Thomas, Geoffrey Piers
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The Ambivalent Animal project explores the interactions of animals, culture and technology. The project employs both artistic practice and critical theory, each in ways that inspire the other. My creative practice centers around two projects that focus on domestic pets. These projects highlight the animal's uncertain status as they explore the overlapping ontologies of animal, human and machine. They provide concrete artifacts that engage with theoretical issues of anthropocentrism, animality and alterity. My theoretical work navigates between the fields of animal studies, art and design, media and culture studies, and philosophy. My dissertation explores animality through four real and imagined animal roles: cyborg, clone, chimera and shapeshifter. Each animal role is considered in relation to three dialectics: irreducibility and procedurality, autonomy and integration, aura and abjection. These dialectics do not seek full synthesis but instead embrace the oscillations of irresolvable debates and desires. The dialectics bring into focus issues of epistemology, ontology, corporeality and subjectivity. When the four animal roles engage the three dialectics, connected yet varied themes emerge. The cyborgian animal is simultaneously liberated and regulated, assisted and restricted, integrated and isolated. The cloned animal is an emblem of renewal and loss; she is both idealized code and material flesh and finds herself caught in the battles of nature and nurture. The chimera is both rebel and conformist; his unusual juxtapositions pioneer radical corporeal transgressions but also conform to the mechanisms of global capital. And the shapeshifter explores the thrill and anxiety of an altered phenomenology; she gains new perceptions though unstable subjectivity. These roles reveal corporeal adjustments and unfamiliar subjectivities that inspire the creative practice. Both my writing and making employ an ambivalent aesthetic--an aesthetic approach that evokes two or more incompatible sensibilities. The animal's uncertain status contributes to this aesthetic: some animals enjoy remarkable care and attention, while others are routinely exploited, abused and discarded. Ambivalence acknowledges the complexity of lived experience, philosophical and political debate, and academic inquiry. My approach recognizes the light and dark of these complex ambivalences--it privileges paradox and embraces the confusion and wonder of creative research. Rather than erase, conceal or resolve ambiguity, an ambivalent aesthetic foregrounds the limits of language and representation and highlights contradiction and irresolution.