make better use of them?

4.3    The environmentalist Robin Wall Kimmerer has called for a "grammar of animacy" -- a new approach to language that will more accurately reflect the vitality of the natural world. Can something analogous be developed in the visual sphere?

4.4    Given that so much of our contemporary technology is the product of a distinctly humanist agenda, is there a role for technology in an aesthetics oriented toward the decentering of the human?

4.5    If visual perception is no longer reducible to vision alone, and if conceptual thought is no longer separable from the sensorium that gives rise to it, might this mean the erosion of the conventional distinctions between the various artistic disciplines? What might it mean for the tacit hierarchy that places the crafts and decoration beneath the fine arts and design?

4.6    By way of expanding current ideas about spectatorship, can we imagine alternative ways for our species to experience -- or indeed participate in -- aesthetic expression?

4.7    Is there a role for other species in posthumanist art?

Charles Eisenstein talk: full recording (Taney Roniger)

This afternoon we were honored to be joined by writer and speaker Charles Eisenstein for a provocative discussion about posthumanism, form, the locus of the sacred, and much more. Charles is the author of numerous books, among them The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Sacred Economics, and Climate: A New Story. Many of you will know him from his many public speaking events, interviews, podcasts, courses, and discussion groups. What strikes me so much about Charles is his wide-ranging mind and his refreshing sincerity. It was a pleasure to have him engage us in discussion.

See the link below for an unedited version of his talk and the lively conversation among the panel that followed. (Alas, the first two minutes of the video were deleted, but it begins with Charles talking about the distinction between transhumanism and posthumanism. Enjoy!)

Link: Thingly Affinities: Charles Eisenstein.

Note: I encourage the panelists to post any questions or comments from yesterday's talk in this thread. Charles may be checking in later today, but either way there remains much to be discussed!

Touching on the Divine (Stephanie Grilli)

 I have become really interested in the ineffable in visual — both as a concept and as the ineffable itself. This is due to my being about to see and experience things in artworks to a such a high degree after studying art for fifty years. Maybe I’m slow, but I do sense that what is revealing itself to me is something I’ve achieved. I had a writing gig once that involved selecting artists sixty-five years of age or older and interviewing them. I asked each of them what they knew that they didn’t know when they started making art, and to a person they responded with some variant of realizing they knew nothing. I think the same thing applies to responding to art — that it’s possible to reside in understanding and break through to something not translatable into words, something transcendent.

We seem to agree that the mind/body dualism has had its day, but in the oneness and continuity of mind and body, that which we ascribe to mind can affect the body. This can be a framing of a physical experience or it can be a physical change in the body. If I sat in a chair once and was pushed over by a bully, I might have a different sensation upon seeing a chair than if I once had hot, mad sex in a chair. Emotion isn't something "raw" but an entanglement and learned. The relation of any individual and the physical world may be governed by universal principles but our experience of that relation is far more complicated. Then what do we do when we live in a society that is reductive, needs docile bodies, offers the “quick fix.” Maybe it’s a matter of recognizing the role that art has in teaching us how to feel, to experience being-in-the-world.

We now have access to a great body of works that we can view without attachment to their belief system or doctrine. As an independent art historian, I no longer am attached to the timeline that is typically taught, and I avail myself of how much art is now available online, delighting in artworks that speak to me as artworks. I can’t help but be taken by the limitless variety of what we have been able to come up with essentially are somewhat limited physical materials. One word that hasn’t come up yet in our discussion is “imagination,” and I would like to make that the power of imagination. If we want to consider art in its spiritual or ethical dimension, we are looking to art as something that allows us to experience something larger or greater than ourselves. How do we go through ourselves to get to something other or at least the not-I (to reference Fichte)? Rather than just the physical presence of artworks, there is a will to create that courses through the history of art that brings us with something touching on the divine. 

Form is a Verb (Sarah Robinson)

In response to Taney's earlier request to elaborate on the idea of form as a verb. 

1. Taney: How does this reconceptualizing change the way we experience art objects and, in your case, architecture? Because although we now know otherwise, our limited sensory apparatus tells us that objects are static -- paintings, chairs, mountains, or whatever: to our bodyminds these things seem utterly unchanging.

This argument is central to my forthcoming book, Architecture is a Verb (Routledge 2/21) which applies a variation of the 4E approach to understanding architectural experience. The work of the 19th century empathy theorists and in cognitive science has shown that all art is performance art. We experience not only the work of art, but the genesis of its making in our own bodies. Vittorio Gallese and David Freedberg showed how we simulate the slash marks on Lucio Fontana's canvases in our own motor repertoire. When we see etched stone, we simulate the movement that went into that act of making in our own bodies. The crucial shift in thinking moves from the all-too tired Cartesian "I think therefore I am," to Husserl's engaged "I can therefore I am." Our earliest knowledge of the world is through bodily movement, something that the biologist/dancer/philosopher Maxine Sheets Johnstone (The Primacy of Movement) has been arguing for decades. When we begin to imagine the world around us in terms of possibilities for action (an enactivist approach), new dimensions of dynamism suddenly open up. In Giorgio Morandi's shy vases, we feel ourselves being touched, we imagine sitting in the chair or the irritating discomfort of its shoddy design, instead of seeing a static mountain, we notice the veins of massive pressure that heaved it from the deep. We do not see the independent objects as much as we see the world according to the actions they might afford and possibilities and latent stories of their becoming. 

2. Taney: I adore this idea of changing nouns into verbs (David Bohm proposed something similar many years ago, using the term the rheomode for this new way of thinking), but I'm having trouble imagining what it would do to our actual experience of the world. 

I have also been inspired by Bohm's rheomode, in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order he points out that an obstacle to dynamic thinking is the subject-verb-object structure of sentences which implies that action arises in a subject and is exerted on an object. Why do we say, for example, that it is raining, instead of that rain is happening? To whom, exactly, does ‘it’ refer? This is but one example of how our language is unable to speak of ongoing processes. Yet in other languages, movement is taken as a primary notion and apparently static things are treated as relatively invariant states of continuing movement. In ancient Hebrew, for example, the verb was primary. The root of all lost Hebrew words is a verb form, while adverbs, adjectives and nouns were obtained by modifying the verbal form with prefixes and suffixes. Even the English words dwell and dwelling, like the word building, are both nouns, verbs and gerunds—their versatility demonstrates that both terms are implicitly connected to ongoing living processes. Calling attention to the movement initiated by the verb serves to correct this centuries-old deficit. This act of reordering attention forces us to reconsider the realities which the verbs describe and opens new possibilities for thinking in terms of active embodied engagement. Thinking in terms of living processes does not need to split them into bits. Divisions wither in the face of action. This kind of animism speaks to a time when poetry was not a literary genre but a concrete way of experiencing LIFE.

2.3-2.5 Response: Mind/Body Equivalence and the Aesthetic Form of Cognitive States (Daniel Hill)

For me as an artist, embodiment is a fundamental concept. Despite what a dictionary may or may not inform us about a word or term, we can occasionally (perhaps often?) construct idiosyncratic interpretations. This is even more the case with abstract concepts. When attempting to fit the roundness of tacit knowledge into the square holes of language, an insufficient lexicon is often revealed. Perhaps this is why humans developed the visual language of art in the first place, as a proto language to both discover and express knowledge.


Decades of painting, drawing, and working with sound has led me to think of embodiment or embodied form as follows. Form is a consequence of process; process is the flow of a cognitive state in time. Aesthetic form is a visual artifact of a specific cognitive state. As we all recognize some cognitive states are better than others, hence a hierarchy becomes necessary. The creative mindset appears the gold standard, as solutions to all the problems we have ever solved and all the problems we are yet to solve, are within reach from creativity’s elevated and fruitful vantage. Cognitive states are essentially perspectives from which we have experiences as well as the ability to reflect upon them. Some individuals acquire perspectives that are paradigm shifting. History is replete with these innovators that managed to see the world from a slight, yet crucial shift of perspective. But fertile, creative cognitive states for our personal well-being are equally essential.


I have noticed, when entering a creative cognitive state, frequently it has been catalyzed by a sequence of bodily actions. My paintings require significant body movement as I hover over the surface with a squeeze bottle, carefully dropping a network of thick viscous paint lines one by one to the surface. The emergent form is a resultant of both body architecture moving in time and the cognitive state necessary to perform those actions for hours. The more body actions are encoded and sequenced within a system, the more they become a kind of language. We can think of certain kinds of dance, rituals, yoga, tai chi, or even meditation as kinds of body languages. Systems are valuable for they are not only key to making sense of our myriad and complex experiences, but they also enable complex relationships to be adaptable with a degree of precision.


Neuroscience has shown what we do with our bodies has a consequence in the brain/mind. The body promotes a state of mind, the mind follows and in turn influences the actions of the body. A beneficial feedback loop is formed through an equivalence of mind and body. In this way, we can actually rewire our neural pathways. The resulting aesthetic form then is both embodied as well as an artifact of a creative cognitive state- creating the contextual environment for promoting and nurturing that state's sustained presence. This could be interpreted as a type of metacommunication or a kind of reading between the lines or visual inference promoting the context for specific cognitive states. 

4E Cognition and Beyond the Humanist/Post-Humanist Debate? (Arthur Whitman)

Furthering the relevance, raised by Taney and Sarah, of the contemporary cognitive and neuro-sciences to the possibilities of reevaluating the role of form and meaning in art (and the arts): I'd like to put forth the idea of "4E" cognition, recently popular in those fields. The idea, basically, is that human (and animal) thought is embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended. (I'm linking below to a short video by philosopher Shaun Gallagher, which offers a succinct account of each of these intertwined dimensions.)

I can perhaps be forgiven for the naiveté of my speculations here as a non-academic (I trained as a painter and am active as a newspaper art critic). But I think a brief consideration of these "E's" might help clarify some of my misgivings, raised tentatively in an earlier post, concerning the radical critique of humanism being bandied about here. (If we are challenging binaries here, I think the humanism/post-humanism dichotomy is fair game too, especially given the moralistic shadings being offered by some participants.) 

The notion of embodiment, shared I think by everyone here, is one that clearly ties us to our creaturely, more-than-human natures. As I wrote earlier, "Our capacities for abstract and deliberative thought are rooted in those for perception and affect." I'd reckon as well that it provides directly for an at least modest human uniqueness (Gallagher, below mentions hands). I think it offers a challenge both to the rationalist-intellectualist view of the radically autonomous ego but also to postmodernist views concerning a radical decentering of self and agency.

Without going into detail, the idea behind embeddedness, enaction, and extension pertain to the fact that thought is an active process that takes place in an ecological setting--which for many species at least, is a socio-cultural as well as a narrowly physical one. We are in of our habitats and milieus. Again, and without wanting to draw a sharp boundary between humans and other animals, I would venture that what is most distinctive about homo sapiens is our elaborate and cumulatively extended cognitive ecology. I believe that this pertains to art as a human practice and I'm willing to argue further that it is not mere chauvinism to say so. 

Shaun Gallagher's video Q&A, recommended.