Waste Matters: You Are My Future

Tuesday 12 April 2016
6.00 - 7.30PM

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Law LT024, New Law School, Eastern Ave, University of Sydney


Uncovering the transformations of waste

Professor Kathy High, Video and New Media in the Department of the Arts, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY

Co-presented with the Sydney Ideas

 “The transformation of waste is perhaps the oldest pre-occupation of man.”

– Patti Smith

Recent research into the human body biomes and fecal microbial transplants (FMT) has led to better understanding of both the important function of bacteria in our bodies and the ecological systems that sustain us. These include microbiota – ecologies within the body.

Kathy High an interdisciplinary artist working in the areas of technology, science and art, explores these new developments through metaphors of interspecies love, immunology and bacteria as players. Waste Matters expands ideas around imbalances of internal biomes as a mirror to the imbalances in our larger ecological sphere, where the gut is a ‘hackable space’. As a patient with Crohn’s disease, her knowledge of autoimmune disorders and the body’s ecology is first hand: “Having dealt with issues around shit all my life, I see my own attempts to make this material invisible as reflecting our culture’s ways of covering waste. Through a holistic view that encourages dialogue between ecologists, biologists, activists and artists, I seek to catalyse the imaginary around the abject”

Sonja van Wichelen, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney

Dr. Astrida Neimanis, Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney
Dr. Catherine Simpson, Macquarie University


Kathy High (USA) is an interdisciplinary artist working in the areas of technology, science and art. She works with animals and living systems, considering the social, political and ethical dilemmas surrounding the areas of medicine/bio-science, biotechnology and interspecies collaborations. She has received awards including fellowships from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts. Her art works have been shown in film festivals, galleries and museums, including Documenta 13 (Kassel), the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center and Exit Art (NYC), the Science Gallery, (Dublin), NGBK, (Berlin), Fesitval Transitio_MX (Mexico), MASS MoCA (North Adams), Videotage Art Space and Para-Site Gallery (Hong Kong). High is Professor of Video and New Media in the Department of the Arts, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY – a department specializing in integrated experimental arts practices.

Sonja van Wichelen is Senior Research Fellow with the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research broadly engages with the body, law, and science in the age of globalization and the effects that changes in these areas have on our understanding of citizenship. Her current project (funded by a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council) investigates the impact of globalization and biomedicine on the legal governance of family life. She is the author of Religion, Gender and Politics in Indonesia: Disputing the Muslim Body (Routledge, 2010), the co-editor of Commitment and Complicity in Cultural Theory and Practice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and publishes widely on the topic of globalization and reproduction, religion and the body, migration and citizenship.

Astrida Neimanis joined the Gender and Cultural Studies program in 2015 after holding various teaching and research positions at universities in Canada, the UK, and Sweden. She is Associate Editor of the journal Environmental Humanities (Duke University Press), a Key Researcher with the Sydney Environment Institute and co-convenor of the Composting: Feminisms and the Environmental Humanities reading group hosted at the University of Sydney. She is also a founding member and University of Sydney contact faculty for The Seed Box: A MISTRA-FORMAS Environmental Humanities Collaboratory (a transnational research consortium based at Linkoping University, Sweden).

Catherine Simpson is an academic in the Media Department at Macquarie University. Before doing her PhD (Murdoch, Perth) on Australian women filmmakers, she spent a few years in Istanbul in the 90s and organised an Australian film festival there and a reciprocal one that toured Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Since then, Cath has taught, researched and published across a range of areas including Australian and Turkish media and film, car cultures, diasporic cinema, environmental media, gender and cultural studies. She was seconded to the Science faculty (Dept of Environment and Geography) for 3 years to pilot an innovative science communications programme. She is passionate about creating spaces for interdisciplinary collaboration within and, perhaps more importantly, beyond the university. Cath is currently producing a doco on the topic: ‘Shit Matters’ for ABC Radio National’s Earshot program, writing a political ecology of FMTs (or faecal microbiota transplants) and studying some undergraduate science.