Microscopic Life Conference

 

Journée d’étude

“Microscopic Life in 20th- and 21st-Century Performance”

La vie microscopique dans les arts vivants des XXe et XXIe siècles

15/03/2024

Fondation Maison des Sciences de L’Homme, 54 bd Raspail – Le Comptoir (1er étage)

 

9.00                 Welcome: Gisèle Séginger, director of the Biohumanities programme

9.15-10.15      Panel 1

– Violaine Heyraud (Sorbonne Nouvelle) : « Le microbe dans les intrigues du théâtre de Grand-Guignol (1905-1930) : agent ou instrument ? »

– Daniel Ibrahim Abdalla (University of Liverpool), “‘A Strange and Secret Thing’: Staging Heredity in the Harlem Renaissance”

10.15-10.45    Coffee Break

10.45-12.00    Panel 2

– Patrick Armstrong (Cambridge University), “Samuel Beckett’s Magnifiers”

– Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr (University of Oxford), “Medicine Show (1940) and ‘the Unseen Enemy’” 

– Elisabeth Darrobers (Sorbonne Université) and Wallerand Bazin (University of Oxford), “Screening the probiotic: Jumping microbial and geomorphic scales on stage”

12.00-13.30    Lunch

13.30-14.30    Panel 3

– Martin Grünfeld (University of Copenhagen), “Notes from a museum underground: on the troubled curation of metabolic wizardry”

– Diya Mehta and Claire Nettleton (Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College), “Microculture: Microbial Performances at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College”

14.30-14.45    Short Break

14.45-16.00    Panel 4

– Marcela Moura (Sorbonne Nouvelle and UNIRIO), « Analyse systémique des interactions au sein de la performance ‘From plankton to human bodies : the dance of interacting types’ »

– Lois Oppenheim (Montclair State University), “Interoception and Reception: Performing and Viewing the Language of Gaga in ‘Naharin’s Virus’”

– Rosa Postlethwaite (Coventry University and Aarhus University), ““Solos” with Sourdough: Dramaturgy with other-than-human species”

16.00-16.30    Coffee Break

16.30-17.45    Panel 5

– Amandine Mercier (Université d’Artois), « Mise en scène, incarnation et dramaturgie de la vie microscopique : projections des gamètes mâles sur les scènes du théâtre de Romeo Castellucci »

– Alison Humphrey (York University), “Embodying the Uncanny in Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm

– Tarsh Bates (Umeå University), “Microbial sense-ability: olfactory art, metabolism and queer microperformativity”

 

Organisers: Liliane Campos (Sorbonne Nouvelle), François-Joseph Lapointe (Université de Montréal) and Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr (Oxford University)

This events is part of the BioCriticism project (https://biocriticism.hypotheses.org/), supported by the Sorbonne Nouvelle, the Institut Universitaire de France and the FMSH “Biohumanities” programme.

ABSTRACTS

Violaine Heyraud (Sorbonne Nouvelle) : « Le microbe dans les intrigues du théâtre de Grand-Guignol (1905-1930) : agent ou instrument ? »

Le genre théâtral du Grand-Guignol, né à la fin du XIXe siècle, crée l’épouvante par des intrigues violentes tout en invitant à la réflexion : en exhibant avec force trucages des corps suppliciés, les auteurs de ce genre – écrivant majoritairement pour les scènes concurrentes des théâtres du Grand-Guignol et des Deux Masques – entendent scruter les maux de la société et les tréfonds de l’âme humaine. Dans les premières années du XXe siècle, certaines pièces parient sur le potentiel spectaculaire de la maladie – mise en scène d’hystériques ou d’aliénés – et de la médecine – opérations menées par des chirurgiens négligents ou des savants fous. Dans les années qui suivent la révolution pastorienne, entre 1900 et 1930, plusieurs intrigues de Grand-Guignol se fondent sur la crainte des microbes et sur l’usage des vaccins. Or ce genre qui cherche à rendre visible le sang, la mutilation ou la violence insoutenable paraît peu enclin à tenter de figurer les organismes que l’œil humain ne peut percevoir. De plus, il s’inspire moins des maladies contagieuses (la rage, bien souvent) que de la folie meurtrière. Ce corpus mérite toutefois l’attention, d’autant plus qu’il contient quelques classiques du Grand-Guignol : Gardiens de phare de Paul Autier et Paul Cloquemin (1905), Le Beau Régiment de Robert Francheville (1912), Le Château de la mort lente d’André de Lorde et Henri Bauche (1916), Devant la mort d’Alfred Savoir et Léopold Marchand (1920), ainsi que deux autres pièces, non publiées, L’Horrible Volupté de Charles Hellem et Pol d’Estoc (1924) et Le Navire aveugle de Max Maurey d’après Jean Barreyre (1927).

Si le microbe est invisible, le danger de la contagion informe l’intrigue, ordonne le suspens et commande les effets spectaculaires. Le public est amené à comprendre au cours de la pièce les signes d’un dysfonctionnement, voire à poser lui-même un diagnostic. La mise en jeu des organismes microscopiques prépare en réalité à bas bruit la scène de violence physique ou d’agonie, où l’infection est bien souvent aggravée par un acte meurtrier accompli en toute conscience. L’implication invisible du microbe interroge ainsi toujours la responsabilité de l’homme. Les auteurs de Grand-Guignol s’intéressent aux microbes par le biais de leurs porteurs : parias, parasites, figures de l’étranger, de l’altérité ; ou, à l’inverse, riches expérimentateurs ou sommités du monde médical imbus du pouvoir que leur confèrent la science et la vaccination. Par la thématique de l’infection microbienne, ces dramaturges renouvellent les effets tragiques du théâtre d’épouvante tout en creusant les questionnements scientifiques, sociaux, politiques, moraux et anthropologiques propres au Grand-Guignol.

 

Daniel Ibrahim Abdalla (University of Liverpool), “‘A Strange and Secret Thing’: Staging Heredity in the Harlem Renaissance”

W.E.B. Du Bois is best known for his pioneering work on race from the beginning of the twentieth century, especially in The Souls of Black Folk (1903); however, his original dramatic works remain almost completely critically neglected. As Geoffrey Lokke has recently noted, altogether, Du Bois’s plays “[total] some 1900 pages. An in-depth study of these documents would reveal something of Du Bois’s creative process as he developed the plays over the years.” This paper argues that a close reading of these plays reveals Du Bois’s engagement with modern drama, particularly as he turns to the genre to explore ideas from evolutionary biology such as heredity and race.

In particular, I use archival materials to focus on the strategies by which Du Bois sought to make the invisible, microscopic processes of biological heredity visible in Christ on the Andes (c. 1907) and The All-Mother (c. 1931). I trace his interest in August Weismann’s theory of germplasm, as well as show the ways in which his interest in staging biological topics which intersected with ideas of agency and environment links him to both the oeuvres of playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett; as well as critically-neglected playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance such as Willis Richardson, Marita Bonner and Mercedes Gilbert.

Despite their explicit biological interests, Du Bois’s plays do not feature in accounts of modernist theatre. Similarly, the plays of the Harlem Renaissance have long been viewed as separate from the developing concerns of experimental twentieth-century drama. This paper uses the framework of theatre and science to correct these oversights; and in doing so recovers the significant engagement with key moments of microscopic biological life by historically-marginalized figures.

 

Patrick Armstrong (Cambridge University), “Samuel Beckett’s Magnifiers”

In 1955, the actor Peter Woodthorpe asked Samuel Beckett to explain the meaning of Waiting for Godot; to this impossible question, the latter answered: “It’s all symbiosis, Peter; it’s symbiosis.” What, if anything, can we read into this anecdotal remark, and what might it tell us about Beckett’s microscopic imagination and his broader, quasi-biological conception of actor, actant, and plot? In his earlier novel, Watt (1953), Beckett had incorporated a curious allusion to a ‘headlong tardigrade’, a microscopic animal, in an idiosyncratic description of Watt’s puzzling movements. In Endgame (1957), meanwhile, the specific and repeated references to optical instruments offer some of the most striking examples of Beckett’s attraction to the dynamic of prosthetically enhanced perception and the deficient naked eye:

CLOV (He gets down, picks up the telescope, turns it on auditorium.) I see … a multitude … in transports … of joy. (Pause.) That’s what I call a magnifier. […] (He gets up on the ladder, turns the telescope on the without.) Let’s see. (He looks, moving the telescope.) Zero … (he looks) … zero … (he looks) … and zero.

With what we might call a distinctly Beckettian magnifier, the means of extending vision in Endgame results in a disconcerting succession of zeros. The use of the telescope is characteristically negative, leading only to the recognition of the absence of quantity, denying us access to ‘the without’. Later in the play, moreover, Clov searches for ‘the glass’ and quips: ‘You’d need a microscope to find this – (He sees the telescope.) Ah, about time.’ Such prosthetic devices in Beckett’s dramatic works, as Anna McMullan has persuasively argued, ‘tend to emphasize the limits or distortions of vision rather than increased agency’. Yet, as his engagement with scientific and popular scientific materials suggest, Beckett was undoubtedly intrigued by the implications of microbiology and microscopy. Through a series of close readings of Beckett’s notebooks and annotations alongside his dramatic works, this paper aims to uncover the microscopic imagination that informed his representations of individuals and environments.

 

Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr (University of Oxford), “Reactivating Plays through the Microscopic Imaginary”

This paper explores how microperformativity might reactivate three kinds of plays:  those written/ conceived before the current climate crisis; those written more recently and with no overt connection to climate change yet given that meaning through microperformativity; and those with other themes entirely, such as the transmission of disease or the workings of heredity.  The common element to all three groups is the microscopic and how its staging refreshes these plays and lends them renewed urgency and relevance for our times.  Key examples include works by George Bernard Shaw (Back to Methuselah, Too True to Be Good); Henrik Ibsen  (An Enemy of the People; The Lady from the Sea; Ghosts); Maxim Gorky (Children of the Sun); Maurice Maeterlinck (The Blind); Samuel Beckett (Act Without Words; Happy Days); J.B. Priestley (Summer Day’s Dream); Susan Glaspell (Inheritors); the Capek brothers (The Insect Play); and the ‘slow theatre’ of Jon Fosse.  I will explore a handful of these in my paper and give particular weight to actual performances, both past and present.  My emphasis is equally on text and scenography.

 

Elisabeth Darrobers (Sorbonne Université) and Wallerand Bazin (University of Oxford), “Screening the probiotic: Jumping microbial and geomorphic scales on stage”

One of the main challenges of eco-dramaturgy is to ‘jump scales’, that is to represent the infinitely small, microbes, or the ungraspably large, landscapes. In The Probiotic Planet (2020), environmental geographer Jamie Lorimer thinks both scales together when exploring how the reintroduction of ‘good’ germs to heal microbial biomes or of keystone species to restore trophically degraded ecosystems are part of a more general probiotic turn in environmentalism, whereby Life is used to govern Life. However, as he acknowledges, his book fails to “explore the aesthetics of going probiotic”, one that would “examine the contested valorisation of mess in debates about rewilding, biome restoration, and probiotic agriculture”. By looking at the use of screens in French and English contemporary theatre, this paper interrogates how new technical ventures staging probiotic “messy natures” both resolves and renews eco-dramaturgy’s scalar problem. Much like the use of optical instruments in modern theatre, how has the pervasiveness of screens enabled to “play with scale” in post-pasteurian and post-pastoral contemporary theatre?

 

Martin Grünfeld (University of Copenhagen), “Notes from a museum underground: on the tiny agencies of mushrooms metabolizing objects, agencies and research processes in transdisciplinary multi-species collaborations”

At museums around the globe, preservation practices aim to stabilize objects in authentic material states sometimes designated as their “true nature”. Meanwhile, the absolute Others of museums – heritage eaters – are suppressed as unwelcome metabolizers. But what if we perceive other organisms such as fungi as potentials and attempt to develop practices of caring beyond saving, by deliberately reawakening collections from their metabolic slumber? How can we draw on the tiny agencies of other organisms to metabolize our discarded collections into new living beginnings? And if we invite other organisms into the museum space, how does such agencies potentially shape our notions of agency, curation and research? In this talk, I wish to discuss these questions based on my previous work as a founder and curator of The Living Room – a living exhibition hosted at Medical Museion in Copenhagen between 2021 and 2023. In the exhibition, we collaborated across conservation science, artistic practice and humanities research to cultivate other lifecycles of objects and organisms at the museum. In our practice, fungi have played both planned and serendipitous roles, shaping our exhibition and research with us. Drawing on our transdisciplinary and multi-species collaborations, I will discuss how mushrooms have kept our artistic research process open reshaping it in uncontrollable and uncertain ways and reiteratively showing us how decomposition does not necessarily entail loss.

 

Diya Mehta and Claire Nettleton (Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College), “Microculture: Microbial Performances at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College”

We will examine a series of contemporary microbial performances at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, inspired by François-Joseph Lapointe’s 2018 workshop at Pomona College Expérimentations Microbiennes et Transformations Identitaires. This series illustrated the importance of moving microbial actors in art and ecology and re-examined the role of the human. In spring 2022, giant hydras moved through the Benton Museum of Art and at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and then invaded the streets of Paris. Artists Joel Ong and Mick Lorusso transposed live microorganisms onto an 1832 administrative map of Paris by Aristide Michel Perrot, which they projected on a large screen at the Benton Museum, revealing the historic link between microbes, urban planning, and aesthetics. As a part of the Parisian Ecologies exhibition, which examined urban transformations in prints and drawings and their relation to environmental issues, Micro-Dérive: A Performance illustrated microscopic movement and transmission recalling pandemics from cholera to COVID-19. Ong and Lorusso’s performance echoed Jean Comandon’s microcinematographic projections, in Paris in 1909, which enlarged microscopic entities such as bacilli to as tall as a six-story house and revealed their animate motion.

Ong and Lorusso’s performance engaged “psychogeographical approaches to (bio)locative) media” (Parisian Ecologies 2022), which combined microscopy, cartography, and motion tracking. Joel and Ong considered urban navigation through the perspective of microbes, or as Jakob von Uexküll describes as the umwelt or phenomenal world. Some samples were collected from Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles as well as from residential properties, revealing the importance of microbes in major cities, which other performances the same night by Maru Garcia and Olga Kisseleva also emphasized. Ong and Lorusso played sounds sampled from Pierre Schaefer and Pierre Henry’s “Symphonie pour un homme seul” and Luc Ferrari’s “La remontée du village, partie 1” and recited a poem they wrote describing the relationships that microbes have formed throughout the history of life on Earth, especially in human settlements, touching upon the recent COVID pandemic and the cholera epidemic’s impact on Paris’s water supply and sewage removal. The following year, the Benton featured a workshop by artist Ken Rinaldo, where, with his help, the audience recreated his artwork Borderless Bacteria/Colonialist Cash (2020), which featured currency from countries in conflict in agar in large, square Petri dishes, covered in microbes. The students instead cultured their own items, from earrings to train tickets, some mixed with the items of others, manifesting the beauty of their individual and collective microbiomes. The performance revealed conceptual shifts around the notions of community, self, individual, and the environment in addition to the constructs of creator and audience, and art and science.

 

Marcela Moura (Sorbonne Nouvelle and UNIRIO), « Analyse systémique des interactions au sein de la performance ‘From plankton to human bodies : the dance of interacting types’ »

Cette communication propose de présenter une analyse, selon une approche systémique (Le Moigne 1994, 2003), de la performance « From plankton to human bodies : the dance of interacting types ». , performance présentée à l’Institut des Systèmes Complexes de Paris IdF, CNRS le 13 octobre 2023 et dont j’ai contribué à la conception.

Cette œuvre a été élaborée spécifiquement pour la Biennale ARTEX 2023. Elle découle d’une collaboration étroite entre des artistes et des scientifiques. Côté scientifique, Silvia De Monte est engagée dans un groupe de recherche dédié à l’étude des écosystèmes du phytoplancton marin. Les phytoplanctons marins occupent une place cruciale au sein des écosystèmes marins, et la réaction de ces organismes face aux changements environnementaux constitue un axe de recherche central pour la scientifique Silvia De Monte. Afin de concevoir la performance, plusieurs artistes ont collaboré : Marcela Moura, artiste et chercheuse en théâtre et performance, Adrienne Nowak, artiste plasticienne, ainsi que les musiciens Pierre Carré et Florestan Labourdette. L’objectif de cette coopération était de transposer sur scène les principales phases des écosystèmes marins, en prenant en considération les paramètres liés aux interactions interspécifiques et intraspécifiques.

Nous nous proposons de clarifier la manière dont la scène artistique a orchestré et retranscrit les études scientifiques sur les planctons, en évitant tout recours au mimétisme, et en suggérant d’autres modalités sensorielles de connaissance. En adoptant des concepts tels que l’interaction, la rétroaction et la cinesthésie comme points de départ, les corps humains, tout en préservant leur singularité physique, ont réussi à reproduire certains comportements observables au sein de l’écosystème des planctons marins. Nous analyserons comment les protocoles issus de la danse et de la performance ont contribué à la création de systèmes artistiques complexes et ouverts, générant des comportements imprévisibles rappelant ceux des phytoplanctons marins. Nous examinerons également comment, en revanche, les protocoles scientifiques sur les phytoplanctons ont influencé les catégories de la création artistique dans le domaine de la performance.

 

Lois Oppenheim (Montclair State University), “Interoception and Reception: Performing and Viewing the Language of Gaga in ‘Naharin’s Virus’”

Are mirroring and embodied simulation the only means of transmission in performance art?  Might there not be something else that takes hold of the viewer, something otherwise relevant to contagion?  Focusing primarily on the vocabulary of Gaga as created by choreographer Ohad Naharin, with an emphasis on his dance piece entitled Naharin’s virus, I will explore what is ‘infectious’ about Gaga, how it is felt by the dancers and how transmission to the audience occurs, just what the “virus” is that Naharin puts on the stage.  Is its value solely metaphoric?  Is it solely affective?  Or are bodily rhythms – are interoceptive, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic feelings – transmitted in the scope of the undetectable (but no less vital) miniscule to the spectator?  Is the pleasure that dancers take in the movement of their flesh and bones, in that tension, thereby transmitted as well? 

 

Rosa Postlethwaite (Coventry University and Aarhus University), ““Solos” with Sourdough: Dramaturgy with other-than-human species”

This is an updated version of the paper I delivered at Emerging Scholars Forum EASTAP23. In this paper I will discuss how attending to the agency of other-than-human species within dramaturgy practice formulates ethical questions related to the Anthropocene. In my research I am using a practice research methodology characterised by the metaphor of “diffraction” (Barad 2007). In this paper, I introduce my dramaturgy practice with sourdough starter, a microbiome of yeasts and bacteria, through Karen Barad’s post-humanist theories on agency (2003, 2007). I discuss the processes taken in my live art project “Solos” with sourdough (Solos”) and outline the ethical questions that were formulated during it. I do this, not to find answers to practical questions through post-humanist literature, but to hone and condense these questions to share with the research community. I hope such discussion on ethics will be useful to artists working with microscopic living entities. 

My practice research PhD, ‘Dramaturgy with other-than-human species’, consists of live art projects that explore dramaturgy practice with yeasts and bacteria. “Solos” is a live art project exploring dramaturgy practice with sourdough which is commonly used in bread making. For the project I was guided by Robbrecht’s definition of dramaturgy as ‘the web of talks, thoughts, images and sensualities that brings us towards the conceptualisation of what we are actually doing (‘the work’), and often resembles an ‘unidentifiable object ’during an artistic process’ (2017, p. 138). Over eight weeks, March – August 2022, I attempted to do dramaturgical conversation with sourdough. I/we worked towards a series of four live art performances-to-camera, “Solos” (2022) 

 

Amandine Mercier (Université d’Artois), « Mise en scène, incarnation et dramaturgie de la vie microscopique : projections des gamètes mâles sur les scènes du théâtre de Romeo Castellucci »

Dans les créations scéniques contemporaines C.#11 (2004) de La Tragedia Endogonidia et Il Combattimento (2000), Romeo Castellucci, metteur en scène italien et fondateur de la Societas Raffaello Sanzio, offre une vision interne et microscopique du corps qu’il s’agit de questionner dans cette contribution. En effet, cet artiste invite le spectateur à plonger dans le lieu premier de la genèse par l’exposition de gamètes mâles. À ce titre, dans C.#11 un film de 6 minutes 30 et placé en prologue, est projeté sur la scénographie du plateau et y exhibe la motilité de spermatozoïdes en gros plan. De la même manière, dans Il Combattimento est diffusée en direct la vision microscopique de spermatozoïdes fraîchement prélevés de la verge d’un équipé présent sur scène.

Romeo Castellucci procède ainsi à une liquéfaction de la dramaturgie textuelle et musicale des oeuvres originelles, en usant des corps et de leurs fluides. Outre la danse de la nativité qu’élaborent malgré eux ces gamètes, ils deviennent incarnation des personnages de la fiction par associations dramaturgiques et esthétiques. De facto, le microscopique se dévoile aux yeux de tous et participe de l’interprétation de l’oeuvre. Les organismes qui le peuplent deviennent des icônes qui s’affrontent dans une lutte frénétique et mortelle dans leur assaut de la vie. Par ailleurs, les flux corporels, notamment dans ces spectacles le sperme, ponctuent le flux de la parole parlée ou chantée dans ces oeuvres théâtrales et lyriques. De même, ils témoignent du flux migratoire des humeurs corporels entre l’organicité interne du corps et sa membrane extérieure. Les orifices corporels deviennent le lieu des afflux et reflux des fluides et celui du passage de l’exil. Enfin, les flux des médias, comme la projection audiovisuelle utilisée dans ces spectacles, ponctuent la visibilité des fluides, d’ordinaire invisible à l’oeil nu car microscopique, ou encore consciemment invisibilisés pour répondre aux us et coutumes, moeurs et diktats.

Ce qui est normalement restreint à la sphère de l’intime s’expose par l’extime. Ce transfert du champ du visible déplace les seuils d’acceptabilité de ce qui est légitime ou non, concevable ou non, de dévoiler et d’exposer, de placer au centre des regards. La projection de la vie microscopique sur les scènes du théâtre de Romeo Castellucci devient de fait le lieu d’une spermatogénèse et d’une endogénie de la pièce dramaturgique qui y est mise en scène.

 

Alison Humphrey (York University), “Embodying the Uncanny in Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm

Larrie Dudenhoeffer (2017) defines the superhero film as “feel[ing] its way into… radical otherness” through the metaphors of its characters’ superpowers: “an array of animal, vegetal, chemical, energetic, mechanical, significatory, and anthropomorphic forces or ‘actants’ that require constant negotiation.” Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm is a participatory mixed-reality storytelling framework that uses a superhero metaphor to experiment with new ways of imagining inoculation, vaccines and viruses. Developed through dramatic workshops on three continents between 2016 and 2022, this “citizen science fiction” scenario (Humphrey 2023) invites participants to role-play as volunteers in a Phase I vaccine trial against the shadowpox virus, recording improvised lab-journal videos in response to prompts in a story arc. Through their choice to embody the vaccine, these heroes’ origin stories intertwine in a networked narrative, tangling evidence with affect, and fiction with misinformation.

Gabriel de los Angeles (2016) describes the perspective-shifting potential of an educational live-action role-playing game designed as “a form of agent-based modeling of more-than-human actors,” while Bruno Latour’s (2017) “Theatre of Negotiations” addresses what he sees as a deep human inability to take non-human actors into account without the specific “fiction of a representative who could speak face to face.” In Shadowpox, however, the role-play is not of well-bounded individuals, human or otherwise, but of characters who mutate into hybrid entities, carriers of an attenuated-virus vaccine who represent the human and the viral simultaneously. 

Humanity’s deep unease with this boundary-crossing goes back to the dawn of vaccination, where to induce smallpox immunity, 18th-century “Britons’ bodies were to be invaded with cow pox matter,” which opponents feared had “the power to metamorphose men into grotesque miscreations who are both man and beast” (Fulford and Lee 2000). The superhero genre is uniquely suited to conveying this mutated multiplicity, and Shadowpox’s “citizen science fiction” gives participants an opportunity to “feel [their] way into the… radical otherness” of a vaccine, and to build drama out of the fear this uncanny actant inspires. 

 

Tarsh Bates (Umeå University), “Microbial sense-ability: olfactory art, metabolism and queer microperformativity”

Microbes are intensely social, communicating and cooperating to perform a wide range of multicellular activities. Social behaviours are mediated by intercellular chemical signaling and surface sensitivity. These are environments where contact zones are physical; vision is irrelevant, touch is all. Bodies brush against each other and their surrounds, animated by chemical transmissions and transfigured by sensation. Communications are visceral: chemical signals excreted and caressed by cell surface moieties. The caress of volatile organic compounds (odorants) on the membranes of cells is known as olfaction and odorants secreted by microbes are fundamental within metabolic processes. Matter forms and dissolves as odorants are ingested, digested and excreted. This paper weaves together Barad’s concept of queer performativity, Hauser & Strecker’s (2020) microperformativity, Landecker (2011; 2023), Hird (2012) and Bakke’s (2017) understandings of metabolism as transformative matter, and Irigaray’s eros (1993) to examine artworks that engage with olfaction and microbes, arguing through these olfactory performances, microbes and humans become sense-able to and of each other, an erotic inter and intra-species communication, a queer metabolic intra-activity that transverses spacetimematter.

BIOGRAPHIES

 

Dr. Daniel Ibrahim Abdalla is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the Department of English at the University of Liverpool. His first monograph, which is currently under review, focuses on how four prominent American writers–Henry James, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Robins, and W. E. B. Du Bois–engaged with contemporary scientific theories of heredity in their fiction and drama. He is developing a new research project on literary engagements with the North and South Poles (1800-present), which focuses on indigeneity, climate change, race, and activism. His work has been published in Modern Drama, and he has co-authored with Kirsten E Shepherd-Barr a chapter on ‘Science’ for the upcoming volume The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Drama, edited by Brad Kent.

Patrick Armstrong completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2022 with a thesis entitled Microscopy and Modernist Fiction from Hardy to Beckett. His research focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, modernism, and the intersections between science and literature. He has published work on Thomas Hardy (in The Thomas Hardy Journal) and Samuel Beckett (in Textual Practice). His debut monograph, Microscopy, Magnification, and Modernist Fiction: Micro-Modernism from Hardy to Beckett, is forthcoming with Bloomsbury Academic in 2024. He has taught at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and currently teaches at the University of Cambridge. 

Natarsha Bates is interested in bodies as queer ecologies, Candida albicans & how radically diverse organisms can understand each other. Natarsha was born in Mununjali/Beaudesert, Yugambeh/Queensland, grew up in Matamata, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and has lived for the last 35 years in Perth, Whadjuk Nyungar Boodja/South-Western Australia. She recently moved to Ubmeje, Sápmi, the lands of the Sami people in northern Sweden. She has a PhD in biological art from SymbioticA and has worked as a pizza delivery driver, a fruit and vegetable stacker, a toilet-paper packer, a compost researcher, a honeybee ejaculator, a gallery invigilator, a raspberry picker, an academic, an editor, a bookkeeper, a car detailer, and a life drawing model. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Design & Molecular Biology at Umeå University, Sweden. She is enamoured with Candida albicans.

 

Wallerand Bazin is a DPhil candidate in Human Geography working on European nature recovery politics. He explores the politics of knowledge, land access and landscape aesthetics of the probiotic turn in conservation, looking specifically at the UNESCO cultural landscapes of the Cévennes (France) and the Lake District (England), under the supervision of Jamie Lorimer and Constance McDermott. 

 

Dr. Liliane Campos is a Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, and a Research Fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France. Her published monographs and articles explore how novelists, poets and performers transform the images and discourse of science. She also co-edited the open access volumes Life, Re-Scaled: The Biological Imagination in Twenty-First-Century Literature and Performance (2022) and Nouveaux paradigmes du virus et du parasite (2018). Liliane directs the BioCriticism webinar, which maps out relations between the life sciences, critical theory, contemporary literature and visual art (https://biocriticism.hypotheses.org/).

 

Elisabeth Darrobers is a PhD candidate in French Literature and Theatre Studies at Sorbonne-Université. Her research focuses on the detail on stage, from the late nineteenth century to contemporary productions, under the supervision of Marianne Bouchardon and Anne-Françoise Benhamou.

Dr. Martin Grünfeld is an assistant professor in science communication at the University of Copenhagen. He is a philosopher of training often finding himself working in the intersections between disciplines and engaging in transdisciplinary collaborations with artists, curators and other organisms. For the past five years, he has worked as a curator and researcher at Medical Museion focusing on care, decay, metabolism and more-than-human art-science collaborations through material encounters and exhibition making. Currently, he is developing his research in arts-based science communication focusing on issues around climate change and sustainability through sound art and poetics. Martin can be reached on mg@ind.ku.dk 

Dr. Violaine Heyraud est maître de conférences en littérature française du xixe siècle à l’université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3 et membre du Centre de Recherche sur les Poétiques du xixe siècle (CRP19). Elle a consacré plusieurs ouvrages à Feydeau, dont Feydeau, la machine à vertiges (Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2012) et Georges Feydeau (Paris, Gallimard, Folio Biographies, 2023). Elle a également édité une anthologie des pièces de cet auteur (Georges Feydeau, Théâtre, Paris, Gallimard, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », 2021). Elle poursuit ses travaux sur le théâtre, particulièrement sur la poétique et la mise en scène de la comédie, du vaudeville, du Grand-Guignol et du boulevard depuis le xixe siècle. Elle travaille également sur les rapports du théâtre à la médecine.

Alison Humphrey plays with story across drama, digital media, and education. Since starting out as an intern at Marvel Comics, she has directed classical and live-mocapped interactive theatre, produced alternate reality games, and written transmedia television. The research-creation dissertation for her PhD in Cinema and Media Arts, titled “The ShadowpoxStoryworld as Citizen Science Fiction: Building Co-Immunity through Participatory Mixed-Reality Storytelling,” centred on a mixed-reality storyworld co-created with young people on three continents, imagining immunization through a superhero metaphor. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Global Strategy Lab at York University in Toronto, where her ongoing research interests include applying this “citizen science fiction” methodology to the social challenges of vaccination, antimicrobial resistance, and climate change.“Medicine Show (1940) and ‘the Unseen Enemy’”

François-Joseph Lapointe is a biologist and bioartist, Full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the Université de Montréal (Canada). He holds a PhD in evolutionary biology (1992) and another PhD in the studies and practices of the arts (2012). As part of his research in biology, he is interested in phylogenetics, systematics, population genetics, and the human microbiome. As part of his interdisciplinary artistic practice, he draws inspiration from models of molecular biology and genetics. He is the author of 140 scientific publications and more than 300 international conferences. His artistic work has notably been presented at the Musée de la civilization (Quebec), Transmediale (Berlin), SciArt Center (New York), Ars Electronica (Linz), Medical Museion (Copenhagen), Science Gallery (London) and the Centre Pompidou (Paris).

Diya Mehta is a senior at Pomona College, majoring in Politics, Philosophy, Economics (PPE), with a minor in French. She also holds the position of academic programming intern at the Benton Museum of Art, along with being the co-director of Gallery Talks at the museum. She is interested in the intersection between performance and science, and how the two can inform each other. This was fostered by her involvement with the Benton, which has included helping to organise and teach classes around bioart, and the role of microbial cultures in art. She is also a research assistant for Professor Sean Diament at Pomona College, examining the role of the American Congress in enforcing Jim Crow. 

Dr. Amandine Mercier est Maîtresse de conférences en Arts de la scène et du spectacle vivant de l’Université d’Artois et membre de l’équipe Praxis et Esthétique des Arts, Laboratoire Textes et Cultures. Le premier volet de ses recherches s’attache aux dialogues des arts et aux orientations majeures d’une scène considérée comme lieu de fabrique des origines en tant qu’espace de l’ob-scène. Le deuxième volet de ses recherches porte sur les politiques culturelles alternatives d’innovation culturelle et sociale. Elle est notamment l’autrice de « Sur le concept du visage du fils de Dieu de Castellucci, puissances de récits médiatiques, source d’un scandale et du spectacle dans les rues », dans Violences et radicalités militantes dans l’espace public en France des années 1980 à nos jours (2019), Béatrice Fleury et Jacques Walter (dir.) ; « L’enfant errant et l’errance de l’enfance du ‘Teatro Infantile’ de Chiara Guidi », dans Enfants performers (2023), Revista Brasileira De Estudos da Presença ; « Le corps scénique : incarnation dramaturgique du pouvoir dans l’Orestie de Romeo Castellucci », dans Body and Power in the Performing Arts (2023), Tarik Abou Soughaire (dir.). 

Marcela Moura (Marcilene Lopes de Moura), artist, researcher. PhD in Theatre (Joint supervision between Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3 and Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro – Unirio) with the thesis: “The Creation Process of Enrique Diaz or the Construction of Fuzzy Systems.” Proposal of a systemic vision for theatre. Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Theatre Theory at Unirio University. Bachelor’s degree in Computer Systems Engineering, followed by ten years of experience as a computer systems analyst. Practical experiences in Brazil as a director, actress, and educator. In France, she was an assistant director with Joël Pommerat, David Bobée, Alexandre Markoff, and Enrique Diaz. In 2023, she co-created the collective performance From plankton to human bodies: the dance of interactive types, presented at the ARTEX 2023 event – CNRS – Institute of Complex Systems of Paris. Currently, she teaches theatre remotely at Cesgranrio University of Rio de Janeiro and is a temporary teacher at the Catholic University of Angers. Her research focuses on theatre, performance, the creative process, and complex systems.”

Claire Correo Nettleton, PhD, is the Academic Curator at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College and Adjunct Professor of Art History at Harvey Mudd College. Her exhibitions and colloquia focus on the intersection of biology, literature, and art. Her most recent publications include the book The Artist as Animal in 19th-Century French Literature (Palgrave 2019) and co-edited volume Biotechnology and Art: Viral Culture from CRISPR to COVID (Bloomsbury 2024).

Lois Oppenheim, Ph.D. is University Distinguished Scholar, Professor of French, and Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Montclair State University.  She is also an affiliated faculty member of the Medical Humanities Program.  Prof. Oppenheim is Scholar Associate Member and on the Faculty of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and Honorary Member of the Psychoanalytic Society of the William Alanson White Institute.  She has authored or edited fifteen books, the most recent being For Want of Ambiguity: Order and Chaos in Art, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (co-authored, Bloomsbury) and Imagination from Fantasy to Delusion (Routledge), awarded the Courage to Dream Prize from the American Psychoanalytic Association.  Other recent books include A Curious Intimacy: Art and Neuro-Psychoanalysis and The Painted Word: Samuel Beckett’s Dialogue With Art

Rosa Postlethwaite (she/they) is a UK-based performance artist who has been making solo and collaborative performance works since 2012. They work across live art, dance, socially engaged art and theatre. Presenting internationally and across the UK in galleries and theatres, their projects are responsive to different spaces. Rosa’s works are expressive and humorous. Their queer performance practice aims to shake up the taken-for-grantedness of the way things are. Rosa Postlethwaite is currently a PhD researcher on the Mobilizing Dramaturgy Co-tutelle Programme within Coventry University’s Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) and Aarhus University. Rosa’s research is focused on dramatugy with other-than-human species. She holds an MA in Theatre & Performance from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and a BA in Drama from Queen Mary University of London, UK. 

Dr. Prateek is an Assistant Professor of English and Theatre in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan, India. He is a recipient of two Fulbright fellowships: the Fulbright-Nehru postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University (2021-22) and the Fulbright fellowship at Yale University (2010-11). He has published in national and international theatre journals, such as Brecht YearbookContemporary Theatre Review, and Asian Theatre Journal. His monograph, Brecht in India: The Poetics and Politics of Transcultural Theatre (2021), was published by Routledge, UK.

Kirsten E Shepherd-Barr is Professor of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford.  Her books include Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (2015), Science on Stage:  From Dr Faustus to Copenhagen (2006), Modern Drama:  A Very Short Introduction (2016) and the Cambridge Companion to Theatre and Science (2020).  She is also co-author, with Hannah Simpson, of two recent articles on theatrical engagements with climate change.

Organisers: Liliane Campos (Sorbonne Nouvelle), François-Joseph Lapointe (Université de Montréal) and Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr (Oxford University)

This events is part of the BioCriticism project (https://biocriticism.hypotheses.org/), supported by the Sorbonne Nouvelle, the Institut Universitaire de France and the FMSH “Biohumanities” programme.

 

 

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