Thesis: HumanThrush Entanglements: Homo sapiens as a multispecies ecology
Human bodies are a mammal/fungi/bacteria/insect/viral ecology which we rarely acknowledge: a normal human body is said to be composed of over 1 trillion cells, of which only about 10% are animal. This creative PhD project explores what it means to be human when we recognise our bodies as a multi-species ecology. I focus on the intimate and fraught contact zones of biology, aesthetics, culture and care between Homo sapiens and Candida albicans, the single celled opportunistic fungal pathogen commonly known as thrush. Candida is one of the viral/bacterial/fungal/insect species that contributes to the complex ecosystem that is the human body. It has a unique and particularly evocative cultural valency for humans, especially women. Donna Haraway’s companion species, Karen Barad’s queer performativity and Luce Irigaray’s eros are used to reflect upon the entanglement of Homo & Candida.
Most reflections on Candida are scientific and from the human perspective: the effects on a human body and emotions during an infection. In this project a more-than-human fleshiness is activated through considerations of the aesthetic experiences of Candida during its encounters with the human body, arising from my current artistic research. This unique creative research uses scientific, contemporary art and cultural theory methodologies to explore Candida/Homo entanglements. This project draws on microbiology, performance, new media, aesthetics and cultural studies, positioning humans and Candida as co-evolved companion species involved in a biopolitical entanglement that is gendered, sexual and often ruthless. A conversation is instigated between scientific and artistic onto-epistemologies and posthuman phenomenology, focusing on the entangled bodies of humans and Candida.
Artworks generated during this research were exhibited in "The Unsettling Eros of Contact Zones, and other stories," at Gallery Central, Perth, 1-7 October 2015, "The Other Selves. On the phenomenon of the microbiome," at Art Laboratory Berlin, 27 Feb - 30 April 2016, and "Emergent Ecologies," at Kilroy Metal Ceiling, New York, 30 April - 18 June 2016.
Why my research is important
Previous explorations of human/non-human encounters are dominated by written inquiries. Just as this project aims to critique and complicate the current dominant focus on vertebrates and wild animals, it proposes to engage in embodied and material artistic research and production in order to challenge the textual bias and provide new knowledge about human/non-human relationships that is both embodied–sensual and representative–textual. Embodied creative research reflects the embodied nature of domestic care relationships and provides a highly appropriate approach to exploring the material effects of human/non-human boundary formation.
This project extends and complicates existing understandings of human/non-human relationships from the vertebrate into the non-vertebrate, from the individual into the colony, and from the philosophic and scientific into the artistic and cultural. It expands notions of performativity into the relationships between human and non-human. In addition, this interdisciplinary project is the first of its kind in its proposition to integrate creative, scientific, feminist and anthropological research methods to generate novel cultural, scientific and artistic understandings of human/non-human relationships.
As humans, we can no longer deny that we are part of an intricate ecology on which our survival depends. The species boundaries – never clear – are increasingly diffuse with the advent of contemporary biotechnologies: to be human is to be a walking multi-species ecology. This project is an attempt to understand and communicate the complexities, failings, triumphs and assumptions of this ecology, the material effects of drawing boundaries between species. New knowledge is contributed to the fields of critical animal studies, feminism, posthumanism, ecology and aesthetics by shifting understandings of our relationships with two ubiquitous, non-vertebrate non-human species through interdisciplinary creative research and production.