is In Wild Air
Cat Jones is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and researcher. She creates immersive artworks, using methods of subversion and incongruence, to create experiences that are often described as transformative. Jones investigates authorities of knowledge that lie within social constructs, science, history, language and the senses. She works with biologists, neuroscientists, botanists, psychologists, physiotherapists and the public on artworks and research projects that delve illusion, empathy, climate futures, plant signalling, chronic pain, female anatomy, touch and olfaction. Her artworks and their data have inspired new scientific studies. She is an affiliate of the Sansom Institute, Body and Mind.
The Microbial Commons
Rebecca Conroy’s Marrickville School of Economics at Frontyard is an artist lead curriculum experimenting with new ways to do economy. I took part in the autumnal session, Femmenomics in the Oikos, considering feminist interpretations such as exclusion/inclusion of the messy porous body, and investigations of embodied capital by queering the economy.
In one of the sessions we discussed a reading by Elinor Ostrom which examines the microbiological commons and its new products being generated from advances in technology (culturing, preservation, genome sequencing and other data); as well as who it’s generated by; and to whom it is accessible. Raising questions of ethics and biological gatekeeping discussions lead us to the subject of significant gaps in medical research. One that is now being widely disseminated is the censorship of the clitoris from anatomy textbooks on which my work Anatomy’s Confection is based. However, there are many other areas of concern, some of which were highlighted recently by Kayla Webley Adler.
Much data that we rely on, omits female specific information. It’s been selectively excluded from scientific experiments, and even pharmacology testing over many years. The dire consequences for an unsuspecting female might include diagnostics such as the greatly varied symptoms of heart attack and the threshold for side effects or even toxicity in pharmaceutical dosage. Researchers frequently cite exclusion reasons like data reliability due to hormonal fluctuations, or the risk of pregnancy during data collection – adding to the hormone argument ethical resistance with the involvement of a foetus.
In the case of pharmaceuticals you, or your doctor can check that they've have been tested for women and if not, prescribed an alternative. Remember that increased demand will increase supply in the oikos.
Dr Jackie Morie
Dr Jacquelyn Ford Morie is an artist, scientist and educator. A VR pioneer, she has worked with Disney, NASA, Defence and is the founder of numerous research centres including the company All These Worlds. She is also the inventor of the Scent Collar and was named one of the most creative people in America in 2001.
I met Jackie at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles where I was exhibiting my work Century’s Breath for the AiX Scent Fair. Co-curated by Saskia Wilson-Brown and Darin Klein, AiX was filled with a diverse, multidisciplinary community of amazing humans.
I visited Jackie in her incredible home, full of family, colleagues, curio’s (like the oxytocin she sprayed on me before I left) and cats. Sitting up in her attic lab whilst she kept an eye on the render progress of a complex game we talked a length about many things one of which was Jackie’s specialty - the role of emotion in creating multisensory worlds. She’s become increasingly interested in the combination of VR and health. One of her projects in this area is working with PTSD veterans using scent in virtual worlds as a form of therapy. Perhaps also a medicament to soldier's training to fulfil their duty by overcoming strong smells like putrefaction.
Fermentations / Doing Nothing at FO.AM
Recently I’ve been in one place so long I’ve started to ferment. I added this other exploration of the microbiological commons, figuratively and literally, as a ritual poetic to a period of convalescence in part to make physical the quiet revolutions held within prolonged stasis.
This time coincides with the last month of fo.am’s physical location in Belgium before they take up a more nomadic existence. I had a residency there a few years ago when similar distillations occurred and this month I’ve drawn from the collective’s experimental practices in “doing nothing”. So with all this in mind (and the memory of delicious microbes grown by Belgian Trappist monks) I decided to try a little static culturing of my own.
Now, you can get all scientific on the process (I’ve had fun testing the ph of my batches with litmus paper) but it is actually very simple:
- Get a jar and lid
- Stick in some vegetables
- Submerge them in salty brine
- Practice stillness and patience (3 to 180 days)
- Welcome all the newcomers to your inner world.
The daily change of the tang is fascinating evidence that a new village of microbes has moved in. You can eat whilst they’re a-fermenting or pop them in the fridge if you’re happy with the latest cultural contributions.
Tessa Zettel has made an artform of fermenting through her project Making Time. I’ve seen an exquisite sample of her illustrated edition of fermenting processes (300 pages) that is now printed, hand sewn and ready for you to digest.
The Singer Sewing Machine
Singer* sewing machines are revered within my family. They represent a world of pragmatic affection, meditative industry, and endless cycles of destruction/transformation. I love their smell of machine oil and the feel of their cool metal in my hands.
I grew up standing to the side of numerous intergenerational machines for lessons in patience as much as mechanics. As it turns out I can now thread a machine blindfold – something I’ve unintentionally tested mid-installation in a black out.
Singer is described as the first capitalist by Alex Askaroff and is an obvious player in the world of Femmenomics. The vintage machines do fascinate me in the way they reflect social constructs of their time like this. Beyond the culturally appropriated decorative patterns on some models there are other signs such as the ‘knee’ operated Singer. Produced between the 30’s and 50’s it has an under-the-table subversive quality that plays into and defies female sexual oppression of the era. Operating it necessitates thigh pressure against an angled rod and it's semi pliant resistance requires legs to part, engagement of the groins, and a slow, steady press to reach and maintain power. I gave my grandmother a little space when she was using this machine. Her rising skirt ‘n slip along with the rhythmic parting of her legs seeming more a private operation.
Another of her machines was a treadle – remembering her fabric-draped feet rocking its plate makes me think of her on Alfred Traeger’s pedal radio, through which she transmitted by Morse code enemy aircraft sightings from her remote station in the Gulf of Carpentaria as a member of the WWII Air Observers Corps. Singer at this time paused sewing machine production to produce weapons. My grandmother’s neighbour was said to be issued with a .303 and the instruction that on invasion and discovery he was to round up all women and children and execute them…to avoid atrocity.
Illusions & Rewilding
Illusions are defined as the “misinterpreted perception of sensory experience”. They come in relational sensory categories like optical, auditory, body, olfactory or taste and have method subcategories that you might expect like colour, pitch, touch or spatial, and others you may not like vibratory illusions. They are used for research across disciplines from neuroscience, artificial intelligence to anaesthiology and pharmacology.
Since 2013 I’ve been working with an illusion that manipulates body agency and ownership. It’s an adaptation of the rubber hand illusion originally used by illusionists. It’s a visual-tactile illusion so relies on the feel and sight of touch. What I find fascinating about researching this illusion is the revelation that we will adopt almost anything as a body, in part or whole, and assign to it the same agency and ownership that we do our cis bodies.
Another layer to this plasticity is in the way experiencing the new body affects the way we think including, our inner dialogue and our empathy with others that have a body similar to the new or virtual body we adopt. For example adopting the virtual body of a child can alter language structures and attitude to be more infantile and adopting a body of another ethnicity can have a positive affect on implicit racial bias (see Mel Slater). Body illusions also affect our perception of the space immediately around our body, peri-personal space. Surprisingly they can also affect the cis body on a physiological level. As attention and agency move away from the cis body (ie. neglect) biological signalling causes symptoms such as cooling, prickling, numbness, sometimes entirely new sensations, or nausea, pain, redness and swelling depending on the nature of, and personal psychological associations you have, with your new body.
This leads us into the complex and wide-ranging subject of quantum biology, a subject Andrew Goodman draws upon on in his chapter Black Magic: Fragility, Flux and Rewilding in Art for Immediations. Art, Media, Event (Open Humanities Press, due 2017) in relation to ecology and my work Somatic Drifts.
“Cut it on the bias”
A frequent quip from my good best, late father was the phrase “cut it on the bias”. Its source was my mother’s most used sewing solution, meaning to cut across rather than with the grain of fabric. His amusing appropriation was oft delivered in the background of some exasperating or puerile sibling banter but it became a familial idiom universal beyond problem solving. Lately I’ve been thinking of it in terms of social fabric.
In a group conversation with the female section editor of a major rag, an observation was made on the predominantly male authored entries. She responded confirming she received an equal number from female authors but that in her opinion, the male submissions were the best quality and the most topically relevant. Politely asking questions like How do you measure quality? and How do you determine what is topical and to which audience does it relate?, the group gently unpacked with her the subject and systematics of implicit bias, of which she seemed unaware – having never considered her own conditioning.
If you’d like to check the direction of your own implicit grain, a neat little tool on a range of social conditioning is Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. Though you may find your subconscious thread to run in a direction different to that which you might expect.