Semester Topic 2017

Semester Topic: Ecologies — Matters of Coexistence


Besides being involved in social, political and economic structures, humans are (again) becoming more aware that they are biological creatures and as such related to all other creatures, be they plants or animals. We are neither “outside” nor “autonomous,” nor indeed the “crown of creation.” Rather, we are an integral part of our environment, dependent and co-responsible for the biological network in the age of humans (i.e., the Anthropocene). Or, put differently, we are located somewhere on a spectrum of understanding our environment, either merely as the source of our progress or as the existential world in which we live. This view has become even more relevant in times of globalization, in which the environment has somehow become equal to the whole world, and in which we need to be concerned about events elsewhere. Thus, these issues are highly transcultural and call for the ethics of equality to be discussed in terms of various aspects.


There are different concepts and cultural notions of nature and its relationship to humans (as biological beings). Some focus on analyzing, controlling, or even exploiting nature, and accordingly understand humans as exceptional and as removed from nature; others, in contrast, are more interested in the relationship between nature and humans, and accordingly argue that this is integral and symbiotic. They conceive of the nature- human relationship as an ecological system, as a field of interdependencies in which everything is finely balanced.

A social or cultural environment can also be understood as an ecological system, as a field involving actors and roles, relations and functions. Thus, environments emerge from living beings interacting and collaborating. Every organization is a kind of “ecology,” be it a family, a neighborhood, a city, an institution, a music band, a mixed group of students, etc. While commonalities and symbiotic synergies exist on the one hand, differing and conflicting needs or values, fierce competition for resources or power, or a labyrinth of concepts and symbols exist on the other. We will look at specific constellations, in order to analyze and critically reflect on roles, agents, and relations in our everyday environment. Of specific interest will be “environments” involving encounters and intersections between different cultures.

Living in the Anthropocene, humans seem to have the most significant impact on biological, geological, and atmospheric processes. Highly developed technologies help us to organize our life and environment. One can speculate that technologies will expand our physical and mental capabilities to such an extent that new ecologies and new creatures will evolve from biological beings blending with artificial intelligence.

Some Literature (to be continued):

Felix Guattari – The Three Ecologies
Christoph Rosol, Katrin Klingan, etc. – Textures of the Anthropocene – Grain Vapor Ray; MIT Press Bruno Latour – The Parliament of Things
Jane Benett – Vibrant Matter
Steven Shaviro – The Universe of Things
Eugene Thacker – Horror Philosophy; Zero Books Vols I, II, III
Mike Pearson – ‘In Comes I’: Performance, Memory and Landscape
Timothy Morton – Ecology without Nature
T.J. Demos – Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today
T.J. Demos – Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology
Zheng Bo –“Contemporary art and ecology in East Asia” in: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Vol 3