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ARTH 803K/4 A - Thematic Questions: 'And Say the Animal Responded?'

The posthumanist challenge for architecture, geography and landscape

Dr. Cynthia Hammond
Fridays 1:30 - 4:30

Since Donna Haraway published her book, Primate Visions in 1989, there has been a flowering of theoretical writing which has sought to undermine the familiar oppositions of animal and human, nature and culture. Deeply informed by feminist and poststructural theory, the "posthumanist" critiques produced in various disciplines have posed a profound challenge: to reconsider, ontologically, how such binaries shape and limit our understandings of both nature and civilization, and how, further, "the animal" has been the constitutive other to human self-imaginings. Philosophers, scientists, geographers, architects, artists and cultural historians have posed difficult and fascinating questions about the animal that we are, the animals we claim not to be, and the reciprocity between species. These questions have resonated in the worlds of architecture, art and film; the biological metaphor in architecture has perhaps never been as strong as at present, while artists who foreground animals in their work (such as Marcel Dzama, Damien Hirst, and Olly and Suzi) have become household names. The fascination with nature and the animal, however, has uneven effects in everyday life; newspapers, magazines, books, art and film remind us daily of the moral urgency of the ecological crisis, yet the factory farming of animals for food, leather and fur, and animal bondage in scientific and cosmetic laboratories, not to mention zoos and theme parks, are rarely questioned.

This seminar is an introduction to the posthumanist theory described above. Rather than survey the art and architecture that could said to be the result (or the refusal) of posthumanist inquiry, our objective in this course is instead to engage with the ideas and arguments that constitute this important but still emerging field of critical inquiry in the sciences and the humanities. Architecture and landscape, both broadly conceived, will be our consistent companions however, in that each student will be asked to think about the potential application of posthumanist theory, by producing a research/position paper at the end of the session. This paper will attempt to reconsider a building or landscape which represents or was designed with "the animal" somehow in mind. Projects could consider buildings and places such as natural history museums, zoos, farms, dog parks, or the use of nature, animal or insect imagery as decoration (murals, architectural ornament, interior decoration themes). Alternatively, students could take an exhibition space and create a reading of its animal imagery and preoccupations, such as the Canadian galleries at the National Gallery of Canada (whose main web page presently juxtaposes Louise Bourgeois' Maman, an enormous bronze spider, with Moshe Safdie's postmodern building). Another option would be to analyse a space of "nature" in the city, such as Parc Mont-Royal, or the Eco-Museum in Ste-Anne de Bellevue, or explore one of Montreal's recent "green" design competitions. Whatever their chosen site of analysis, all students will work with the "material-semiotic" traces of the animal in cultural, spatialized contexts, and in so doing, try the steps of posthumanist theory's "ontological choreography" (Grosz 2003, 51), for themselves.

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