TABOO - TRANSGRESSION - TRANSCENDENCE
in Art & Science
27-29 September 2023, Malta Society of Arts, Valletta
I would like to present the content of my PhD thesis that resulted from a long experimental journey.
The research I present in my dissertation is dedicated to matter, mattering, and transmattering. Matter, understood as a biological substance, meaning, and importance, is the main protagonist of my narrative. I am the matter to transmatter in and through my research – my body and its elements, my social and cognitive position, my ideas and entanglements. I asked myself several questions: How can I use myself as research matter? What can I discover while transmattering myself? What kind of story can be plotted by the matter of my body? This dissertation is a self-reflective analysis of a series of experiments that I have done to answer these questions.
Throughout the text, I call myself a liminal being to characterize my cognitive position of being ‘in-between’: between various creative fields, including academia, art, and science (biology). My primary field is art, but I decided to leave my comfort zone to check what was happening outside, in humanities departments and biological laboratories. The starting point of my cognitive journeys was artistic concepts of two projects: safe suicide and The Last Supper. These concepts required using scientific methods in the laboratory environment. From the very beginning, they were thought of as fieldwork circumstances, providing a framework for autoethnographic reflection. All the fields listed above worked as contexts transmattering my personal matter and, at the same time, my personal matter had the function of transmattering these contexts.
Matter in my research is an ontological condition, everything that we need to know in order to feel situated in the world. As analyzing the entirety of existing matter and its aspects would of course exceed the capacity of this thesis, I decided to limit my endeavour to considering my personal matter and all its elements during the realization of the safe suicide and The Last Supper projects.
Matter is an ontological notion, and mattering is an epistemological operation conducted on matter. Many scholars have already done mattering. At a certain moment in my empirical work, ideas developed by, mostly feminist, New Materialism scholars appeared as elements of matter to which I needed to relate in creating my relational networks. The theoretical concepts proposed by Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Serpil Oppermann, Serenella Iovino, and Jane Bennett became pillars of my academic work. They helped me to construct my own story about matter. In my vision, mattering describes and analyses matter in its transformations, living, and dying.
Being my invention, the term ‘transmattering’ stems from my fieldwork experiences and from building my own mattering story. The practical experience came much sooner than theoretical considerations. Transmattering as such moves beyond theoretical mattering through liminal practice that combines art, science, technology, and the humanities. According to Barad, whose insight serves as the opening of this thesis, physical matter and its meaning cannot exist separately. My goal was to see and describe what their correlation looked like in the case of my hands-on transmatterive experiences. I needed to analyse my personal matter and its entanglement, make sense of that, and investigate whether transforming my personal matter (and its network) automatically changed its meaning and, if so, how.
The role of this text is to guide the reader through theoretically depicted mattering and empirically experienced transmattering. Transmattering is my research, which approaches matter from the viewpoint of my embodiment, a viewpoint of a liminal human being. I show how my liminal practice enabled me to transgress the mattering vision I derived from the literature and from the natural cycle of living and dying. The main question that I decided to pose was: How can one transmatter? The text relates how my autoethnographic research answered this question. I present one of many possible ways to transmatter, which nobody can in fact repeat in the same form. The knowledge produced in my research and my writing is supposed to be matter to be transmattered by others in their own hands-on experiences.
I am not planning to read a paper out loud, and my presentation will be based on the text of my thesis. I did not upload the manuscript because I submitted the conference abstract before I defended my dissertation.
Karolina Żyniewicz is an artist&researcher&educator, a liminal being, existing and performing between various contexts and disciplines. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Visual Arts of the Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, and holds PhD in cultural sciences (title obtained in the transdisciplinary Nature – Culture doctoral program, at the Faculty of Artes Liberales of the University of Warsaw). While executing art&research projects, she also conducts ethnographic observations, which constitute the basis for her reflections on the role of nonhuman actors in creating contemporary culture. In her work, she underlines the epistemic and didactic dimensions of art. In 2016–2018, she cooperated with the education departments of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, running workshops and museal lessons for regular audiences and with accessibility for visually impaired and deaf visitors. She uses these educational experiences in her own liminal practice. Currently, she lives and works in Berlin. Her full CV can be found on her website: karolinazyniewicz.eu.