Session #5 – Moral & Cultural Imperatives

The Biopolitics of Milk

Natalie Doonan

Abstract: In this paper, I establish an artistic and socio-political context for the work of artist Miriam Simun, who is currently producing a variety of local, ethical, nutritious, boutique cheeses…made of human milk. I argue the significance of this experiment through trespass — a notion that exists only in relation to territorial distinctions, which are troubled in productive ways through the manufacture of human cheese. This project provokes a visceral reaction, and triggers conversation around biotechnologies that are usually relegated to the dubious domain of so-called ‘experts’.

The French word, terroir, refers to the earth, land, or territory that can be detected in the savoring of a food. This project raises questions such as: What do the eating habits of these women reveal about their origins, their land? The flavours of what mother has ingested are prominent in her milk. And yet Simun’s City Funk Gorgonzola reflects the complex processes of miscegenation at play in this unique and irreproducible taste. Tracing terroir in the production of human cheese reveals the fault lines in the constantly shifting earth (or pavement) of Manhattan. In addition to provoking questions around globalization and sustainable food production, exploring this experiment through the notion of trespass also highlights human rights issues. This project draws attention to the female body as a production unit and a site of desire whose performative functions are tightly regulated. It reveals the complications of ‘closing the loop’ even in returning to this very first and most primitive form of nourishment.

Bio: I am a multimedia and performance artist, currently based in Montreal, Québec. As a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University, I spent six months this year conducting research on artists who perform in public space, incorporating tours and tastings into their work. Through this exploration, I am setting out to test my suspicion that the sub-economies and slow practices employed by these artists offer a certain education in the cultivation of taste. Through these works, I argue that taste can potentially collapse the distance between producer and consumer. Specifically, I am interested in artistic mapping and agricultural works that reveal the contested nature of ‘landscape’. This is an extension of my own performance work in so-called ‘public’ space, which I create for broad audiences of locals and tourists by appealing to sensory-affective registers. Through my work, I am interested in remixing alternative and unofficial narratives with the more pervasive heroic and monumental tales that often serve to silence the seedier sides of tourism and city development. I am a co-founder of The Miss Guides, a cultural walking collective based in Vancouver, BC ( Most recently, I have founded le/the Sensorium (, a platform through which I am curating a seasonal menu of artists who will lead participatory community events focusing on the ethics of eating. As a PhD Humanities candidate in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies at Concordia, I am working in the fields of Sensory, Performance and Urban Studies.


Two philosophical approaches to animal suffering: finding the balance in moral life

Sheila Mason

Abstract: In this presentation I compare two radically different approaches to the problem of animal suffering with the aim of showing how one way of framing our relation to animals enables us to achieve a fine balance in our moral lives. The first approach made famous by Peter Singer appeals to the rational Utilitarian argument that we ought to expand the circle of moral concern to include the greatest number of sentient beings by giving up eating meat. The alternative approach is spear headed by the writings of Nobel Lauriate J.M. Coetzee and several philosophers writing from a lyrical/literary perspective that calls upon a different sensibility by refusing to accept the gap between reason and emotion that underlies Utilitarianism. These writers raise the perspective of an enhanced sensibility that is often cut off at the root by standard philosophical appeals to abstract principles and reasoning which too often eclipse the emotional understanding necessary for real ethical change and growth. I add a further grounding of this view by appeal to Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom, wherein a wise person gains the capacity to assess the salient features of specific situations without assuming that there are universal principles to be applied algorithmically to our moral dilemmas.

Bio: Sheila Mason, PhD, Purdue University, has taught philosophy at Concordia University since 1969 with a brief stint as a visiting professor at Murdoch University, Perth, West Australia, where she taught environmental ethics. She has published numerous articles in the area of moral theory, environmental ethics and feminist ethics as well as in the philosophy of leisure. She is currently teaching an Advanced Seminar in Virtue Theory and is Undergraduate Student Advisor in the Department of Philosophy at Concordia University. She is the Ethics Coordinator for the Canadian Philosophical Association annual Conference held at the 2011 and 2012 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.


The temporal animal

María Whiteman

Abstract: My paper/presentation has two aims. First, it offers a record of a mode of visual-scientific practice in order to provide evidence of a form of knowledge production that is quickly becoming consigned to history. The photo-series I am presenting focuses on animals in the zoology laboratory at the University of Alberta. I record and examine the various modes of the visual in relation to animals in the lab, and consider how this form of animal display participates in and informs on-going discussions of animals and posthumanism. In order to think about how contemporary art plays a role in the posthumanist discourse, I draw out a coherent reading between Cary Wolfe’s claim around “contemporary art and philosophical representationalism” that speaks to refiguring our relationship to the animal. I discuss the connections between animal displays in the natural history museums and scientific practice on animal bodies to a philosophical inquiry to modes of knowing by looking at preserved animals in comparison to living and breathing animals.

In the second part of the paper, I will discuss what I describe as the “sublime animal” by showing a few photographs and a video of what appears to be an ontological passage in the environment of captivity: pickled animals that are preserved for science, but which are also placed in a quasi-embryonic fluid that positions the animal as a figure of fetal growth, as though the animal is still developing rather than persisting in the static form of death. One experiences a loss/absence and dissonance when looking at the eternal sublime space in which the jarred animals float: it places the spectator in a peculiar paradoxical position. This experience can be analyzed through an examination of the similarities between autopoiesis and Samuel Todes’ interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “making sense” of the object/subject, which he does through the example of interiority in relation to the animal. Interiority is the organic unity of the percipient—the body’s internal structural system (i.e., blood, vessels, organs)—a system that converges and responds in a manner similar to the spatiotemporal world that we share with the animal. The way in which the animal reveals its existence through phenomenological awareness, which is located ontologically in breath, form and time, can be understood as another form of embodiment. I will show (in the video) how breathing encompasses and embodies our way of “being in the world” through autopoiesis or biological systems in the animal.

Bio: MFA, Pennsylvania State University, 1999. Maria is Assistant Professor of Drawing and Intermedia in Fine Arts at the University of Alberta. Her current art practice explores two main themes: relationships between industry, community and nature; and the place of animals in our cultural and social imaginary. In addition to her studio work, she conducts research in art theory (especially with respect to photography), animal studies and cultural studies. Her most recent exhibition was De Anima at FAB Gallery (2010) and one of her pieces was selected for the Canadian Landscape Juried Exhibition. She taught previously in Multimedia, Studio Art and Cultural Studies at McMaster University.