New conceptions of vegetal life are emerging. Groundbreaking scientific research and new philosophical perspectives are raising botanical challenges to our anthropocentric cultural background assumptions. And while science has been engaging the complexity of plants for some time, the humanities are just now beginning to consider vegetal beings as inhabiting very different, and yet related, sensorial dimensions to those of humans and other animals.
A multidisciplinary approach to plant life can reveal the importance of ecological interconnectedness and lead to a more nuanced appreciation of the variety of living organisms with which we share the planet. As climate change threatens all forms of life on the planet, considering human/plant relationships from new perspectives is essential to addressing urgent issues of mutual sustainability.
This symposium capitalizes on contemporary art's ability to productively unhinge scientific theories and certainties in order to help us reconsider unquestioned beliefs about this living world. Through Botanical Speculations researchers, artists, art historians, and activists will collaboratively map the uncharted territories of new forms of botanical knowledge.
Schedule of Events
Thursday, September 28: Art Institute of Chicago and Lincoln Park Conservatory (open to SAIC students, staff and faculty)
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.
Art Institute Tour Objectification and Symbolism: Plants in Art
Giovanni Aloi, Lecturer in Art History, Theory, and Criticism
2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton Dr.
Lincoln Park Conservatory Tour
Lead by Conservatory staff
Friday, September 29: MacLean Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave. (open to SAIC students, staff and faculty)
9:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Secret Life of Plants Screening and Discussion (open to SAIC students, staff and faculty)
Film followed by a Q&A panel with Michael Marder, Giovanni Aloi, Jenny Kendler (MFA 2006), Joshi Radin, Andrew Yang, Falak Vasa (MFA 2018) and Caroline Picard (MFA 2010)
Symposium (free and open to the public)
Keynote talks by Giovanni Aloi and Michael Marder
1:00 – 1:15 p.m.
Giovanni Aloi and Dean of Undergraduate Studies Tiffany Holmes
1:15 – 2:00 p.m.
Keynote: Plant-Thinking: Contemporary Art Revolutions
Giovanni Aloi, Lecturer in Art History, Theory, and Criticism at SAIC
In the work of many contemporary artists, plants challenge their past pictorial passivity through new and destabilizing aesthetics. Giovanni Aloi argues that the growing presence of plants in the gallery space is a phenomenon linked to the urgency dictated by climate change and the threat posed by the sixth mass extinction.
2:00 – 2:45 p.m.
Invited Keynote: Vegetality
Michael Marder, Research Professor of Philosophy, University of the Basque Country
On par with humanity and animality, “vegetality” proposes to name the essence of plants. The talk will begin with the essential non-essentiality of plant life and branch out into the question of vegetal being.
3:00 – 3:45 p.m.
Panel 1: The Legal Life of Plants
This panel addresses the radical proposition of "Mother Earth Rights" through the speculative consideration of the "rights of a tree."
Sara Black, Assistant Professor of Sculpture, SAIC
Amber Ginsburg (MFA 2009), Lecturer, University of Chicago
Claudia Flores, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago
Ash Wolfe (BFA 2019), SAIC student
4:15 – 4:30 p.m.
Artist Talk: Gusts in the Hothouse
Aimée Beaubien (BFA 1989, MFA 1993), Assistant Professor of Photography, SAIC
Aimée Beaubien will present recent collage-based installations mapping networks of meaning and associations between the garden, the ephemeral, and the photographic.
4:30 – 5:15 p.m.
Panel 2: Plant Presence
What does it mean to "encounter plants" in the Anthropocene, and how do we overcome plant blindness in the gallery space, artistic practices, and enviromental research?
Caroline Picard (MFA 2010), Director of Sector 2337 and the Green Lantern Press
Jenny Kendler (MFA 2006), Artist
Meghan Moe Beitiks (MFA 2013), Lecturer, Grand Valley State University
Ashley Gillanders (MFA 2018), SAIC student
5:15 – 6:00 p.m.
Panel 3: Resist Like a Plant
How can plant being inspire and inform new methodologies and approaches to being human in the chain of interconnectedness proposed by new anthropogenic perspectives?
Lindsey French (MFA 2013) Lecturer, Art and Technology Studies, SAIC
Darius Jones, Vice President and General Manager, Garfield Produce Company
N. Davina Stewart, Artist
Katherine Moore Powell, Climate Ecologist, Field Museum of Natural History
Falak Vasa (BFA 2018), SAIC student
Lecturer in Art History, Theory, and Criticism at SAIC
Giovanni Aloi is an art historian in modern and contemporary art. He studied History of Art and Art Practice in Milan and moved to London in 1997 to further his studies at Goldsmiths University where he obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Art History, a Master in Visual Cultures, and a PhD on the subject of natural history in contemporary art. Aloi currently teaches at SAIC, Sotheby's Institute of Art New York and London, and Tate Galleries. He has curated art projects involving photography and the moving image, is a BBC radio contributor, and has had his work translated to Italian, Chinese, French, Russian, Polish, and Spanish. His first book, Art & Animals was published in 2011, and since 2006 he has been the Editor in Chief of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. antennae.org.uk
Research Professor of Philosophy, University of the Basque Country
Michael Marder is Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, and Professor-at-Large in the Institute of Humanities at Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile. His research interests include phenomenology, environmental philosophy, and political thought. An author of 11 books—including, most recently Pyropolitics (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015); Dust (Bloomsbury, 2016); with Luce Irigaray, Through Vegetal Being (Columbia UP, 2016); and Energy Dreams (Columbia UP, 2017)—he is currently at work on two monographs, Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics (Minnesota UP, forthcoming in 2018) and Political Categories. michaelmarder.org
Assistant Professor of Photography, SAIC
Aimée Beaubien (BFA 1989, MFA 1993) is an artist living and working in Chicago. Her sculptural photo-based collages explore collapses in time, space, and place, while playfully engaging the complexities of visual perception. Solo and two-person exhibitions include Gallery UNO Projektraum, Berlin; The Pitch Project, Milwaukee; BOX 13 Artspace, Houston; Johalla Projects, Chicago; and Demo Projects, Springfield, Illinois. Group exhibitions include: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Evanston Art Center, Evanston, Illinois; Bikini Berlin; and Antenna Gallery, New Orleans.
Meghan Moe Beitiks (MFA 2013) is a writer, researcher, and performance artist working with associations and disassociations of culture/nature/structure. She joined the editorial staff of the CSPA Quarterly in 2014 and was previously a writer for the publication as well as inhabitat.com and greenmuseum.org. Beitiks also writes for culturebot.org and was featured in Landing Stages, the archival publication of the Ashden Directory. She previously worked with the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts to develop previous convergences and events.
Sara Black creates works that expose the complex ways in which things and people are suspended in worlds together, often generating forms that push beyond human frames of reference. She received her MFA from the University of Chicago in 2006 and is currently in the role of Assistant Professor of Sculpture at SAIC.
Claudia Flores is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at University of Chicago. IHRC promotes and protects the human rights of individuals and communities globally. Flores earned her JD from New York University School of Law where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern scholar and received her BA in philosophy from the University of Chicago.
Lindsey French (MFA 2013) is an artist and educator whose work engages in gestures of communication with landscapes and the nonhuman. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Perch, and the Pico House Gallery in Los Angeles, among others. French currently teaches courses that explore new media practices and site-specific research at SAIC.
Ashley Gillanders (MFA 2018) is an "emerging lens" based artist from Winnipeg, Canada. Her practice incorporates traditional and experimental approaches to photography, to explore human interactions with built and natural environments. She has participated in residencies at Mentoring Artists for Women's Art, the Banff Centre, the School of Visual Arts, and Ox-Bow School of Art. She is currently an SAIC New Artist Society Scholar and MFA Candidate in the Photography department.
Amber Ginsburg (MFA 2009) is a Chicago-based artist and educator. She currently teaches in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago. Her collaborative practice engages materials to create site-generated projects that insert historical scenarios into present day situations.
Jenny Kendler (MFA 2006) is an interdisciplinary artist, environmental activist, and naturalist based in Chicago whose work been exhibited at museums and biennials nationally and internationally. She has been commissioned to create public projects for locations from the Arizona desert to a Costa Rican jungle and is the first ever Artist-in-Residence with environmental nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.
Caroline Picard (MFA 2010) is a curator, publisher, writer, and artist. She is the Executive Director, Head Curator, and Founding Editor of the Green Lantern Press (GLP), a nonprofit that produces contemporary art exhibitions, critical art and poetry publications, and cultural events that intersect literature, philosophy, theory, and art.
Katherine Moore Powell is a climate ecologist who joined the Field Museum of Natural History in November 2016 to develop a climate change adaptation/action plan for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. In addition, she is providing climate change expertise for natural resource management in Calumet and the Chicago Wilderness regions.
N. Davina Stewart is a cultural worker who holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Media from Columbia College Chicago, a BA in African American Studies from Temple University, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Community Development and Urban Studies from Indiana University. She is a recipient of the prestigious Leeway Foundation Transformation Award that recognizes women and trans artists who create art for social change.
Falak Vasa (BFA 2018) is an interdisciplinary artist from Kolkata, India. His work intertwines performance, video, installation, and photography to investigate his relationship with ecology through the lenses of politics, spirituality, science, and personal narrative. He also enjoys confusing cats.
Ash Wolfe (BFA 2018) is currently a junior at SAIC. Wolfe’s is interested in creating wearables that alter or benefit the wearer's experience. Their work has explored how lead poisoning could occur from clothing and how the body is affected. Currently, Wolfe focuses on plant life, relationships between plants and humans, and plant sentience.