Guest Talk – Gunalan Nadarajan, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

Photo credit: Garnet Hertz, Experiments in Galvanism: Frog with Implanted Webserver, 2003. Media: Preserved frog specimen, custom electronics.

On October 30, 2018, art theorist and curator Gunalan Nadarajan based at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), will give a lecture in Vienna titled “Galvanic Frog and Flying Boy: Bioelectricity in Art and Science”.

Bioelectricity, which is the capacity of living things to generate, conduct and emit electricity, has fascinated artists, scientists and the general public alike for over two thousand years. Widely popularized as ‘animal electricity’ until very recently, this biological capacity has been the subject of philosophical deliberation, scientific scrutiny, and artistic manipulation throughout its history. This talk will present a historical survey of the complex interactions between the scientific studies and artistic explorations of bioelectricity that have both expanded and problematized our understanding of biological systems. The earliest observations of the numbing electrocuting sting of the torpedo fish by Plato leading up to the shocking experimental studies and demonstrations of these capacities in the eighteenth and nineteenth century by Luigi Galvani, Giovanni Aldini, B.A. Duchenne du Boulogne, Stephen Gray and John Walsh were essential to the evolving knowledge of the physical properties and to some disparate and untoward applications of electricity including the development of the battery, Mary Shelley’s imaginary of the Frankenstein monster, the electric chair for capital punishment, electrotherapy and the lie detector. The talk will provide a survey of more contemporary artistic responses to bioelectricity including the electrically stimulated body performances of Stelarc and Arthur Elsasser, the works of Richard Lowenberg, Masaki Fujihata, Eduardo Kac, Mileece, and Ivan Henriques that tap the action potentials of plants, and Garnet Hertz and Anthony Hall who critically reenact some of the early galvanic experiments with animals. It will be shown that the complex interactions between these co-evolving scientific investigations and artistic uses of bioelectricity were critical to the development of a more nuanced reckoning with the nature of biology.

Gunalan Nadarajan, an art theorist and curator working at the intersections of art, science and technology, is Dean and Professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. His publications include Ambulations (2000), Construction Site (edited; 2004) and Contemporary Art in Singapore (co-authored; 2007), Place Studies in Art, Media, Science and Technology: Historical Investigations on the Sites and Migration of Knowledge (co-edited; 2009), The Handbook of Visual Culture (co-edited; 2012) and over 100 book chapters, catalogue essays, academic articles and reviews. His writings have also been translated into 16 languages. He has curated many international exhibitions including Ambulations (Singapore, 1999), 180KG (Jogjakarta, 2002), media_city (Seoul, 2002), Negotiating Spaces (Auckland, 2004) and DenseLocal (Mexico City, 2009) and Displacements (Beijing, 2014). He was contributing curator for Documenta XI (Kassel, Germany, 2002) and the Singapore Biennale (2006) and served on the jury of a number of international exhibitions, like ISEA2004 (Helsinki / Talinn), transmediale 05 (Berlin), ISEA2006 (San Jose) and FutureEverything Festival (Manchester, 2009). He was Artistic Co-Director of the Ogaki Biennale 2006, Japan and Artistic Director of ISEA2008 (International Symposium on Electronic Art) in Singapore.

He is active in the development of media arts internationally and has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Inter Society for Electronic Art and is on the Advisory Boards of the Database of Virtual Art (Austria), Cellsbutton Festival (Indonesia) and Arts Future Book series (UK). He served on the Board of Directors of College Art Association and is currently on the International Advisory Board of the ArtScience Museum in Singapore and the Advisory Board of the New Media Caucus. He has also served as an advisor on creative aspects of digital arts and culture to the UNESCO and the Smithsonian Institution. He continues to work on a National Science Foundation funded initiative, Network for Science Engineering, Art and Design, to develop and support a national network for collaborative research, education and creative practice between sciences, engineering, arts and design. In 2004, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art. He also served on the committee for the Integration of STEM, Humanities and Arts in Higher Education Report of The Board on Higher Education and Workforce (BHEW) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, USA.

He has served in a variety of academic roles in teaching, academic administration and research for over two decades. Prior to joining University of Michigan, he was Vice Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies at the Maryland Institute College of Arts. He also had previous appointments as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the College of Arts and Architecture, Pennsylvania State University and Dean of Visual Arts at the Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore.

The Guest Lecture Series of Professor Ingeborg Reichle’s lecture Art Matters: Kunst, Biologie und Medientheorie im 21. Jahrhundert is an informative and stimulating opportunity to hear from distinguished artists and experts about what’s going on in the emerging fields of bioart, biodesign and speculative biology and also helps our students to build their network of contacts.

Our guest lectures are open to all.

Public Lecture 30.10.2018, 13:45–16:15 hrs
Vordere Zollamtsstraße 7, Lecture Room 21, 4th Floor
University of Applied Arts Vienna
1030 Vienna

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