2016 Skin|Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cybernetic Containers


Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cybernetic Containers

April 8, 2016 York University, Toronto, Ontario

Simultaneously vessel and vehicle, barrier and transmitter, costume and identity, screen and interface, skin has emerged as an erotic, political,  productive, and flexible contemporary concept. Mobilized, harvested, grafted, and incorporated by artists, scientists and theorists into new technological, biological, and social assemblages,  skin appears as shared feature and conduit between the human, animal and machine.  Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts & Technology is currently inviting cross-disciplinary proposals for the second annual Graduate Symposium – SKIN: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cybernetic Containers – that embody and/or engage critically with the potentialities and intersections of technology, phenomenology, and affect and the multiple discourses that manifest skin.

Max Meyer presents his OpTec Keynote (Top Left); Nick White & Karl Petschke present on Exfoliation * Defoliation (Bottom Left); Carmen Victor discusses Curatorial Practices (Top Right); Alysse Kushinski presenting on the Leak (Bottom Right); and Laura Wiebe delivers her keynote presentation (Centre).

Possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

  • Conceptions of skin, layers, membranes, and all of their parallels
  • Screens and interfaces
  • Bio-semantics, bio-philosophy, and bio-art
  • Digital and bodily cartographies
  • Palimpsests
  • Intercorporeity
  • Conventional, plastic, and cosmetic surgeries
  • Cyborgs and the posthuman
  • Transformation and transformative technologies
  • Biological and technological assemblages
  • Contemporary images/representations of skin in film, television pornography, theatre, literature, games, and dance.
  • Science fiction

This one-day symposium will offer a unique symbiotic opportunity for emerging researchers and artists to gather, exchange, bond, and cross-fertilize future landscapes for research materializing at disciplinary boundaries.

Presentation formats:

Papers, posters, workshops, round tables, interventions/performances, presentations – traditional and experimental – and other emerging forms will all be considered. We encourage cross-disciplinary interpretations, variations and unforeseen mutations of our working themes.


We invite papers and presentations that critique, consider, and construct the intersection of art, science, the body, and technology and iterations therein. Please send a 300 word abstract, along with a working title, short biography, and contact information. If you would like to submit a joint proposal with several researchers/artists please send only one application that includes collective biographical and contact information. Specify the format of your presentation, keeping in mind it should be no longer than 20 minutes in length (with 90 minutes for panels and/or round tables). The final date for submissions is February 15, 2016 at 11:59pm EST.


Registration fee for the conference is $50 pending acceptance – fee includes boxed lunch, coffee, and evening reception.

Email: sensoriumsymposium@gmail.com

Keynote Speaker: We are pleased to welcome Laura Wiebe as our speaker for the 2016 Symposium. Wiebe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Popular Culture, Communication, and Film at Brock University and the Vice-President of the Canadian Popular Culture Association of Canada. She specializes in considerations of science and technology, popular culture, and music. You can find Laura online at http://lauramwiebe.com/

About Sensorium:

Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology is an experimental research centre based out of York University that supports cross-disciplinary work in all areas that intersect with digital media practices. Sensorium is a nexus for new ideas and experimentation that incorporates work from diverse fields of study and creates spaces for innovative dialogue. More information is available at: http://sensorium.info.yorku.ca/

We are pleased to welcome Laura Wiebe as our speaker for the 2016 Symposium with her talk titled, Feeling Realities: Sensing Beyond the Self

Laura Wiebe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Popular Culture, Communication, and Film at Brock University and the Vice-President of the Popular Culture Association of Canada. She specializes in considerations of science and technology, popular culture, and music. You can find Laura online at http://lauramwiebe.com/

“Epidermal Ennui: Under the Skin and the Feminine Visage”                                                 Marko Djurdjić, York University

Exploring cinematic approaches to body representation, this paper will utilize Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s surreal, cerebral science fiction-horror hybrid tour-de-force, to look at how the appropriation of human skin by another Other (in this case, an extraterrestrial) can imbue the skin with power and agency, yet when a feminine skin is consciously realized, these self-sufficient elements are lost to a “feminized” humanity. This trope, represented in and, at times, interrogated by many genre-bending films (including Species, Jennifer’s Body, and Ghost in the Shell), can be viewed through Laura Marks’s engagement with the erotic, which forces an “intensified relation with an Other that cannot be possessed.”1 This impotence in the face of possession is perfectly illustrated through Glazer’s agentic, seductive female protagonist.

Skin takes on many guises in Under the Skin: a fuel and a burden, safe yet pursued, a food and a prison, beautiful and grotesque. In the film, The Female (the unnamed protagonist played to icy perfection by Scarlett Johansson) takes on the female form in order to seduce men, recycling their bodies and harvesting their skin for her home planet. The Female attempts to decipher and control her new skin, challenged and perplexed by what her façade projects to the world around her: skin, teeth, hair, clothes, make-up, she must reconcile these visual elements in order to position her body in the new society she inhabits.

By depicting The Female with a sexualized, unrecognizable distance, Johansson exists visually as both the ultimate representation, and subversion, of Hollywood conventions, which dictate a certain degree of feminized representation. Through her actions, The Female contradicts genre traditions by challenging cinematic norms, yet, when she is forced into the assimilation and (perplexed) embrace of her outer feminine humanity, her adoption of her female skin results in a loss of her monstrous qualities, resulting in the destruction of both her alien body, and its epidermal visage.

1 Laura Marks. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 184.

Marko Djurdjić is a first year MA student in the Cinema and Media Studies program at York University. He is a fan of the Raptors, music that makes people put their hands over their ears and say “What IS that???” and fine bourbons. He is currently researching and working towards a May 2017 degree completion, which appears “so-far, so-good.” His favourite movie is Stand By Me. He recently saw West Side Story for the first time and thinks it’s impeccable.

“Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Reflecting Race in Disney’s Once Upon a Time”                            Michelle Johnson, York University

Disney animated films have a profound impact on the intertextual telling of classic fairy tales, yet the company continues to struggle with on-screen representations of race, from the stereotyping or vilifying of characters with darker skin tones to the frequent lack of non-white bodies, particularly in leading roles.  While a handful of animated films from the past quarter-century have taken steps (and missteps) to address this imbalance, recent live-action film and television adaptations feature overwhelmingly white casts, indicating that the white body still dominates the Disney screen.

The 2011 Disney/ABC television series Once Upon a Time, for example, features only one non-white actor in its main cast: Lana Parilla, who plays Regina, the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).  While Regina’s skin color is not acknowledged in the narrative, it serves to signify a “double othering” wherein she is distanced from the white heroes by both her race and her propensity toward evil.  Engaging in a close reading of this series, I explore how Regina’s double othering perpetuates the fantasy of white heroes as morally superior to and responsible for their less stalwart acquaintances, as the show’s protagonists unite to combat and eventually forgive Regina’s transgressions.

Michelle Johnson received a B.A. in Japanese Language and Literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2009 and an M.A. in Dance (Culture and Performance Studies) from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 2013.  She is currently a PhD student in Dance Studies at York University in Toronto, where her research interests include Disney and the female villain, movement analysis in animation, and fairy-tale narrative and archetypes in ballet.  Her most recent research explores animated transformations of Disney villains and the link between animation and ballet movement traditions.

“The Potentiality of Leaks: A Call for a More-than-human Aesthetics of Desire”              Alysse Kushinski, York University 

What is the aesthetic of the leak? A leak is an in an emission of contents through a barrier intended to contain – it could imply a disruption to a given flow, a rupture through, a breaking free of contents out of form. Described in this way, the leak can be understood as a chain of effects. To this, we might ask what are the effects of the leak, and for what purposes can these effects be harnessed? The political nature of the leak is well known. It is always a catastrophe, etymologically speaking, an “overturn,” insides coming out. The leak is an event – a news leak, a leaking pipe, an oil spill. But the leak is also an agent – escaped fluid, oozing ooze, the leaked image. This intervention considers the implications of leaks, leaking, leakiness, and leakages as a means of calling for a more-than-human aesthetics of desire. To these this ends, I assert that the leak represents a means through which we can imagine new constellations of relationality – the interaction of objects, actors, and matter, which always already embody possibility. The leak provides us with a new way of thinking through desire; one that channels existing works that complicates the idea of desire as being constituted by a lack. Rather, I argue, that through the leak, we can imagine desire as a virtual condition – a certain fluidity/movement/flow (dripping/seeping/flooding) that contains unlimited possibilities for intra-action. This presentation seeks to disrupt boundaries and containers in favour of examining the potentialities of permeations, seepages, and the defiance of whatever means that strive to contain.

Alysse Kushinski is completing her PhD in Communications and Culture at York University (Canada) and holds an MSc in Political Sociology from the London School of Economics (UK). Her research explores the contemporary mediation of abject landscapes and sits at the intersection of aesthetics, media and communications, and visual and material culture. Her most recent work Light and the Aesthetics of Abandonment: HDR Imaging and the Illumination of Ruins will be featured in the upcoming special issue of Transformations Journal: “The Ruin, The Future”.

“The Posthuman Woman in Film: Getting Under the Skin of Men”                                     Malcolm Matthews, Brock University

Connecting the dots between Donna Haraway’s question, “Why should our bodies end at the skin?” and Rosi Braidotti’s notion that the disengaged subject “explodes the boundaries of humanism and anthro-pocentrism at skin level,” this paper examines recent portrayals in film of female skin as technocentric man’s real final frontier. Chronically dissatisfied, even from his self-appointed place at the hegemonic apex, man finds himself beset by an internal contradiction, which he has externalized at the expense of women. He embraces technology as a logical progression in the perfection of his unparalleled brain, yet he fears what that progress represents; namely, his ultimate irrelevance. Invoking what Rosi Braidotti refers to as the “posthuman predicament,” I examine films such as Under the Skin, Her, Lucy, and Ex Machina as examples par excellence of how posthumanism is informed by the path that man’s assaulted subjectivity takes through women and technology. If Man-God, creation-destruction stories such as Blade Runner (where the Replicants are known as “skin jobs”) and Frankenstein express man’s fear of being usurped by his male creation, these movies take the analogy to the next step. It is no longer the acquisition of the creative powers of God nor the lack of the procreative power of women that dooms man; rather, it is the “man-made” woman who renders him a victim of his own authorial presence. The female characters in each of these films – the interrogator of masculine hegemony can never be “just” a woman; instead she is invariably a hypersexualized alien, mutant, or machine – represent a reconfigured but still misogynistic male paranoia about his role in a world of technological evolution and fluid gender identity. Viewed through a lens of phenomenology, it is the fact of female disembodiment and the missing skin that challenges man’s notions of sensation, perception, and gendered subjectivity.

Malcolm Matthews is a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Humanities program at Brock University. He is researching portrayals of autism spectrum disorders and savantism in popular culture with an emphasis on depictions of masculinity, sexuality, and on the role of the romanticized autistic savant as the personification of the much-anticipated human-computer singularity. Malcolm is past vice-president of the Canadian Authors Association Niagara Chapter and has published autism-related human-interest articles in Autism Matters. For more about Malcolm and his work, visit www.malcolmmatthews.ca or brocku.academia.edu/mmatthews.

Here is Always Somewhere Else: An Experiment in Speculative Curatorial Practice                Carmen Victor, University of Toronto 


A speculative exhibition project in which the location is unknown, the budget is unlimited, and the projects’ practical realizability is wholly undetermined. Neither utopian nor dystopian, the works discussed encompass a spectrum of media and modes of production. This imaginary exhibition explores notions of exclusivity that accompany transgression.

Carmen Victor is a pursuing a PhD in the Joint Graduate Program in Communication and Culture at York & Ryerson Universities, as well she lectures in the Master of Museum Studies program in the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.

OpTec Keynote, December 2032

Max Meyer, York University


Engaging with topics as diverse as climate change and copyleft to speculative realism and the quantified self, O pTec Keynote, December 2032 draws upon the work of numerous theorists in a performative manner. K eynote takes the format of a product launch presentation similar to those of major tech companies today, wherein a fictional corporation — the titular OpTec — announces their upcoming, feature-packed, sensorium-enhancing nanotechnology suite. While advertising the remarkable possibilities afforded by OpTec’s new product, the presentation is hijacked by an anonymous hacktivist group who seek to coopt this potent new system and harness its immense potential to undertake a program of truly radical transformation.

While both the corporation and activist elements in K eynote are gently caricatured, their interplay allows for a space to playfully engage with myriad contemporary concerns. What are the ramifications of tech and social media companies mining the experiences we use their platforms to share? Does the ubiquity of so-called ‘high-tech’ devices meaningfully change the way in which our lives are lived, built, and understood, or is it just another face of Haraway’s famous cyborg? Can computer and internet technology be co-opted for emancipatory ends or is it merely the latest version of an all-commodifying capitalism? How can one best package works of abstruse critical academia so that its crucial developments can be implemented against the wicked problem of climate change?

A suite of nanites capable of expanding the range of one’s senses: increasing the range and fidelity of one’s hearing, stretching the visible spectrum into the infrared and the ultraviolet, discovering new smells and tastes. Even while actively speculating on the dangers of using such a fantastic product, in a disorienting contradiction, I saw myself being more than willing to stand in line to buy it.

Max Meyer completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography at Ryerson University in 2009. After working as a photo-based artist for five years – during which his practice entailed compositing believable but impossible images from disparate areas around Toronto – he began pursuing a Masters in Environmental Studies at York. Max’s research entails an exploration of speculative realism and its potential for developing a counterhegemonic aesthetics of the built environment.

“Exfoliation and Defoliation: Tenderness and Violence in Tactile Encounters”
Karl Petschke & Nick White, Ryerson & York Universities

It is a mistake to grasp skin as monolithic. Ever flaking, scaling, peeling, and shedding, skin’s scurfy surfaces constantly dissipate into a collection of dermal layerings and reticulations. These lamellar or multifoliate qualities no doubt give rise to skin’s remarkable resiliency, but they also leave flesh vulnerable and exposed. Wherever bodies come into contact, their meeting seems to act as an exfoliant – interfaces rub raw at the site of encounter. Far from being confined to the realm of human tactility, however, the dynamics of exfoliation play out across a wide range of geological, organic, and technological processes. Exfoliation is at work whenever the elements weather architectural facades or tinkerers peel back the protective panels of technological devices. We might say that while exfoliation abrasive, erosive operations flirt with disaster, constantly bringing beings to the edge of their corporeal vulnerability, it nonetheless leaves something of them intact, sometimes even preparing the way for rejuvenation and renewal. Defoliation, in contrast, mounts a threat against life itself.  Whether they find their expression in militarized herbicides that wipe out old-growth foliage or book-burnings that consume antique folios, defoliants attack the possibility of reproduction or recuperation outright.. With all this in mind, this paper will begin to explore the sensitive interval that separates exfoliation and defoliation in hopes of better understanding how, at the uncertain threshold that opens with tactility, tenderness threatens to pass over into violence.

Karl Petschke is a Master’s Student in the Joint Program in Communication and Culture at Ryerson and York Universities. His interdisciplinary research integrates aspects of media studies, political philosophy, and ecology.

Nick White is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist whose work interrogates hybrid embodiments in physical and digital space. He is a Masters student in the Communication & Culture joint program at Ryerson & York Universities.

“A Narrative of Love and Bodies in the Yemen”                                                                               laura j.turnbull, York University

Using a background of sensory anthropology, this paper reflects on the often unspoken contemporary experience of love and touch in a Muslim country. It will focus on a sensory auto-ethnography and several narratives from the field, as they highlight the cultural relativity of touch and many perspectives on sex, sexuality, love, and relationships in what is often presented as a strict traditional Muslim country. What is seen of the body, and some times more importantly, what is not seen, all play out- from pornography in internet cafes to waxing for your wedding night. I will highlight the complex importance of the body and skin, and tactile experiences in Yemeni culture. These narratives are situated in understanding the role the West plays with popular culture consumed from the digital realm as it constructs and challenges contemporary Yemeni relationships. This is paramount in beginning to decolonize our understanding of what love is and the experience of touching bodies in a space where fiction from the screen becomes at times a dangerous reality.

laura j. turnbull’s enriching undergraduate experience at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, has given her a strong theoretical base and encouraged her to investigate alternative approaches to traditional scholarship. Having worked for various festivals and arts organizations in New Brunswick, she has been able to foster physical and sensory experiences of history and culture. Further study in Yemen has led her to work with Muslim societies and cultures. She is interested in helping to facilitate community led projects that focus on self-representation and self-sovereignty through video and new media. She has had short documentaries screened at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche and Take a Walk on the Riverside festivals, as well as the Natural History Museum in Oldenburg, Germany. She graduated with a MFA from Ryerson’s Documentary Media programme Fall 2011 and is currently working on a Phd in Communication and Culture from York University in Toronto, Canada.

Roundtable: “Touch as Queer and Decolonial Gesture / Skin as Transcultural Site of Contact” Jonathan Petrychyn, Nick White, Alize Zorlutana

This roundtable aims to consider the intersection of touch, queerness, and decolonization in Alize Zorlutana’s videos. We will start the roundtable with an introduction and screening by the artist of her short films becoming oblique of the world (2015, 4 min) and your touch unsettles how I see (2013, 4 min) which will be followed by brief talks and commentary by the artist and panelists. The aim of the roundtable is two-fold: first, to contextualize Zorlutana’s work within national and transnational decolonization practices and queer video activism; and second, to consider the role skin and touch plays in new film and video work and how it contributes to a developing queer anti-colonial activist praxis.

This roundtable will ask conference participants and the panelists to consider the ways in which touch can be mobilized against what we call “Western hegemonic ocularcentrism”. As a way of understanding the world primarily through the straight lines of vision and representation, we argue that Western hegemonic ocularcentrism is a deeply heteronormative and colonial worldview that demands a queer and decolonial response that is exemplified in the work of Alize Zorlutana.

After the screening and introduction, the first panelist will discuss briefly the intersections between queerness and decolonization and how it has been mobilized in recent Indigenous and transnational film and video practice. Specifically, they will turn toward different social, aesthetic, and narrative gestures that have been mobilized toward decolonization, and will consider how Zorlutana’s mobilization of touch as a decolonizing gesture works to make contact between queer, Indigenous, and migrant activism. Mobilizing Sara Ahmed’s work on queer phenomenology and Lacan’s discussion of the anamorphic gaze alongside Delueze’s work on haptic vision, this panelist argues that Zorlutana’s use of touch is a mode of queer solidarity.

The second panelist will argue that Zorlutana’s work addresses the transgressive potentialities that touch permits, forging a new queer sensorium. The site of contact at which touch occurs is always its own emergent interstice, a transcultural site rich with potential for making space, crossing thresholds, decolonizing and reterritorializing. In touching rugs, landscapes, and other sensory spaces, Zorlutana develops a new queer sensorium that reorients hegemonic ocularcentrism into haptic vision. In tracing the horizon with her finger, Zorlutana reclaims the control limits of perspectivalism, re-orienting the relation between body and land, reclaiming the horizon as a haptic threshold of embodied queer intimacy. These works emphasize Laura Marks’ indication that it is optical visuality that is the framework that characterizes the perceptual mode favoured by the dominant Western sensorium, yet in intercultural cinema, the haptic body represents the site of both individual and cultural memory and experience.

Jonathan Petrychyn is a PhD candidate in Communication and Culture at York and Ryerson Universities. He holds an M. Phil. in Humanities from Memorial University of Newfoundland and a B.A. (Hons.) in Fine Arts with a concentration in Film and Video Studies from the University of Regina. He has presented internationally on queer cinema, affect, and Western Canada. His current research looks at the regional affects and queer activism that emerge out of local queer film and video festivals on the Canadian Prairies.

Nick White is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist whose work interrogates hybrid embodiments, interfaces, and intersections in physical and digital space. He is a Masters student undertaking SSHRC-funded research in the Communication & Culture joint program at Ryerson & York Universities.

Alize Zorlutuna is a Turkish-Canadian, artist and writer who employs a diverse range of media in her practice. Her work explores the themes of labour, sexuality, time, settler colonial relationships to land, and history (amongst others). Working in sculpture, performance, audio and video, her work draws upon her experience as an individual living between two cultures. Negotiating multiple perspectives simultaneously, this embodied liminality informs her creative practice; manifesting in explorations of interstices. The desire to activate interstices where differing perspectives, emotions, and physical entities meet, and the meanings created in those meetings rests at the heart of her work.

Organizing Committee:

Janine Marchessault, Cinema & Media Studies

Carmen Victor, Communication & Culture

Jonathan Osborn, Dance

Cody Lang, Cinema & Media Studies

Radojka Vrabac, Cinema & Media Studies

Mason Wales, Cinema & Media Studies

Jessica Bay, Communication & Culture

The symposium organizing committee would like to acknowledge a number of individuals and organizations for their support of the 2016 conference.

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