Invertebrate Art: Ecologies, Practices, Ethics

Sarah Wade, University of East Anglia, Sarah.Wade@uea.ac.uk

Pandora Syperek, Loughborough University London, P.Syperek@Lboro.ac.uk

Invertebrates comprise 97% of Earth’s animal species, eliciting affects that range from wonder to disgust. As nonhuman animals pervade the art of ecologically troubled times, artists and researchers increasingly look to these ubiquitous but marginalised creatures. This session examines how invertebrates, including various ocean wildlife, insects, arachnids, molluscs and worms, have featured in modern and contemporary art as materials, metaphors, protagonists and collaborators. How have artist-invertebrate relationships developed as the Sixth Mass Extinction unfolds?

From the influence of aquarium culture on the flowing forms of Art Nouveau to the Surrealist fascination with metamorphosis and the praying mantis and contemporary artists’ engagement with spiders, squids, slugs and sponges, invertebrates have inspired creative practitioners in manifold ways. They retain a capacity for anthropomorphism, despite morphologies and behaviours that appear alien to human life, including radically other reproductive processes and life cycles which explode gender binarism and heteronormative and individualist social structures. Coral symbiosis, for example, presents alternative lifeworlds for imagining human relationships to ecology and ecological crisis. Some artists’ use of live animals raises ethical questions and points to invertebrates’ traditionally lowly status within hierarchical models of life and evolution. And still, the drastic decline of insects, the demise of the Great Barrier Reef and (debated) jellyfish blooms are treated instrumentally, rather than with regards to invertebrates’ intrinsic value.

We seek presentations from researchers and practitioners on these and other issues relating to making, curating, thinking and living with invertebrates, to explore human-invertebrate entanglements in art and visual culture across a broad historical and geographical remit.

Call for Papers deadline 1 November 2021. Please submit your paper proposal to the convenor.

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