Curated by: anto_nie, Edith Jeřábková, Denisa Langrová, Ruta Putramentaite, Alex Sihelsk*
The withdrawal of humans from the family of animals is a classic example of how they reduce their capacity for knowledge and imprison (not just) themselves into a laboratory of categorized knowledge. Keeping animals~ in laboratories of different types without any connection to their natural environment radically suppresses their sense perception and lowers or entirely eliminates their brain plasticity, influencing not just the animals’ quality of life, but also the quality of the resulting scientific study. Human superiority over other animals has historically derived from the latter’s “smaller” brain or mental abilities and the assumption that they are limited in their sensory life and creativity. Although we today have an inexhaustible collection of evidence for more-than-human intelligence, humans still retain their sense of superiority.
This measuring of emotions and intelligence has been questioned many times before, for example in American philosopher Thomas Nagel’s 1974 paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”. Nagel shows that it is beyond human knowledge to understand what it’s like to be a bat; humans can only perceive what it’s like to be a human imagining that they’re a bat. Only a bat knows what it’s like to be a bat. In the text “Umwelt” (Stanford University Press, 2004) Giorgio Agamben interprets the theory of Umwelt (“environment”) developed by Jakob von Uexküll, the founder of ecology and biosemiotics: humans “imagine that the relations a certain animal subject has to the things in its environment take place in the same space and in the same time as those which bind us to the objects in our human world. This illusion rests on the belief in a single world in which all living beings are situated. Uexküll shows that such a unitary world does not exist, just as a space and a time that are equal for all living things do not exist.” The intelligence of species is thus connected in large part to their Umwelt; their environment and mental and sensory capacities are defined by meanings or so-called bearers of meaning, the collection of significant elements that comprise a particular organism’s Umwelt. Of course, Umwelts are defined not just for species, but also for individuals, professions, and so on. A forest is not the same for a squirrel and a person – indeed, it is different for people who are walking through it, logging in it, collecting mushrooms in it, and writing poems in it.
How can these separate Umwelts help us? They show the autonomy of these Umwelts, the inseparability of a whale from its environment. The places where individual Umwelts intersect create opportunities for understanding and communication. It is thus impossible to form a real relationship with a whale outside of its environment. How many species must be examined by human judges alongside corvids, chimpanzees, gorillas, octopuses, whales, dolphins, and others before we can abandon our human supremacy and begin to address our current environmental crisis with their help? We have known for some time that gorillas, for example, are unparalleled in their maintenance of natural ecosystems, and only human vanity and greed is stopping us from learning this craft from them.
However, we must also think about what intelligence really is. James Bridle notes that intelligence is not just something that exists, but also something that is “done”: it is active and shared and spreads itself out. Intelligence is not something that only exists in the head – for example, it is known that octopuses “do” it with their whole body. Intelligence is one of many ways of being in the world: it is the world’s interface through which it manifests itself. By reevaluating the nature of intelligence and its possible forms in different kinds of life, we can start to remove some of the barriers and false hierarchies that divide us from other species and the world.
If we agree that intelligence is not the sole privilege of humans, it becomes important to establish mutual connections between the intelligence of humans and that of other animals. Artificial intelligence is being developed in the same laboratories in which animal intelligence is tested, in a close link between science and the world of profit and power. Artificial intelligence is also an inseparable part of human intelligence, and it, too, can provide us substantial help in dealing with the planetary crisis. If we believe that we’ll someday reach a stage of superintelligence where human intelligence loses its dominance, we should then ask: What will happen to the intelligence of other animals? Will it be included in this superintelligence, and on what basis? Is it possible to directly connect artificial intelligence with the intelligence of other animals and plants, or must human intelligence be a limited intermediary?
At this year’s symposium, we would like to collaboratively present the developing interdisciplinary field of neuroethics in a less anthropocentric light in connection with neuroethology, animal and gender studies, roboethics, and anti-speciesism. We will ask about the future of animals on Earth and our status, rights on territory, and a good life in the context of feminist and queer ethics.
This predominantly human group is focused on intensive animal coexistence throughout the period of the symposium, studying animal personhood, and imagining what it’s like to be Skvrna, Ponožka, Bělka, Káva, and Čajda, Nena and Sava, Čips and Lesan, what it’s like to be a goat, sheep, dog, beetle, bird, and human, and what it’s like to free oneself from the cage of one’s species and become aware of the subjectivity of both oneself and others. At the same time, we do not want to forget about other animals and the non-animal community, these are and will be ever-present in our conscious and subconscious awareness.
In the first block, invited guests will present their contributions in the form of lectures, moderated debates, performances, workshops, readings, art, and other formats. In the second block, we will all participate in a facilitated trans-AI-animal imagination of the future of animals. This multispectral prognosis will serve as the inspiration for an anthology of texts that will be published after the symposium.
~ by “animal” we mean animals including humans
Friday 28 July
17:00 – 20:00
The Bat Crew
Welcome, visiting locations,
Object Kinship, workshop
A conversation which invites participants to share short stories of (their) encounters with non-human forms of intelligence. With these stories, questions of how we measure and acknowledge the intelligence, autonomy and subjectivity of other life forms are asked. The channels for these stories will be objects (physical or photographed) brought by the participants.
Saturday 29 July
08:45 – 10:30
Soil, Fossil, Dog, workshop
A session on telepathic communication with non-human organisms. For this workshop, Liv Bugge draws from practices of knowledge making, which are alternatives to the Western science, such as extrasensory perception (a.k.a.Clairvoyance), animal communication, telepathy and mindfulness. During the workshop we will challenge anthropocentrism and human-object boundaries our culture carries. We will be divided into 3 smaller groups, each of which will be communicating to one non-human entity: Soil, Fossil, Dog.
Liv Bugge studied at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts and the Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Belgium. She completed her PhD, "The Other Wild: Touching Art as Confrontation", at Oslo National Academy of the Arts in 2019. In her work she explores how mechanisms in society are internalized and contribute to the maintaining of normative notions, for example, such dichotomies as life and non-life or human and nature. Bugge’s practice is informed by queer and feminist perspectives.
10:45 – 11:45
Monsters in The Closet, talk + workshop
A session exploring mythical creatures and folklore from an LGBTQ+ perspective with an opportunity to craft your own piece of short writing.
Sacha Coward is an LGBTQ+ historian, museum freelancer and escape room designer. He has been working in museums around the world for over 10 years where he has earned a reputation at creating exciting and immersive experiences. He is also a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion within the sector.
Sasha is currently working on his first book “Queer as Folklore” in which he explores the connections between queerness, folklore and myth.
12:00 – 13:00
Queer Ecology as Multi-species Worldling, seminar
What do major environmental crises like extinction, climate change, or depletion of natural recourses have to do with the embodied notions of sexuality, gender, and race? What is the role of discourses on nature in shaping the situated and site-specific understandings of sexuality/gender/race, and how have feminist and queer academics approached these issues? What can these theoretical accounts offer for environmental justice activism?
Stemming from these questions, this seminar introduces the field of queer ecology which combines eco-critique and queer theory to emphasise the interconnectedness between the discourses on nature and the embodied politics of sexuality/gender/race. We will probe the idea of queer ecology as a method of worldling (a way of being in the world) rooted in art and activism, and ranging from pink to green politics. The seminar is designed to be an interactive experiment in coalitional thinking.
Marianna Szczygielska is a feminist historian of science specializing in the history of zoos, wildlife conservation, and veterinary expertise in Central and Eastern Europe. She brings queer and decolonial approaches into reflection on human-animal relations. Szczygielska authored several journal articles in Historical Studies in Natural Sciences, Environmental Humanities, Centaurus - Journal of the European Society for the History of Science, and Cultural Studies among others, as well as co-edited special issues of Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities and Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. She is the associate editor of the Humanimalia journal. Szczygielska currently works at the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and teaches at Bard College Berlin.
14:30 – 15:30
How AI Is Changing Our Relationship With Non-Human Beings, lecture
Artificial Intelligence can help us to gain insight into a reality where humans are not the only carriers of knowledge and creativity and where the value of other entities is not derived from their similarity to humans. At the same time, however, it appears that AI tends to recycle pre-existing hierarchical systems and prejudices (such as speciesism). With the arrival of AI, the question arises as to how this change will affect our relationship with non-human animals.
Tereza Vandrovcová is an activist and sociologist. She teaches sociology, social psychology and animal studies at the University of New York in Prague. She also lectures on animal studies at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague and at the Department of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Masaryk University in Brno. She is the co-founder of the online vegan web guide Soucitne.cz.
16:00 – 17:30
Futures of More-Than-Human Intelligence, panel discussion
More-than-human or collective intelligence: phenomena in which vast numbers of independent agents cooperate to produce unpredictable, novel and complex behaviours. Collective intelligence is present in gut bacteria, slime molds, human infrastructures such as cities and social movements, online communities and artificial intelligence systems. But could this idea of non-human centric collective intelligence also become something that can contribute to the ethics of future developments in artificial intelligence? And most importantly how do such questions of human and robotics ethics affect the natural world? Animals with their specific perceptual and relational capacities and their unique ability to create non-human centric forms meaning from their natural environment - sometimes termed Umwelt - contribute in many different ways to such complex collective intelligence agencies. What is the potential of these interactions when we think about more equitable, and less human centric future definitions of intelligence in relation to the natural world and the planet? How can such collective intelligence contribute to new creative forms?
Interdisciplinary discussion with the feminist historian Marianna Szczygielska, philosopher and theoretical biologist Filip Jaroš and professor and AI researcher Ivan Sekaj. Moderated by art theorist and curator Hana Janečková
Marianna Szczygielska is a feminist historian of science specializing in the history of zoos, wildlife conservation, and veterinary expertise in Central and Eastern Europe. She brings queer and decolonial approaches into reflection on human-animal relations. Marianna authored several journal articles in Historical Studies in Natural Sciences, Environmental Humanities, Centaurus - Journal of the European Society for the History of Science, and Cultural Studies among others, as well as co-edited special issues of Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities and Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. She is the associate editor of the Humanimalia journal. Marianna currently works at the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and teaches at Bard College Berlin.
Filip Jaroš is an assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences, University of Hradec Králové. His scholar background is both in philosophy and theoretical biology. His main scholar interests include philosophy of biology, human-animal communication and the problem of anthropological difference. He has co-edited and published two books about the philosophical biology and anthropology of Adolf Portmann (Adolf Portmann: A Thinker of Self-expressive Life, ed. F. Jaroš & J. Klouda, Springer 2021, in English; Portmannova filosofická biologie a antropologie, Togga 2022, in Czech).
Ivan Sekaj is a professor and researcher in the field of cybernetics and artificial intelligence (AI) at Slovak University of Technology, Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. His research and teaching focuses on bio-inspired computational methods in control and robotics. He is also working on issues related to the impact of AI on human society. He is interested in Artificial Intelligence, Evolutionary Computation, Neural Networks, Control Engineering, Biocybernetics.
Hana Janečková (she, they) is a theorist and curator. Her current research focuses on the relationship between ecology, feminism and technology. She has a long-standing interest in the politics of care and work in digital environments and methods of activism and collaboration in contemporary art and institutional practice. She is a theorist and historian of contemporary art at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague, and has previously worked at the University of the Arts London and the University of York, UK and Display Gallery, Prague. From 2021-2022 she was a Fulbright-Masaryk Scholar at the Center for Women, Arts and Humanities, Rutgers University and Brooklyn Museum, USA. Recent activities include Cripping Curating, a chapter in Radicalising Care (Academy of Art, Vienna), the book and project Multilogues on the Now (Display, British Council, 2018-2021), Touch of the Animal (ArtMap, 2021, ed.) and the anthology Diagnosis (Artalk Revue, 2018, ed.) Towards a Black Testimony (with Languid Hands, UK, 2021) and Wom*n-Rose-Song-Bone (2021). In 2024, she is curating Eva Kot's project at the Venice Biennale.
18:00 – 18:15
Theta, short film
Lek describes Theta as a CGI road movie set in the same Sinofuturist cinematic world he has been working within for the last half decade. Set in an abandoned smart city, SimBeijing, the film follows a driverless patrol car conversing with its own cloud consciousness as it attempts to understand the source of its sadness as it speeds around a ghost town that, despite being abandoned, is still under constant surveillance.
Lawrence Lek is a filmmaker, musician, and artist who unifies diverse practices—architecture, gaming, video, music and fiction—into a continuously expanding cinematic universe. Over the last decade, Lek has incorporated vernacular media of his generation, such as video games and computer-generated animation, into site-specific installations and digital environments. Often featuring interlocking narratives and the recurring figure of the wanderer, his work explores the myth of technological progress in an age of artificial intelligence and social change. Lek recently graduated with a PhD from the Royal College of Art in London. He has exhibited internationally with recent solo exhibitions, including Sadie Coles HQ, London (2023); QUAD, Derby (2022–3); ZiWU The Bund, Shanghai (2022); Center for Contemporary Arts Prague, Prague (2019); HeK House of Electronic Arts, Basel (2019); Urbane Künste Ruhr, Essen (2019); and K11 art space, Hong Kong (2018).
18:15 – 19:00
All that You Change, Changes You, workshop
The air is dry, twigs cracking under our feet. We are being watched, closely, carefully. Watched by multitudes of eyes, noses and antennas. As the sun slowly starts to set, we take off into the woods to see if we can blend into the landscape and focus our attention. Because if we listen very closely, we might hear the roots grow.
anto_nie (she/they) is a multidisciplinary artist and a facilitator with activist background. Her practice is focused on worldbuilding and exploring queer ecollogical topics. She works with herbs and gossips, with augmented reality and games, drawing inspiration from folklore and the soil. They are a student at the Experimental Game Cultures department at dieAngewandte focusing her diploma on queer slavic monsters.
20:00 – 21:00
Man and Snake: Gemini, contemplation at the compost heap
Who is the most ambivalent character in the entire zoological atlas? Without whom can't most creation myths, including the biblical one, do without? There are only two such animals in the world: a serpent and a man. We can do a do-good discussion of what a snake is to a man, and we will discuss at length in what ways is a snake a crucial mirror and stepping-stone to a man. Snake contemplation will take place at the compost heap with the community of humans and the community of snakes.
Hana Nováková is a filmmaker, indologist and ethnozoologist. Her doctoral research explored the clash between the Western zoological paradigm and the animistic perception of the world among tribal people in Bengal. She has also explored the relationship between humans and other animals and human alienation from the rest of nature in her film, essay and curatorial work. For five years, she was a permanent editor of the Czech Television's environmental journalism programme Občanské noviny. She cooperates with the Biological Centre of the Academy of Sciences, the A2 magazine and the ethnobiological anthology Pandanus. She interprets from Bengali for refugees from sinking Bangladesh.
Sunday 30 July
10:00 – 13:00
Digestive meeting, collective imagination about the more-than-human future and the future of non-human animals,
Tereza Čajková & Noemi Purkrábková,
Kristýna Hrubánová & Jiří Sirůček
The digestive meeting is a space to process the themes and perceptions from the symposium environment and to integrate them deeply into the fabric of the new whole. Through individual and collective experience and reflection, we will explore what questions we come away with from our weekend together and whether these questions are any different from the ones we were asking at the beginning. Together, we will then attempt to connect human and more-than-human intelligences to seek the unimaginable, the unnamed.
Tereza Čajková is researching decolonial approaches to education as part of her PhD studies at the University of British Columbia. As a methodologist, she is developing experimental programs aimed at activating learning through bodily and sensory experience and is developing the programme Schools of Dissolving, Expanding and Connecting Imagination (Školy rozpouštění, rozšiřování a propojování imaginace), in collaboration with the Institute of Anxiety (Institut Úzkosti).
Noemi Purkrábková is a theoretician, writer, curator, DJ and co-founder of an amorphous audio-visual collective BCAAsystem. She is an editor of Art Antiques magazine and a contributor to a number of others, as well as a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague.
Kristýna Hrubanová is a member of the NaZemi organization, she is particularly interested in education and facilitation of group processes. In addition, she is learning to care for fruit trees and rides her bike a lot.
Jiří Sirůček is a PhD student at the Department of Film Studies at Charles University, where he also teaches. His main research interests are posthumanist media theory and philosophy of technology. He is a member of the audiovisual collective BCAAsystem and a researcher at the Association for Research and Collective Practice Display.
14:00 – 15:00
Children’s Forest Group
Wandering for the Ghosts of the Forest, workshop, parade, and saying our farewells to each other and the Forest