“The invention happens because a jump is made and is justified by the relationship which is instituted within the environment it creates.”
– Gilbert Simondon, The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, 48.
My dissertation was heavily based on the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon. It informs my artistic practice and has set out the trajectory of my work. My artist statement (below) is indebted to this philosophy, and the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, but I chose to leave out some of the heady philosophical language of Simondon (it involves entirely too much defining and unpacking for a brief statement!), however here on the internet we have more space for such language. Simondon was first and foremost a philosopher of individuation: the processes by which things, or individuals, come to be in the world. It is a philosophy based upon relational ontology, that is to say, that individuals come to be out of the relations in which they are imbricated. This is what Simondon refers to as the milieu. Actually, he claims that we must consider the individual and its milieu as a dyad; they are inextricably linked. Simondon also wrote about technology, in fact he is often mistaken for only being a philosopher of technology. This is incorrect. Simondon is a philosopher of individuation who recognizes that technology is part of our milieu. Technology is an individuating individual and interacts with our environment. Technology is an individual born of invention.
Simondon outlines the importance of invention for us. Invention is a processual relation between the inventor and the invention. It occurs through an iterative process of making, and failing, that reveals the functional capacity of the underlying materials. It is a process of actualizing potential. It is creative imagination that allows a human inventor to understand the potential for a certain set of components to combine in a transductive manner to bring something new into existence (there is much to be thought and written about inventive practices of living, nonhuman organisms as well).
BioArt Praxis is analogous to Simondon’s invention where creative imagination helps actualize the potential of natural materials and technology (in the case of my research, physical computing and dinoflagellate bioluminescence or microbial transformation of fermenting environments).
Praxis, the integration of theory into practice, also revolves around a disparity, much like Simondon's philosophy. It could be argued that in making, and especially through experimental and iterative processes, the maker/artist/inventor is working to solve problems, issues of disparity. Each transductive (*Simondon's term for the restructuring of energy, or potential, from one domain to another domain) jump made through technology, or art, brings into being a new state—a new technogeographic milieu. The technogeographic milieu is Simondon's way of describing the very specific, localized, environment brought into existence by the technological invention. That is to say, the specific, operational way a given technology mediates the world at a given site.
Invention creates new ways of being; invention is growth. Invention is a form of thought, a way of discovering through doing. Invention and the underlying functions of technology, and art, are ways to extend individual capacity. Invention is a form of growth, which as Muriel Combes argues is key to Simondon's philosophy.
“What characterizes individuals is not finitude. Finitude for Simondon connotes an incapacity for growth, signaling a lack of preindividual being that is required for amplification in existence. Rather, what characterizes individual is limitation, which comes of the capacity of the limit to be displaced. The individual is not finished, but limited, that is, capable of indefinite growth.”
—Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, 20
I am convinced that experience binds us together. “Us” includes not just human artist and audience, but also living, nonhuman organisms and nonliving, nonhuman technologies. At this moment, named by some as the anthropocene, we are witness to human caused environmental degradation and collapsing biodiversity. The anthropocene not only highlights the geological implications of human activity, but also the anthropocentricity of our actions. We, as a species, have disregarded the experience of nonhumans to our detriment and to theirs.
There are a number of academic turns of thought (posthuman, nonhuman, new material, and more) that help us consider our current situation. These theories inform my practice, as does scientific research and literature, but I am unconvinced that thinking is the way out of our predicament. We need to feel. Thus, my current research and interest is to create experiences that can be felt across divergent experiential regimes. This practice is rooted in the simple question: “How can art create experiences that both humans and nonhumans can share?”
My work, which I classify as BioArt, is both a practice of philosophical speculation and material actualization. I focus on the capacities and experiences of nonhuman bodies, not necessarily just what we can do with, or to, them. What I find compelling about BioArt is the potential for new relations between humans and nonhumans to emerge.
BioArt is largely a technologically driven form of art, either through biotechnical tools, practices, and techniques or through off-the-shelf, open source, programmable electronics associated with the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement of recent years. I follow the latter approach, incorporating sensors (bio- and environmental sensors, for example) coupled with actuators (sound, motors, lights, among others) into installations and sculptures. These technologies are in addition to the living algal and bacterial collaborators in my projects. My work is as much analog as it is digital. As such, my work approaches technology as a means of mediating and modulating experiences that would otherwise remain latent and unactualized.
Technology extends our sensorial register into the world, commingling human and nonhuman experience. It allows us to take dynamic, unfolding material processes normally inaccessible to us and transform them into palpable sensorial experiences. Technology allows us to feel in new ways.