HI everybody and greetings from Australia. I’m here for Untaming the Urban an extraordinary symposium at Australian National University’s (ANU) Fenner School that brings together artists, designers and environmental scientists to consider ways to untame design in the built environment. I gave a talk titled Design for the Non-human, the Cyborg Futures of Non-human Life Forms (abstract below), delivered a key note and did a multi-site installation of PandoraBird. The installation included all sorts of unusual challenges.  Canberra is the “bush capitol” and boasts big, loud, tough Aussie birds like cockatoos, parrots and magpies. The last of which will even dive bomb your head if you’re on a bicycle!

Untaming the Urban aims to encourage a multi-disciplinary engagement in the urban discourse beyond just the traditional urban study areas by considering urban cross-species cohabitation, constructed ecologies and conviviality. The purpose of this symposium is:

  1. Aim: To provide a space for conversation, critic and collective imagining where a range of post-anthropocentric, more-than-human, cross-species and ecological theory related questions can be interrogated and further developed in relation to the urban environment.
  2. Objective: To facilitate a re-imagining of the urban built environment for cohabitation, cross-species conviviality and an expanded notion of everyday life into an ecological scale.
  3. Outcome: To consolidate the symposium’s discussion and contributions into an edited book

The abstract for Design for the Non-human, the Cyborg Futures of Non-human Life Forms is here. I do however recommend that you check out the symposium’s tumblir posts for moe comprehensive info on a really important topic: http://untaming-the-urban.tumblr.com/

Trans-species Giving and the Cyborg Futures of the Non-human

Untaming the Urban: Conceptualisation, Elizabeth Demaray, Rutgers University


New technologies now support interspecies communication and may enhance the function of non-human life forms. This presentation details my work designing cyborg technologies for the non-human. A cyborg is here identified as an organism that utilizes technology and whose abilities are greater than those of a non-technologically enabled member of its own species. These works also concern “trans-species giving,” which asserts that the commonalities between life forms are such that we may be able to give other organisms a “hand up,” notwithstanding our own cultural or species-specific assumptions.

Focusing on the issues encountered in creating species-specific artwork, this brief survey includes the Hand Up Project: Attempting to Meet the New Needs of Natural Life Forms, which creates shelters for land hermit crabs from synthetic materials; The IndaPlant Project: An Act of Trans-Species Giving, which fabricates robotic supports for potted plants; and PandoraBird: Identifying the Types of Music that May Be Favored by Our Avian Co-habitants, which uses computer vision to track the musical preferences of local songbirds.

While inherently generative, these agent-based artworks also consider the aesthetics of adaptive behavior. To signal the emergent confluence in media art of “wet” biological processes and “dry” computational systems, the artist/theorist Roy Ascott coined the term “moist media.” Ascott sees this media as extending the sensorium of the self. In designing for the non-human, I aim to give struggling life forms a “hand up” while extending the sensorium of the self to the sensorial experiences of our companion species.

Follow-up questions:

What roles do culture- and species-specific assumptions play in addressing interspecies communication and design?

What other species-specific systems could or should be designed to support untaming the urban?

Human and non-human life forms are now being are being genetically engineered. How should this be viewed from the perspective of untaming the urban?