Interdisciplinary Conference


in Art & Science

26-28 November 2020, University of Applied Arts Vienna/Online

50. The transgression of boundaries through transdisciplinary research relevant to the climate crisis
Session: Session "ORF1ab / Tonic"
Speakers: Kat Austen

At a time when we are facing a variety of complex global challenges, it has been argued that in order to tackle these vast “wicked problems”, we need new narratives to facilitate a new form of collective action. We are at a pivotal moment where collectivity and the means by which it is fostered are in flux. We are navigating dynamics between factors that affect how we relate to others - such as the facilitation of relationships between people and objects by digital tools with questionable privacy, and the increased awareness of the importance of non-humans and more-than-humans, along with changes to what we understand by the concept of nature. 

Within this context, this paper elaborates on strategies developed through my artistic practice, which focuses on political and ecological topics, to explore the importance of boundaries in the context of response to the climate crisis. 

Boundaries are important in how we relate to each other: how we define the self and how we define other(s), and how we then interact cooperatively. In the case of my work, other(s) is(are) considered from the human, non-human and more-than-human spheres: people, creatures, ecosystems, artificial agents.

This paper reports on my explorations into boundaries from three perspectives: how empathy is a vehicle by which we can traverse boundaries between the self and other, for which I draw on my works The Matter of the Soul and Coral Empathy Device; how traversal across social, personal and physical boundaries changes identity, for which I draw on Flow Over Water Borders; and how incorporation of plastics into ecosystems challenges how we perceive the boundary between nature and artifice, for which I draw on Stranger to the Trees. Further, I touch on the commodification of and distortion of the development of our relationships - with both the human and non-human, by increased reliance on digital tools for connectivity. Finally, I propose that new understandings of boundaries can give us tools that allow us to navigate the permeability and position of our own boundaries, enabling us to consciously connect: to engage with other(s) while also maintaining our sense of self, and the importance of this to collective action against the climate crisis.

Kat Austen

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