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WhiteFeather Hunter, “The Witch in the Lab Coat”

The easiest way to introduce WhiteFeather Hunter is to write that she is a multiple-award winning artist. Adding that she is a bioartist and a scholar wouldn’t still quite cover her practice. It’s more complicated than that but it is also relentlessly exciting.

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WhiteFeather Hunter. Photo: Matthew Brooks/ Milieux Institute

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

In 2018, the artist collaborated with a microbiologist to create a “skin renewal” cream containing bacterial enzymes from her own saliva and from soil samples to explore the concept of bacto-intimacy and cast a critical gaze at the hi-tech lingo the cosmetic industry uses to sell its anti-ageing formulas. That same year, she also explored the possibility of using native plant species and an extremophilic bacteria to help heal highly contaminated gold mine tailing sites in Nova Scotia, Canada. A year earlier, she worked with a designer to create a delicate, organic-mechanic Gucci knock-off dress. Throughout her career, she has produced rogue taxidermy, sculptural pieces out of animal intestine from the local butcher and artificial bones, hacked electronics, investigated “lichenological time”, used landscapes and bodies as laboratories and experimented with the unpredictability of living material.

Right now, WhiteFeather Hunter is working on a PhD research project that explores the intersection of feminist witchcraft and tissue engineering through the development of a body- and performance-based laboratory practice. One part of her research consists in collecting her own menstrual fluid and using this potent source of stem cells and growth factors to extract a serum that will be used as a new nutrient media for tissue culture. The serum could thus constitute a more ethical alternative to the fetal calf serum used in cellular agriculture. The fact that she is the first to study the viability of menstrual serum as a substitute for fetal calf serum to grow mammalian tissue in vitro tells you a lot about the masculine predominance in STEM fields.

Such a portfolio called for an interview!

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

Hi WhiteFeather! I’d like to start with the place of witchcraft in your practice. You have a deep understanding of biology. You are a PhD candidate in Biological Art at the University of Western Australia and have also worked in many international laboratory as an artist in residency and you have served as the Principal Investigator and Technician of the Speculative Life BioLab at the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University. You often wear a lab coat in photo portraits. Since your practice has evolved in such close connection with science, I’m wondering what you encounter in witchcraft that you do not find in the rational, scientific world? How does witchcraft and science complement each other? Do they provide different types of answers to the same problem, for example? How do you reconcile them? If these are the correct terms to use.

Reconciling the worlds of science and witch(craft) requires digging up the history of gender, class and racial suppression, which are often intersected within the brutal trajectory of colonial and techno-capitalist advance, including biomedical. The foremost scholar on this history, analysed through a feminist lens, is of course Silvia Federici. Her two books, Caliban and the Witch (2004) and Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women (2018) are must-reads. I must also acknowledge Donna Haraway as a primary influence on many technofeminist witches such as myself, in terms of new philosophies for manifesting a future-now that is more equitable for women, trans and nonbinary people, BIPOC, more-than-human species or anyone/ anything else deemed as ‘other’ than the hetero cis-male baseline standard. We are working at queering, at the crossroads — specifically at the intersection of not just science and witchcraft, but also biotechnology and art, towards accessible (empowering) modes of social reconstruction, or ‘social reproduction’ on our own terms.

When I use the term witchcraft, I often emphasize the ‘craft’ aspect of the word, to indicate a legacy of folk, DIY, traditional or lay approaches (empirical, lived or situated knowledge bases) that inform individual and community care practices. This is in contrast, or sometimes now complementary to, institutionalized, authorized ‘care’ protocols such as conventional medical methods. The trick of my research is to attempt to seamlessly meld an embodied experience of ‘spirituality’ and all that it entails (ie. understanding the agency of nonhuman or more-than-human organisms and ‘inanimate’ matter — à la Jane Bennett) with measurable results to produce a body of work that both critiques and holds accountable the (economic, ecological, cultural and health) impacts of new technologies on the world, while also manipulating these tools towards more emancipatory ends. This is not to discount the many benefits of science — not at all. My perspective is that the ‘witch’ always was a scientist, and that science should be ultimately empirical/ lived. The problem is that often empirical knowledge is sometimes discredited (if not profitable) or exploited (if profitable) by industry, taking it out of the hands of the researcher or community.

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Witchcraft spells for tissue culture

In the Missing Witches podcast, you talk about the history of witchcraft as anti-capitalist resistance. Apart from the podcast, what would you recommend we look to get more information about this type of resistance?
And does this dimension of witchcraft as anti-capitalist resistance (or resistance in general) have any resonance in today’s world? Could activists find any inspiration in witchcraft? Even male activists or is witchcraft for women alone?

Witchcraft is definitely not for women alone. The witch is a shape-shifter and defies sex/gender pigeonholing. Deviance from hegemonic norms is the celebrated forte of the witch.

Currently, we see numerous capitalist attempts at appropriating pop culture notions of witchcraft, along with other previously suppressed spiritual practices (such as indigenous traditions) for profitable outcomes, such as the sale of props like crystals and smudge sticks by beauty brands, etc. The witch knows that so-called ‘healing’ crystals for sale on Amazon or the Sephora website, for example, can often involve problematic, exploitative earth extraction methods — this is counter to the witch’s desires. The witch ultimately needs no ‘magical’ props other than political, knowledgeable control over her own body and what she can create with it/ for it/ through it, for herself and/or her community. This isn’t to say that she lives in a hut in the woods with mud floors and a sooty cauldron, out of reach of any cell phone tower. That might be nice for some, but not necessary.

The witch may be a technophile — she is, however, squinting skeptically at capitalism in everything that she does, and twisting technologies towards beautifully weird outcomes.

I’m fascinated by The Witch in the Lab Coat and Mooncalf, your experiments with creating nutrient serum for mammalian tissue culture using menstrual blood. If I understood correctly, you would use your own blood to grow tissue in vitro. After the first moment of surprise, I had to admit that it would make sense to use a material that would otherwise go to waste as a nutrient. But how nutritious would that blood be to grow cells? It is clearly much more ethical than fetal bovine serum but is it as nutritious? Is menstrual blood any better than blood that has another origin?

There is a cultural perception of menstrual blood as somehow tainted, ‘unclean’ or dirty. We see this view regularly perpetuated, for example by extremely problematic artworks such as Anish Kapoor’s recent series of menstruating vagina paintings, wherein he describes his ‘fascination’ with vaginas as something that, “stems from blood as “ritual matter”, but also its association with “the abject, with death, with the impure”. He adds: “It’s so strange that both are a place of origin and a place of dirt, or other matter, menstrual [blood].”

Vaginal fluids, absent of infection by external agents are neither toxic nor hazardous (nor ‘dirty’), yet the commonality of the perception of menstrual fluid itself as ‘pollutant’ persists in a variety of cultural contexts, unsupported by science. Recent genomic profiling of microbiota within the vaginal canal has shown the prominence of commensal species that produce bactericidal and virucidal compounds, mainly lactic acid. Most importantly for my research, proteomic analyses of menstrual blood have shown that it contains hundreds of unique proteins not found in venous blood. Yet, it has never, to my knowledge, been experimented with as a nutrient serum for tissue culture. I have now already produced a supply of menstrual serum from my own vaginal fluids. I’ve denatured the serum, meaning essentially cooking it at 65˚C for 15 minutes to render any unknown viral vectors inert. The next experiments will be to culture a variety of cell types in the serum to see which ones thrive best.

Politically, this work is important not only for addressing misogynist cultural taboos — the actual production of menstrual blood is still a material outside the control of the patriarchal capitalist economy. Menstruators don’t sit on stainless steel factory funnel toilets, bleeding ad infinitum into the supply chain. Neither is menstrual blood a scarce resource whose value can be artificially inflated on the commodities market—though, conceivably, it could be were the taboos around it to be overcome and its utilitarian potential realized. I’m hoping to get ahead that game, and head it off at the pass. My work seeks to re-orient the long-standing socio-biological construction of the female body as problematic, to that of innate potential for self-actualization and, importantly, self-directed scientific experimentation.

What type of cells will you use? Will they come from other animals?

Currently, I’ve isolated what has been previously identified as endometrial regenerative cells, a multipotent stem cell type that is found to be very abundant and robust in menstrual blood. My own stem cells were extremely easy to isolate from a thin layer of endometrial tissue that was extracted from my menstrual blood during the serum separation process, meaning that I spun down the whole blood in a centrifuge, into its component parts: serum, tissue and red blood cells. I removed the serum top layer (for later use) and then extracted cells from the middle mucus and tissue layer. The bottom layer, the red blood cells, was discarded. The stem cells I extracted grew extremely well in vitro, and are now in cryopreservation as part of my own personal cell bank at the University of Western Australia. Scientifically, I still need to experiment further with them to prove that they are what I think they are, including differentiating them into different cell types to see exactly what their potentialities might be. Can they become cardiomyocytes? Can they become connective tissue cells? Can they become muscle cells? That remains to be seen. What I do know, though, is that they are not embryonic stem cells so they cannot become a complex organism; merely a singular tissue type after differentiation.

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

Can you freely use your own menstrual blood in laboratory settings? Does its use have to be approved?

Funnily enough, within the context of my PhD, I had to first sign over my bodily autonomy to my supervisor, assigning her the official care and control of my body for the purposes of scientific experimentation. Ultimately, what that meant was that I had to compose all manner of bureaucratic documents, including a Participant Information Sheet wherein I informed myself of the potential hazards of working with my own menstrual blood or using a menstrual cup for specimen collection. This is an entirely weird process where my bodily knowledge essentially becomes disembodied and institutionalized/ regulated. The Human Research Ethics approval process took well over six months, and the unofficial word I received mid-way through the process was that someone on the ethics committee was ‘uncomfortable’ with my proposed research, meaning I had to defend its importance in an extremely bulletproof manner that elevated it scientifically beyond any reasonable or subjective arguments against it. I was also required to give excessively detailed job task breakdowns to explain very precisely every single thing I would do with the menstrual blood and where I would do it, meaning that any last vestige of privacy around the handling of my intimate body materials was forfeited. It was quite an interesting exercise. Now I am officially approved for the handling of my own menstrual blood.

Will this PhD research project be accompanied by performances? Are you planning to deploy and communicate it outside of the academia context? (if that’s not too soon to ask)

Performance is a big part of not only the dissemination of the research in terms of artistic outputs, but also for the gestation and in-corp-oration of new ideas. I use performance as a way to embody new knowledge as I am working through it and gaining it. It is a research method. The performances are recorded and then edited into didactic video performance works. I’m also an educator and making knowledge, particularly high-tech scientific knowledge, accessible is one of the core principles in my overall ethos. So, this is one of the ways that I use art towards a politics of knowledge accessibility. My performance videos are always interspersed with text subtitling that both provoke critical thought while also explaining protocols. I think that this way of working lends itself well to the new reality we find ourselves in with so many online interactions for conferences, exhibitions, etc.

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WhiteFeather Hunter, with Gen Moison, Vanessa Mardirossian, and Alex Bachmayer, Bactinctorium, 2017-2018. Petri dishes of Vogesella indigofera growing on menstrual blood agar

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Serratia marsescens printed on silk

You also work with bacteria and other microorganisms and talk about co-creation. How much can you control or guide the aesthetic outcome of works developed in co-creation with microorganisms? Do they often surprise you?

I am always surprised, and that is part of the love of working with microorganisms. It’s a state of perpetual curiosity and also humility towards the more-than-human worlds. If I say that I am co-creating with microorganisms, I say it cautiously because I am always aware of the systems of control that are in play when generating the work. Ultimately, we are all co-creating our realities with innumerable microorganisms, electronic and other systems every day. I place a particular focus on the agency of the microbial world in the context of my own creative projects because it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that as much as I work within systems of control, I am never completely in control.

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WhiteFeather Hunter, PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT, 2018. Photo: Mireille Bourgeois/ IOTA Institute

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WhiteFeather Hunter, PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT, 2018

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WhiteFeather Hunter, PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT, 2018

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WhiteFeather Hunter, PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT (Cupriavidus metallidurans), 2018

I’m very curious about PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT. Every single aspect of it is compelling. Your intention was to make a ritual offering of gold-producing microbes to a poisoned site where the settler industry has rendered a Nova Scotia landscape useless and dangerous. What is the background of the location? How did this site become polluted and how did it affect the First Nations who lived there?

I consulted with an indigenous curator on this project, Roger Lewis, facilitated by IOTA Institute. All of the knowledge of place, in terms of its impacts on the local First Nations, is owed to him and what he shared with me in person, both onsite at the tailings site and in his office at the Nova Scotia Museum. Roger explained to me that there is no separation between the Mi’kmaq people and the landscape that houses them, now or ever throughout history. ‘Place’ is not simply a physical location but a psychospiritual and multi-temporal co-evolution of all beings. In this understanding, all damages and harm done to the landscape are done to the people that belong to that landscape, on multiple levels. The site I worked with, the Montague legacy gold mine tailings site, is a place next to people’s homes, waterways and inhabited natural landscape. It is heavily polluted with the chemicals and byproducts of ‘legacy’ gold mining, meaning the more polluting and toxic practices that were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It still contains high levels of mercury and arsenic. It continues to affect people, including those who take their dogs there for walks, not understanding the toxicity levels present because they have lived next to it for so long that it has become normalized. The Nova Scotia government is interested in remediating the site, but not necessarily with its sights set on righting past wrongs, but in order to go back in and re-mine the site since it still contains high percentages of gold particulate from the original ore.

WhiteFeather Hunter, BLÓM + BLÓÐ (flowers + blood)

Can you tell us about your PhD at the University of Western Australia? What is your investigation about and what are you hoping to achieve?

My PhD is both a science doctorate as well as a design degree, so my research outputs have to meet both scientific research criteria as well as include artistic production. The art objects I produce will serve as case studies that support both a cultural and scientific analysis of my topics, which include the use of menstrual blood as a biological material in cellular biology protocols, as well as witchcraft practices in a standard (controlled) academic laboratory context. The connection point between the two is the nature of taboo in relation to (women’s) body materials and the technological manipulation of them. My main laboratory work is specifically towards producing a spoof prototype of ‘unclean’ meat, or lab grown meat produced with menstrual serum, in order to provide critique of the continuously hyped-up “clean meat” industry, among other things. My supervisor is one of the originators of lab-grown ‘meat’, Ionat Zurr (with her collaborator, Oron Catts) and has a long history of addressing the need for critical discussion of the impacts, potential and violence in tissue culture practices. The tissue I produce, that is grown in menstrual serum, is real (“semi-living”) tissue and the protocols for doing so are scientifically sound. But, I present it only as an instigation, not an actual product. I’m not interested in instrumentalizing women’s bodies any more than they already are by the current developments in biotechnology.

Any other upcoming projects and field of research you might be working on now?

As always, I’m advocating for the democratization of sci-tech praxes, and am working towards ways of doing more of my work at home, in my own kitchen and bathroom, as complementary spaces to the laboratory. I’m currently waiting on approval to work in a lab in Montreal with François-Joseph Lapointe to sequence the microbial and mycobial genomic material present in my own menstrual fluid. Because of the COVID situation, Montreal remains in a red zone and I’m unable to get into the lab, but I’ve had fun in the meantime, carefully collecting dozens of vaginal swabs for the full duration of my menstrual cycle, at home. I’ve treated my bathroom/ toilet as my laboratory, with my kitchen as the auxiliary storage space for all of my samples. My vaginal swabs sit in tubes next to my carrots and avocados in the vegetable drawer. Cleaning my toilet has never been so interesting, and I’m totally into this transformation of the banal into something officious for academic research.

Thanks WhiteFeather!

Keep up with WhiteFeather Hunter’s exhibitions and conferences on her news website. Next on her agenda are (among other events) a presentation of the Mooncalf project at Taboo – Transgression – Transcendence in Art & Science conference, an exhibition of the Mooncalf project as part of the upcoming Culture of Contamination show at the New York Hall of Science and an artist residency at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle (Cornwall), UK.

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Preppers and the YOYO (You’re on your own) culture

Preppers (aka survivalists, although the two words identify slightly different groups) are training, stockpiling and gearing up for the catastrophe that will lead to the collapse of society or make life on Earth unbearable. A massive ecological disaster, a climate shock, widespread riots, an AI gone rogue, a financial crisis worse than the 2008 one or a pandemic. They might not be sure about it is exactly that will lead to the breakdown of civilisation but they are getting ready for it.

The survivalists range from families who amass food and water supplies in their basement to wealthy individuals who buy bunkers and other fortified properties in remote locations. Prepping is a lifestyle, with its own aesthetics, language and market. Its own fairs and camps even.

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Loren Kronemyer, After Erika Eiffel, 2019

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Loren Kronemyer, Training for True Aim, 2019

It’s very tempting to dismiss this community as a bunch of hysterical worrywarts and machos in search of an opportunity to parade their mettle. Loren Kronemyer, however, looks at this subculture with a critical yet open mind. Together with Guy Louden and Dan McCabe, she has curated a series of exhibitions about doomsday preppers. The shows examine the phenomenon as the expression of wider cultural anxiety and a loss of faith in governments capability to take care of their own citizens. They also explore the nuances of a subculture where sustainability and self-sufficiency rub shoulders with paramilitary tactics and unbridled individualism.

The current iteration of the PREPPERS is touring Australia right now.

Video Documentation of the PREPPERS exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre in 2020. Video and editing by Graham Mathwin

Loren Kronemyer is an artist living and working in remote lutruwita / Tasmania, Australia. Her works span interactive and live performance, experimental media art and large-scale worldbuilding projects exploring ecological futures and survival skills. As part of duo Pony Express, she is co-creator of projects like Ecosexual Bathhouse, a touring queer sex club for the entire ecosystem. I asked her to tell us more about her work and her view of prepper culture.



Hi Loren! This is already the fourth iteration of the PREPPERS exhibition. Why did you want to work on an exhibition about doomsday preppers? What can art bring to the discussion around the collapse of civilisation?   



This exhibition was instigated from a conversation between myself and two other artists, Guy Louden and Dan McCabe. In 2016 we ran into each other at the opening of an art school graduate show in Western Australia, where we lived at the time. We struck up a chat as friendly colleagues, but within the space of a few minutes, our conversation devolved to us ranting about the doomsday prepper forums we were reading and scheduling a visit to the shooting range together. It’s an absurd scene, three comfortably emerging millennial artists, sipping drinks in a gallery while exchanging bootleg survivalist jargon, indulging a dire paranoia under the veneer of our casual social context, but I guess that’s exactly what the “discussion around the collapse of civilization” looked like for us at the time. We decided to continue our conversation through a creative project, teaming up as a collective to curate and produce different editions of this show that has progressed and evolved through several iterations now.



In the discussion of collapse, art is a useful way to create nuance, ambivalence, critique, affirmation and play where dominant narratives are subverted. It’s easy to condemn the toxicity of “prepper” culture: its patriarchal violence, its absurd delusions, its submission to the logic of necro-capitalism.

But at the same time, we all hear the same alarms bells ringing. So we set out to make a show that digs into some of the iconography, jargon, materiality and sensory worlds of “prepper” culture, hoping to satiate our own curiosity and examine some of its bizarre contours. For emerging generations, I think it’s important to foster a nuanced discourse around the possible futures that face us. But I am a very paranoid artist by nature. I abide by the notion of the slow apocalypse: collapse has been happening for a long time and is felt most profoundly by those that don’t benefit from dominator culture. Or in other words, the dudes hoarding luxury bunkers and guns probably know the least about how resilience works. 



In making PREPPERS, I approached my body of work with a very selfish methodology. With each iteration of the show, I used my project resources to learn a new so-called “survival skill”, exploring it deeply through research, training and paraphernalia in hopes of achieving some level of expertise, explored through my artistic practice. This has been my pretext to acquaint myself with many skills I was curious about, like water distilling, trap building, marksmanship, etc, honing them through a critical and often collaborative artistic process. By entering a dialogue with these practices, I hope to make space for more people to join in, so we can create our own narratives of collapse.

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Guy Louden, Dan McCabe, Loren Kronemyer, E-Waste Barricade, 2019. Photo: Dan McCabe




How has the show (and the public reaction to it) evolved over time?  



From a logistics standpoint, the show PREPPERS has always been collectively run. Guy, Dan and I began by working together to curate, fundraise, design, install, document and administrate experimental versions in artist-run galleries in Fremantle, Sydney and Melbourne. We used these iterations as a basis to pitch the show to a major gallery in Western Australia, the Fremantle Arts Centre, who invited us in for a presentation at the end of 2019, at which point we had the resources to involve more artists, including Thomas Yeomans and Tiyan Baker whom I had collaborated with previously on the work Apocalypse Anonymous.  We used that platform to pitch the show to ART ON THE MOVE, a regional touring initiative, who had prepared us to tour regional Australia at the beginning of this year. That tour was abruptly halted by the global pandemic. During the shutdown, we received an Australia Council Resilience Fund grant to publish the work as an experimental website, so now there is a digital archive of the work that is, ironically, wholly the product of a global catastrophe. As of today, with parts of Australia opening again, the tour is resuming in a far different context than the one in which it was conceived.



Responses to the work have often been polarized, and I honestly don’t feel like I have a good grasp on the spectrum of responses it’s provoked. Over the last 5 years, this show has always been evaluated based on its grim relevance to current events, but the current events in question are always changing. Although the imagery of the show has been pretty consistent, it resonates differently based on the rapidly shifting baselines of the world we occupy.

When PREPPERS was born in 2016, we were intrigued by observations like the emergence of luxury bunkers and survival gear, the integration of technology to stoke and suppress civic unrest, desensitization towards images of catastrophe and upheaval and the emergence of our own demographic of pseudo-doomer millennials. Through our collaboration and conversation, I have seen myself and the other artists lean further into our own fetishes and connections to the subject matter along the way, allowing the work to grow in scope.


It has been a deeply strange experience keeping this project alive in this moment when the subject matter is so urgent and our individual perspectives so irrelevant. Every human on earth knows more about prepping and survival, whatever that means, than they did six months ago. In some ways, the world needs this show and its ambivalent gaze less than ever, so we will see where it goes from here.

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Pony Express, Epoch Wars, 2019. Photo: Julian Frichot

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Loren Kronemyer, Wounded Amazon of the Capitalocene, 2019. Photo: Dan McCabe



The only preppers I’ve heard about are in the USA. I think that the prepper movement is growing in Europe too. I know very little about Preppers in Australia though. The history, geography and culture in Australia is very different from the US ones. Are these differences reflected in Australian prepper culture? A different sense of urgency? A different type of anxiety or focus?
 



I have lived in Australia for the past decade, but because I am from California I have a particularly American inflexion to my experience. The show riffs heavily on the American cultural narrative of prepping as it collides with global culture, Australian contexts, and each of our experiences and interests. For example, Tiyan Baker’s work Bamboo Paradise documents the way that folks in rural Cambodia are exploiting the Youtube trend of survival building channels, a trend that originated with an Australian creator called Primitive Technology who gained viral popularity and seeded thousands of imitators. The way prepping differs for our generation versus previous ones is that we are articulating our ideations collapse through the intricate tool of the global internet.

Though specific dreams and experiences of doom and survival differ from culture to culture, they intersect in uncanny ways. There’s a story about a wealthy Texan who built a bunker in the middle of lutriwita/Tasmania. Fearing the cold war, he pointed at the island on a map, bought up 18,000 hectares of land right in the middle, and built an underground bunker suitable for several families. When he died, the land was eventually auctioned by his estate. In 2013, it was purchased by a historic partnership between the federal government, the Indigenous Land Corporation and Tasmanian Land Conservancy, with ownership passing to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community and the land dedicated to cultural custodianship. I think that story reflects some interesting collisions between the fantasies and realities of what survival looks like across geographies, generations, and epistemologies.

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Loren Kronemyer, After Erika Eiffel


You live in an off the grid situation in Southern Tasmania which I suspect enables you to experiment with self-sufficiency. That’s something that is very appealing, romantic even, to me but also a bit frightening. If a major disaster happened, would it not be safer to be in a city, where you’d get access to more resources, better infrastructures, wider communities? 



Having grown up as a city-dweller in Los Angeles, making the transition to this living situation has been a deeply immersive experiment. I am aware that I closely resemble the exact trope I am critical of: that of the delusional American industrialist hiding in my Australian bunkers to escape my hubris. For that reason I try to avoid romanticising living rurally as any sort of grandiose or individualistic world-building project, it’s just another way to deal with this present moment and stay helpful to the processes that sustain me.

In the major disaster of the pandemic, living in lutruwita/Tasmania, an island within an island, has been incredibly advantageous. We are currently COVID-free, but very vulnerable should a second wave breach the island’s borders. Being here during lockdown meant I had access to plenty of space to exist, with most of my basic needs covered by the circular economy of my agricultural region. It took me a long time to come out again and realize that people had resumed doing things. 

Living out here is a specific aesthetic that doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s not worth valorising. It’s possible to live a more ecologically-conscious, socially conscious lifestyle in the city, where you can take up less space on stolen land and pass around communal resources more readily. I have lost touch with how rustic / not rustic my lifeway here is. Some moments it feels like it’s all muck and blood and fire and leaches, but then other moments I am back to being a millennial sea otter…lazing in bed with my laptop on my belly.

I take pleasure in seeing where my water came from, where my warmth came from and where my food comes from, but I also face the consequences when I don’t look after those things. Every activity has a long tail of energy, planning, preparation, maintenance, patience and consequences in both directions. Before work like this interview can happen, I have do to finish the work of pumping the water, tending the garden, shovelling the shit, acknowledging the worms, gathering the wood, starting the fire, turning the compost, maintaining the balance between my dwelling and the forest. But then again, everyone has chores.



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Loren Kronemyer, After Erika Eiffel, 2019

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Loren Kronemyer, After Erika Eiffel, 2019

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Loren Kronemyer, After Erika Eiffel, 2019

Guy Louden
Loren Kronemyer, Training for True Aim, 2019

One of the DIY printable targets you designed for the work Training for True Aim bears the text “Soft skills are survival skills.” That sounded curious to me. I’ve always thought that in order to survive in a disaster situation you needed to be robust, well-trained in hunting or gardening, etc. Maybe you need to know something about medicines or technology but soft skills? What type of soft skills is useful in this context? 
 


Learning these practices has taught me how undervalued soft skills are as survival skills. Skills like communication, negotiation, the ability to self-soothe and self-direct, imagination, humour and sensitivity are all survival skills I’ve had to put into practice for a long time, way more frequently than the more aggressive survival tactics I’ve learned. Survival is a practice that happens in lots of contexts other than acute moments of disaster. For some creatures, cuteness is a survival skill. I have something to learn from all the creatures finding a way to survive the 21st Century. 

 



What attracted me to your work is the contrast between the theme which -in my mind- is quite macho and individualist and the way you communicate it. There is something quite inviting, generous and communal about After Erika Eiffel, Training for True Aim and Apocalypse Anonymous. It triggers interest and curiosity rather than panic. I’ve been wondering what engaging with the wider culture of prepping does to your outlook on life and on the future. Does studying the prepper culture bring more reassurance or more anxiety? More desire to collaborate with others or a drive to retreat?


 

I am glad that was your reading of my work, because it’s certainly my intention. I work actively to penetrate the macho veneer of survivalism and make space to insert my own queered, pluralist fantasies. I like the versions of survival that we work on together, or that manifest in absurd or improbable ways. Collaboration is always something I am interested in – my collaborations have done the most to benefit my survival, and I am always looking for ways to extend those in new directions.

When I was a kid, I found this book at my grandparent’s house called Back To Basics from Reader’s Digest. This book illustrated homesteading from harvesting logs to building a cabin to weaving a rug, from cooking with methane siphoned from your shitter to butchering a rabbit to baking a pie. This book is totally the product of white American back-to-the-land romanticism, and now I’ve learned that it’s highly sought after among the prepper communities I follow on the web. Anyways when I was a kid I would obsess over this book, thinking that as long as I kept it with me, I had a manual that would help me survive and fashion a life for myself from scratch. Looking back on that, it’s tragi-comic that a feeble Reader’s Digest book encompassed my entire intergenerational cultural inheritance of survival knowledge. It goes to show how crappy the western, colonial, capitalist epistemology is at conveying any meaningful form of ongoingness. I still open that book all the time when I am looking for inspiration, opening to a random page and thinking of ways to apply or pervert the skill it illustrates.

It’s been beneficial for me to make this body of work and realise I’m not alone in my attraction to survival narratives. I think many young folk today are engaging with and rewriting what the future means to us, what our survival story will be. I remember going to dinner at the home of another urban artist my age; when we got onto the topic of survivalism, their partner revealed that they had printed out a prepper handbook from the web and stored it in the ceiling cavity of their apartment. The dominant version of “prepper” culture is not something I get much reassurance from, but it does form a baseline that I come back to again and again for whatever reason, because like it or not it’s a part of my experience.

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Loren Kronemyer and Tiyan Baker, Apocalypse Anonymous, 2017. Photo by Julian Frichot

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Loren Kronemyer and Tiyan Baker, Apocalypse Anonymous, 2017. Photo by Julian Frichot

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Loren Kronemyer and Tiyan Baker, Apocalypse Anonymous, 2017. Photo by Julian Frichot

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Loren Kronemyer and Tiyan Baker, Apocalypse Anonymous, 2017. Photo by Julian Frichot

You developed Apocalypse Anonymous together with Tiyan Baker. What is hidden inside these three containers? Do they provide different experiences or outlook on doomsday preppers?

Apocalypse Anonymous is a work that Tiyan Baker and I collaborated on in 2017. It was born from both of us hanging out in both online and offline prepper communities, dialoguing together about our own experiences of ecological anxiety. The work took the form of a public installation consisting of three shipping containers, each one documenting a different approach to processing the end times through first-hand documents we collected.

The first container was set up as an office. Visitors could sit at a computer and scroll through a custom app that harvested content from a combination of message boards, forming this endless scroll that barraged you with videos and posts that ran the gamut of online doomer content. In doomer parlance, any news item trying to spin progress in the face of climate change is derided as “hopium”. The desk itself was studded with arrows, and when you turned around to leave, you’d see that an aggressive hunting bow was aimed at you, mounted above the door. We wanted to convey the feeling of submerging into eco-anxiety through the web, the obsession mixed with the helplessness that comes from experiencing the world’s crisis unfolding through a scroll.

The second container was outfitted as an actual survival shelter. Based on manuals and field guides from emergency services, we filled it with a couple of weeks of essential goods and recommended tools, including food, gas, water, first aid supplies, a bed, radio, maps, et cetera. Tiyan interviewed survivors of a recent severe hurricane here, and their voices played over the radio, describing what that confrontation felt like and how it impacted their state of mind afterwards. It was my first time going through the process of assembling a survival shelter, and it was great to go piece by piece and actually look at each of the rations that were needed. The third container was set up as a sort of big, encompassing nest of twigs and mulch. There were cushions, and it was possible to lay right down in this soft and earthen smelling place. Woven throughout were family photos from the last 50 years, babies and parents and homes, all composted and mulched right in there with you. In that container, we played a soundscape that featured an interview from Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher who is passionate about coining new words to describe the emergent psychological states associated with climate change. He coined the word “solastagia”, which describes the feeling of homesickness or longing for the ecology we used to have, the earth home that doesn’t exist anymore. He recently released a new book called Earth Emotions, which chronicles his whole lexicon of neologisms building on this idea.

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Loren Kronemyer, Mangle Tangle Strangle Dangle, 2017. Photo by Dan McCabe

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Loren Kronemyer, Mangle Tangle Strangle Dangle, 2017. Photo by Dan McCabe

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Loren Kronemyer, Mangle Tangle Strangle Dangle, 2017. Photo by Dan McCabe

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Loren Kronemyer, Mangle Tangle Strangle Dangle, 2017. Photo by Dan McCabe

There’s humour in your work too. For example, the baits and traps you designed “to arm the gallery” are threatening of course but the idea of setting traps inside a safe white gallery space is amusing. They evoke typical contemporary art sculptures too. Can you talk about some of these traps? How you made them and what they mean?  

I am glad that’s something you appreciate. I am always laughing, even (especially) at my own misfortune, absurdity and capacity for contradiction, and I like to make work that comes from a place of pleasure and play even when the outcomes or subject matter are dark.

The origin was this: browsing through a bushcraft guide, I was taken by the fact that, as you describe, some of the hunting traps looked to me like Alexander Calder sculptures. That was such an imperious and silly thought that I decided to learn to make them, to see how my art school brain would handle it. One of the manuals I read summarized the four principles of trapping as “Mangle, Tangle, Strangle, and Dangle”. I tried all sorts of variations of trap and got most excited by the ones that are held in delicate balance or at high tension.

When setting up traps in a gallery, I like to use as much of the gallery’s existing infrastructure as possible, responding to the architecture and raiding the supply cabinet for rope, hardware, blades and heavy objects to use as counterweights. It’s all very Wile E. Coyote. One of my dreams is to build a deadfall trap out of the false wall of a gallery; I still haven’t figured out the engineering on that yet. The most important parts of the trap are the trigger and the bait, so I pay extra attention to those. In one variation I use a diamond engagement ring as the loop for the trigger, held in balance by a nail and builder’s twine. For bait, sometimes I use books, or solar-powered screens that play videos – you must get right up close and into the snare to view them. I think through each trap’s story based on where I am and what material I am using, but those stories usually stay with me. It helps me think about what traps may surround me, and how to stay vigilant for when I am being baited. Sometimes I am the hunter and sometimes I am the prey, of course.

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Pony Express, Epoch Wars, 2019

Any upcoming event, field of research or project you could share with us?

Here in Australia, we are in the process of uncancelling and sometimes recancelling things, so I am surfing that pattern as best I can while also gearing up to plant my spring garden.

The gallery show PREPPERS is resuming its tour through ART ON THE MOVE, going to several places in regional Australia:
August 21 – September 26, 2020: Geraldton Regional Art Gallery 
November 9 – December 5, 2020: Katanning Art Gallery 
December 14, 2020 – January 13, 2021: Museum of the Goldfields (WA Museum)
May 21 – June 27, 2021: Albany Town Hall

By late August we will have published a new essay from Cassie Lynch, a writer who is researching Noongar memory of deep time climate events, on https://preppers.gallery. We built this website in collaboration with Xavier Burrow to house a virtual version of the show alongside original text from Bradley Garrett (author of the new book Bunker: Building for the End Times) and our COVID first-wave artist video diaries.

I am currently working on writing my first book, which is going to be published as part of an artist book series called Lost Rocks curated by A Published Event. The premise of the series is that 40 artists are contributing short fictionellas that represent the missing rocks on a mineral sampler the publishers bought from a junk shop; my mineral is Copper. I am a huge fan of this series and anxiously polishing my contribution. I have also contributed to a book that is a collective survival lexicon curated by Grace Dennis which is coming soon.

My live art collaboration Pony Express is busy pivoting ourselves all the way into the core of the earth. We have spent the last few years developing the project Epoch Wars, which is an artist-run Geological Congress convened to search for a better name for earth’s present epoch. Epoch Wars is a participatory symposium that eats itself, built of commissions from diverse artists, thinkers and rock doctors who are reclaiming the power to name the geological age we will die in. This work has been researched and developed internationally via research at University of Tasmania, Chronus Art Centre, Artshouse and ASIA TOPA Festival, but our planned IRL versions are on hold and we are currently building a web archive for the project.

We will also be publishing some playful new work and giving a keynote as part of Adhocracy 2020. Adhocracy is an annual artistic development and experimentation platform hosted by Vitalstatistix. In response to the pandemic, they funded 28 original artworks which will be published across 4 weeks in September, as a sort of artistic catalogue meets festival of ideas meets archive of a wild year.

People can stay in touch with me and my projects through www.rubicana.info and www.helloponyexpress.com.

Thanks Loren!

Related story: The Clearing. How to live together when sea levels rise and global economy collapses.

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Tasmanian Land Conservancy

Art as We Don’t Know It

Art as We Don’t Know It, edited by director of the Bioart Society Erich Berger, artist and researcher Kasperi Mäki-Reinikka, artist Kira O’Reilly and researcher Helena Sederholm. Graphic design by Safa Hovinen / Merkitys.

The book is available on the Aalto University Shop as a hardcover and as a free pdf download.

Adriana Knouf

Publishers Aalto ARTS Books write: What worlds are revealed when we listen to alpacas, make photographs with yeast or use biosignals to generate autonomous virtual organisms? Bioart invites us to explore artistic practices at the intersection of art, science and society. This rapidly evolving field utilises the tools of life sciences to examine the materiality of life; the collision of human and nonhuman. Microbiology, virtual reality and robotics cross disciplinary boundaries to engage with arts as artists and scientists work together to challenge the ways in which we understand and observe the world. This book offers a stimulating and provocative exploration into worlds emerging, seen through art as we don’t know it – yet.

Art as We Don’t Know It showcases art and research that has grown and flourished within the wider network of both the Bioart Society and Biofilia during the previous decade.

Antoine Lavoisier
Kultivator and Karin Bolender, Kultivating m>Other tongues, 2019

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Kira O’Reilly, What if this is the only world she knew?, 2018

I love a book that makes me feel ignorant, that spurs me into learning and catching up with a field i wasn’t following as closely as i thought. With its selection of peer-reviewed essays, personal accounts, interviews and artistic contributions, Art as We Don’t Know It reminded me how fast-paced, broad and exciting bioart can be. Reading it has been a humbling and enlightening experience.

Bioart remains at the margins of mainstream art. And yet, by relentlessly scrutinising natural sciences and establishing connections with researchers, bioart ponders upon some of the most profound impacts that the manipulation of life will have/is already having on culture, ethics and society. And then sets to communicate them with imagination, depth and clarity.

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Tamara Pertamina, CRISPR SPERM BANK, 2018

The book is structured around four thematic sections Life As We Don’t Know It, Convergences, Learnings/Unlearnings, Redraw and Refigure. And because bioart people are generous like that, they also threw in a glossary as a bonus.

Life as We don’t Know It is the perfect title for a section that looks into the shift in our understanding of what constitutes life following the rapid development of synthetic biology. It goes further however by also exploring exobiology, the biological systems and forms which are not from earth. The second section of the book – Convergences – focuses on the different ways in which the technological and the biological cluster into new constellations through artistic practice. Learnings/Unlearnings underlines the importance of self-education and knowledge-sharing when it comes to understanding, probing and communicating techno-scientific developments. A more self-reflective section, Redraw and Refigure looks at how art and thinking can help speculate and offer “strategies of amendment.”

The book closes on a glossary where you read about animal and forestry but also “Black Veganism” and xenomogrification. Each author submitted terms and definitions that they considered relevant to their contributions.

Ian Ingram, Nevermore-A-Matic, 2016

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Gerrit Van Bakel, Tarim Machine of the Utah tarim connection, 1982

If you’re interested in animals, survival, sex, climate change, biopower and anything in between, you’re bound to find something to make you think in Art as We Don’t Know It. Here’s a quick overview of some of the articles i enjoyed the most:

By going through the details of her HRT regimen, xenologist Adriana Knouf points to the “biohacking” dimension of HRT. Not only because of its profound medical effects but also because the United States Food and Drug Administration doesn’t officially authorise its use in the context of gender affirming therapy. There are no medications specifically designed for trans-gender HRT and by relying on what is available and marketed to cisgender people for all sorts of health reasons (to counter acne, high-blood pressure or the effects of menopause, for example), anyone using these medicines on the long term in the context of gender reassignment therapy is engaging in a form of self-experimentation.

Knouf’s text also explores xenology, the study, analysis and development of the strange, the alien, the other. Because some people fail to see transgender individuals as fully human, she herself feels like she belongs to xenology. Instead of running away from that term and what it entails, she embraces it as a part of a series practices of DIY and DIWO, hacking, reclaiming technology, infiltrating labs and opening up to encounters with other xenoentities in the universe.

Erich Berger uses his observation of the landscape in the sub-Arctic region of northern Finland and a selection of artworks to illuminate otherwise hard to cenceptualise matters of deep time and deep futures.

Laura Beloff reflects on hybrid ecology through the lens of art and forestry in Finland. I was expecting that the wise and eco-conscious Finns would protect their forest patrimony better than the rest of a Europe. Sadly, it appears that in Finland too the government sees forest as a resource to exploit for maximum economic gains. Hybrid ecology, she explains, refers to artworks and art practices that deal with an ecology that is an aggregate of biological and technological parts further complicated by the pressure of socio-economic interests. They form a community which grown, constructed and modified members enter into reciprocal exchanges that go beyond human intentions. The selection of artworks Beloff uses to illustrate the concept of hybrid ecology reveal changing environmental and societal conditions.

Rian Ciela Visscher Hammond wrote about Open Source Gendercodes, a project that aims at developing new, cheaper hormone production technologies in order to queer oppressive regimes of ownership and bio-power.

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Christina Stadlbauer, Ceramic Scar Tissue, 2018 (photo)

I learned in Denisa Kera‘s account of the forgotten history of our attempts to make science more inclusive and socially-engaged that Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, was publicly executed for his “unpatriotic” science. That was the the late 18th century but as she explains, various regimes in the 20th century similarly abused science and technology to serve their own vision of how science should serve the “greater good.”

Curator Jurij Krpan, looked back at the impressive accomplishments of the Ljubljana institution Kapelica Gallery. His essay focuses on the development of a program that orchestrates the creation of increasingly complex artworks. The works supported by Kapelica demand sophisticated technologies, functionally equipped rooms and the support of scientists and engineers from around the world.

Heather Davis, Elaine Gan and Terike Haapoja contributed to the publication with an insightful essay on the “Unbearable Whiteness of Bioart”. It is indeed quite surprising that a community so intent on uncovering and denouncing ethical problems raised by biotechnology and science in general, a community that constantly questions our disconnect from other life forms seems to be unconcerned by the equally urgent issues of decolonialization and intersectionality.

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The Tissue Culture & Art Project, Biomess, Exploded lab incubator with a custom-made bioreactor hosting living Hybridoma cells (detail from installation at the Art Gallery of Western Australia), 2018. Photo by Bo Wong

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from the Tissue, Culture & Art (TC&A) Project wrote a sharp and at times also humorous text that dissects artists’ role as fearless and pestering challengers of the theory, practice, application and implications of life sciences and biotechnologies. Another mission of artists, they believe, is to expand the narratives and directions in which knowledge can be applied.

Art As We Don’t Know It also introduced me to many (MANY) artworks i had never heard of. Here are some of them:

Paul Vanouse, Labor, 2019

Labor is an art installation that re-creates the scent of people exerting themselves under stressful conditions. There are, however, no people involved in making the smell – it is created by bacteria propagating in the three custom bioreactors at the center of the room. Each bioreactor incubates a unique species of human skin bacteria responsible for the primary scent of sweating bodies.

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Antti Laitinen, Forest Square III, 2009

Antti Laitinen dissected a 10 x 10 meter piece of forest, sorted it into its different materials (soil, moss, wood, etc.) and then rebuilt this piece of forest and arranged the different components by colour.

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Crystal Bennes, One Hundred Thousand Cities of the Sun, 2015

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Archive photograph of graphite blocks arranged in the thermal column of a test reactor at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 1951 (via)

One Hundred Thousand Cities of the Sun explores the idea of future cities developed around emerging nuclear technologies. One Hundred Thousand Cities of the Sun imagines what our cities might look like, how civic life could be transformed into cities with different kinds of work, infrastructure and community were it powered by nuclear energy.

A single, highly abstract, topological scale model of a City of the Sun has been constructed from dense, nuclear-grade graphite recovered from the thermal column of Finland’s first nuclear reactor. The sculptural model is joined by a series of text-based propositions, imagining alternative urban scenarios drawn from nuclear history past, present and possible future.

Teemu Lehmusruusu, Maatuu uinuu henkii (Respiration Field), 2019

Teemu Lehmusruusu‘s environmental installation is sensing and translating in sound and light the soil breathing and photosynthesis in summer at Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden.

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Clear-cut Preservation, 2010-2017

Mari Keski-Korsu has been observing since 2010 an hectare of clear-cut forest in Eastern Finland where no forest management activities are allowed. A camera left on site is taking photos of this piece of forest in order to record what happens to a clear-cut without management.

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Andy Gracie, Deep Data Prototypes 1, 2 + 3, 2016. Photo: Ars Electronica

The prototypes of the Deep Data series are experimental simulation devices in which space-faring terrestrial organisms are subjected to selected elements of the deep space environment.

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Paula Humberg, Dispersal (Slot B2 at 0h 2018), 2018

Dispersal is a photographic series and bioart project that visualises the effects of pollinator decline and climate change.

The project was done at Zackenberg research station in Greenland. Only two bumblebee species live naturally in Greenland, and in the absence of bees, muscid flies are the main pollinators. Biologists estimate that populations of muscid flies has decreased by up to 80% over the past few decades. Climate change is considered to be the likely main cause. The effects of climate change are more marked in Arctic areas where climate is warming faster and the ecological communities are simpler and, thus, more vulnerable.

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Christina Stadlbauer and Ulla Taipale, Feast of Pollen Gold, 2017. Photo by Antti Ahonen

Melliferopolis‘s Feast of Pollen Gold is a still-life composition made of fruits and vegetables that are insect or wind pollinated.

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Margherita Pevere, Wombs, 2018–2019

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Johanna Rotko, Living Images, yeastograms, 2014-ongoing (photo)

Previously: Field_Notes: From Landscape to Laboratory, also available as a PDF download.

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Paul Vanouse