Closing Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Anthony Chemero, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Cincinnati.

Anthony Chemero is Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. His research is both philosophical and empirical; typically, it tries to be both at the same time. His research is focused on questions related to nonlinear dynamical modeling, ecological psychology, complex systems, phenomenology, and artificial life. He is the author of Radical Embodied Cognitive Science (2009, MIT Press) and, with Stephan Käufer, Phenomenology (2015, Polity Press). He is currently editing the second edition of The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences.

Morning Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: David Kirsh, Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California San Diego.

David Kirsh is professor and past chair of the Cognitive Science dept at UCSD where he runs the Interactive Cognition Lab. He has written extensively on situated cognition and especially on how the environment can be shaped to simplify and extend cognition, including how we intelligently use space, and how we use external representations and physical objects as interactive tools for though

Evening Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

I am a philosopher who works in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, Phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophy and contemporary Buddhist philosophy in dialogue with Western philosophy and science. In July 2013 I moved from the University of Toronto to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where I am Professor of Philosophy. In 2013 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. I am the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015), Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007), Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995), and the co-author of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991; new expanded edition, 2015).

Afternoon Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Giovanna Colombetti, Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Exeter.

In my work I have emphasized that, if we think of cognition as embodied and more specifically ‘enacted’ by living organisms, then we need to acknowledge that cognition is also inherently affective, in the broad sense of motivated and non-indifferent. This point, I believe, is highly relevant for understanding our engagements with the material world, including those occurring in artistic practices. In my talk I will emphasize that we often manipulate the material world to modulate our affective states—either to maintain our current condition, or to achieve specific experiences. To use an increasingly popular term, we manipulate the material world to scaffold our affective life. Supporters of the idea that cognition is situated tend to overlook the motivational and affective value of our material engagements, emphasizing instead that we rely on the environment to aid our memory, orientation skills, or decision-making processes. This is certainly an important and intriguing phenomenon, but it is not the whole story about our relation to the material world. If we think of cognition as inherently affective, then we also need to emphasize that interacting and structuring the material world also profoundly shape our drives, moods, emotions, and more. In my talk I will thus provide a variety of examples of how affectivity is ‘materially scaffolded’.

Morning Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Independent Scholar and Courtesy Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon.

In her first life, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone was a dancer/choreographer, professor of dance/dance scholar. In her second and ongoing life, she is a philosopher whose research and writing remain grounded in the tactile-kinesthetic body. She is an independent, highly interdisciplinary scholar affiliated with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon where she taught periodically in the 1990s and where she now holds an ongoing Courtesy Professor appointment. Her book publications include The Phenomenology of Dance; Illuminating Dance: Philosophical Explorations; the “roots” trilogy–The Roots of Thinking, The Roots of Power: Animate Form and Gendered Bodies, and The Roots of Morality; Giving the Body Its Due; The Primacy of Movement; and The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader. She was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK in the Spring of 2007 for her research on xenophobia.

Evening Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Erik Myin, Professor of Philosophy and Head of the Centre for Philosophical Psychology at the University of Antwerp.


There are different ways in which theorists have promoted the idea that cognition is embodied. Many of these still agree with core tenets of the so-called cognitive revolution. They still adhere to the assumption that there exists a natural phenomenon properly called cognition, to be explained by “cognitive processes”, which in principle can be distinct from what organisms do in their environments and involve some kind of descriptive abstraction from the particular worldly offerings interacted with—even if action-oriented rather than mirroring the world. Radical embodied approaches, on the other hand, focus on action of organisms in environments as their subject matter. These actions are to be explained not by behind-the-scenes “cognitive” processes, but by providing a natural history of how they gradually emerged out of a history of organism-environment interactions. Intelligence is flexible, adaptive embodied action, even when it does not, or hardly, involve overt movement, as in visual imagery or mental arithmetic. Organisms change the ways they interact with their environments, but not by acquiring abstracting descriptions of it, or by forming rules which steer their behaviors. Once action and its historically driven dynamics are seen as the core of intelligence, or what has been termed “cognition”, distinctions between so called “intellectual” and “artistic” activities can be seen as artificial products of the age-old disembodied traditions of thinking about thinking.

Panel: Coming to Grips with Embodied Experience in the Arts

Erik Rynell, Acting as participatory sense making

In their theory about “Participatory sense-making” Hanne De Jaeger and Ezequiel Di Paolo extend the enactive concept of sense-making into the social domain. With this theory they intend to explain how “meaning is generated and transformed in the interplay between the unfolding interaction process and the individuals engaged in it”. Their theory builds on the fact that processes of social interaction are complex, multi-layered, self-organizing, and can shape individual intentions (De Jaegher, Di Paolo 2007, Di Paolo, De Jaegher 2012, Cuffari, Di Paolo, de Jaegher 2014). I will argue that this description can also hold true for scenic action, in the actors’ collective way to make sense of the text during their preparatory work, as well as in scenic performance. I also intend to point out that, implicitly, Stanislavski presents an idea of similar kind in his late “method of physical actions”, and in his related idea about “on the floor” analysis, where he recommends the actors to make sense of the text in bodily interplay. A comprehensive account for this method can be found in a work Action Analysis by Stanislavski’s assistant and follower as a teacher at the Moscow Academy (GITIS) Maria Knebel (Knebel 1959, 2006). I will also refer to Katie Mitchell to illustrate how the theory of participatory sense-making can be applied to work in contemporary experimenting theatre (Mitchell 2008). Finally, I will discuss the idea of participatory sense-making in relation to contemporary performance art (Gob Squad Reader 2010). In my speech, I intend to demonstrate that De Jaegher’s and DiPaolo’s theory about participatory sense-making can contribute to a less individualistic approach to the actor’s work, and also make the paradigm of enactivity useful for bridging the gap between representative and non-representative acting forms.

Gretchen Schiller, The mémoire vivante project

The “Mémoire vivante” living memory research project advances the hypothesis that the subjective tacit kinaesthetic knowledges drawn from the dancer’s experience are not valued as part of our kinaesthetic culture. This is largely due to social and methodological constraints. To address this gap, this paper proposes to elaborate upon the ways in which dancer Germana Civera remembers through her body and develops very adaptive embodied cognitive skills through language, metaphor and daily practice. The research will be presented as a performative portrait (prô traho) ‎ pulling and “bringing forth” the dancer’s tacit knowledges as kineaesthetic markers of thirty years of dancing. It focusing on the dancer’s ghost gestures (Behnke) and micromovements apparent through the dancer’s constant shifting of weight from one foot to another.The intent is to extract the idiosyncratic specificities of choreographic experience which altered her physical understanding of the body and contributed to her gestural repertoire.

This videodance project (using motion capture, oral history and videodance) is currently in development and funded by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme with ÉCLAIR, la Maison de la création, Université Grenoble Alpes.

Lukas Ligeti, Polymeters, Body, and Mind: One Musician’s Creative Experiments with (Dis)embodied Rhythm

Soon after beginning my composition studies, I attended a lecture by the ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik about the court music of Buganda (an ancient kingdom now in Uganda). In this tradition, extremely fast, interlocking melodies are performed by multiple players sharing the same tempo but having individual notions of the beat, a way of feeling and hearing rhythm unique to East/Central African music. Listening, it quickly becomes impossible to perceive individually each musician’s part, and we start reprocessing the aural information according to other criteria, such as frequency bands. Such cognitive phenomena were exploited with great mastery by the (probably mostly 18th- and 19th century) composers of this tradition, creating a highly complex composition technique.
This discovery embarked me on a journey of experimentation both as an improvising drummer and as a composer for new-music ensembles. I developed a “choreographic” drumming technique, based on repetitive motion patterns, that allowed me to play rhythmic cycles thousands of beats long, and I attempted to dissociate sound from movement while playing, leading to new ways of hearing and understanding my own playing. I experimented with new modes of interplay between ensemble musicians, developing techniques of relative beat perception. I incorporated melodic and rhythmic illusions into my music, allowing one to experience the music from multiple vantage points, not unlike looking at a sculpture from different sides. And I brought my ideas “home” to my experimental collaborations with traditional musicians across Africa. Computer technology has played a key role in many aspects of this work.

In this paper, I will describe some of my techniques and experiences and show how they derive from concepts from various African traditions. I will also point to possibilities for future development and for collaborations between musicians, ethnomusicologists, and cognitive scientists.

Sally Jane Norman, Performing Arts Incorporated: Poetics of Physical Labor is not that scenic parade where one develops virtually and symbolically – a myth: theatre is rather this crucible of fire and real meat where by an anatomical trampling of bone, limbs and syllables bodies are renewed. Artaud

Performing arts offer unique modes of embodiment in the ways they solicit corporeal skills and elicit audience re-cognition. Actors and mimes, dancers and musicians, magicians, circus artists and puppeteers mobilise diverse embodied literacies to creatively shape live action. Genres like live coding, with its staging of computational algorithms, human gestural and inscriptive practices, and machine-rendered outputs, pursue this playful exploration of more-or-less flesh-bound processes vying for the immediacy of non- or beyond-representational presence. Spatial and temporal scales implied by a given performance, and the materials and energies it employs and deploys, are fashioned to reinforce a sense of ‘corporeal exemplarity’ (Barthes). In contrast to habitual task-driven or communications-driven encodings and decodings, the morphokinetic qualities of artistic human action demand expressive and interpretative labor, honing our ability to entertain otherwise inconceivable kinds of liveness.

This, I argue, is the role of performing arts writ large: to make corporeally manifest their poetic construals of liveness that stretch our imaginations, thence our adaptive skills to steadily evolving conditions of existence. Insofar as these manifestations convoke idiosyncratic engagements with materiality – the acrobat contradicts our sense of gravity, the puppeteer contravenes our understandings of inert objects – their appeal to cognition is productively and uniquely ambivalent. Setting longstanding and emerging performance practices in the context of debate on corporeal ‘intelligencings’ (Thrift), I will try to show how they constitute a vital, irreplaceable ‘body of knowledge’.

Antonin Artaud, Theatre and Science, 1948
Roland Barthes, Critical Essays, 1964
Nigel Thrift, Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect, 2007

Guy Zimmerman, Ghosting the Radical in the New Gilded Age: Immersive Theatre and the Experimental Politics of Embodiment

Since the 1960s, site-specific experimentation has been a mainstay of LA’s art and theatre avant-garde. In the 1960s and 70s the city’s Arts District provided the Live Art movement with an abundance of urban sites ripe for radical situationist re-encodings. Here, the innovations of Alan Kaprow’s happenings were fleshed out by radical feminist and other activist artists. Given this history it is surprising that immersive theatre only arrived in Los Angeles in 2014, when Wilderness Stage Company’s The Day Shall Declare It (TDSDI) premiered on 7th Street. Immersive theatre, in which the viewer travels at will through a complex staged environment for a singular theatrical experience (Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, or Third Rail’s Then She Fell) is of a piece with the new emphasis in critical theory on relationality and embodiment. Some critics have connected immersive theatre to narcissistic spectatorship and the entrepreneurial subject of neoliberalism. Others have taken a more benign view, celebrating immersive theatre as a natural extension of Malina and Beck’s experiments with The Living Theatre in the 1960s. Noting how this divergence replicates the discourse around the politics of postmodernism, I bring neo-materialist perspectives from Hayles, Braidotti and Lazzarato to bear on the mystery of immersive theatres delayed arrival in LA. Examining a central feature of immersive theater—how it replaces the generic audience experience with the singular relationality of a unique body—I ask whether it fashions the foundational activist critiques of the past into a new political subjective modality, or instead betrays those same radical antecedents. I argue that while TDSDI reproduces some of the central contradictions of neoliberal capitalism, it also points toward a new subjunctive (“what if?”) mode of politics that replaces neoliberal collapse with a situated, embodied expansiveness that helps to explain its delayed arrival in Los Angeles.

Panel: Embodiment and Evolution

Jondi Keane, Art and the Realization of Living

Descriptions of life in the sciences, through experimentation and observation, may provide an accurate snapshot of ‘what a body is’. For artists, these snapshots are a seductive challenge to experiment with what a ‘body can be’. In this paper I will address the ways in which artwork and art processes perform and contribute to the understanding of the enactive approach to cognition.

Darwin ‘s (1859) pre-adaption, reframed by Gould and Vrba (1982) as expaption and Kauffman’s (2000) autocatalysis and adjacent possible will be used to discuss experimentation in Art that deploy James’s radical empiricism (experiences are themselves experiencable) and affordances that can themselves become affordances (Post–Gibson). Examples drawn from the sciences (Gallese, 2011, cognitive reuse; Bach-y-Rita, 1972, sensory substitution; the case of de-afferent Ian Waterman) will be discussed alongside selected artworks that explore this exaptive potential. In particular, the works of Arakawa and Gins (2002) and their procedural approach offer insights into using the built-environment as research devices for asking questions in a 360degree body-wide fashion.

Art can be positioned as a space for 1:1 scale experimentations on life, offering opportunities to build the conditions that challenge automatic perceptual and conceptual modes of processing. The experiential prompts within artworks enable the distinctions between organism-person-environment to be reconfigured, inviting daily research and collective devising. The key proposition for this paper is: Art prompts and primes the reconfiguration of boundary identities across organism-person-environment to bring the higher levels of expanded and social cognition to bear upon processes of selection and self-organization.

These re-orientations of thought, feeling and making, expand the concerns of art to address the collective capacity and interaction of processes required for “the realization of living” (Maturana and Varela 1980).

Margaret Wertheim, Art as Embodied Evolution telepresentation

As Varella and Maturana have noted, “life” is characterized by its dynamic, autopoetic qualities. The totality of life on Earth constitutes a planetary-wide body that continually morphs and self-generates in time. Just as living systems are inherently process-oriented, so in the art+science practice I have developed over the past decade at the Institute For Figuring, a primary concern has been to produce aesthetic projects which evolve through dynamic embodied engagement brought about by communities of people. The artworks we create at the IFF – such as our Crochet Coral Reef and our fractal origami projects – all begin from humble material seeds (a crochet hook and a ball of yarn, or a stack of business cards), whose structures are allowed to evolve under the influence of simple algorithms enacted by many participating contributors. Our Crochet Coral Reef has now engaged nearly ten thousand women in a dozen countries on five continents and constitutes one of the largest, longest-running participatory art+science endeavors in the world. These projects are open-ended experiments in which surprisingly complex forms emerge, demonstrating through material craft practice insights of complexity theory that now inform our thinking about life. Here, acts of making become the driver for vast unexpected taxonomies of form that parallel the development of life itself and which collectively constitute bodies of knowledge realized in mediums such as yarn. In this talk I will discuss the IFF’s practice at the intersection of art, science and craft, with particular attention to the interplay between material and form that begins to develop when one opens up a project to the generative space of community engagement.

Christine Wertheim, Transformative Structures

Craft practices are the original digital technologies, literally performing with our digits complex algorithms embodied in knitting patterns and other notational systems. This talk focuses on the evolution of algorithmically structured digital crafts, contextualizing these within contemporary understandings of mathematics, and considering its manifestation in various materials including Jacquard weaving, pre-transistor ‘core memory’, and Crochet Coral Reefs. The talk draws on the thoughts of Charles Sanders Pierce, recent work in the philosophy of mathematics by Fernando Zalamea, and current feminist theories of embodiment.

Takashi Ikegami and Victoria Vesna, Bird Song Diamond installation in Large Space

We will present and discuss our collaborative work based on the interactive installation Bird Song Diamond. This installation integrates evolutionary biology, artificial life, spatial sound, mechatronic art and interactive technologies. The BSD interactive installation design is based on the patterns of communication within the spatial networks of birds in nature initiated by Dr. Charles Taylor, ecological biologist at UCLA.

The BSD installation was constructed for the Empowerment Informatics Virtual Reality Space in collaboration with Dr. Hiroo Iwata at Tsukuba university (dimensions are 18 (m) width, 9 (m) depth and 7.4 m height) at the University of Tsukuba. Participants can enter the 3D stereoscopic projection of an artificially programmed flock of birds called boids model. Parametric surround sound pointed at specific quadrants of the space also allude at the reality of the experience coordinated with the passing of the virtual flock.

Participants are also invited to fly inside the space utilizing a harness that lifts the person based on the flapping of wings we provide for them. They have markers that track the position of each participant allowing them to interact with the virtual environment and become part of the flock. During the demonstration, participants were lifted and suspended in mid-air using the motion base and at the end of each show, he landed on the ground quietly where a diamond crystalizes from there. A tracking system consisting of twenty ceiling cameras were used to track the positions of program participants. The EMP Large Space is suitable for making larger immersive display with respect to effective screen volume.

Our contribution to the panel, we will be to discuss the advantageous of cross-disciplinary collaboration based on the experience of the BSD installation in relation to embodied and enactive theories of cognition and their implications for understanding evolutionary processes.