Interspecies Sonification: Deleuze, Ruyer and Bioart

In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari famously argued that becoming is a non- linear connection between heterogeneous elements. As they point out, “we oppose epidemic to filiation, contagion to heredity, peopling by contagion to sexual reproduction.

… Bands, human and animal, proliferate by contagion, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes… Unnatural participations or nuptials are the true Nature spanning the kingdoms of nature… These combinations are neither genetic nor structural; they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations.” Deleuze and Guattari create a methodological ground for these kinds of “unnatural participations” by invoking such concepts as becoming, multiplicity, or inclusive disjunction. However, when it comes to the point where it is necessary to give some specific example, usually they refer to modern literature (Kafka, Melville, Lovecraft) and modern cinema (Mann). Deleuze and Guattari’s theory is never accompanied by scientific research in biology. In this respect Deleuze’s predecessor Gilbert Simondon elaborates a more nuanced theory, based on the knowledge of physical, biological, human, and technological systems, which are all related on the basis of so-called “analogical paradigmatism.” The analogy of different systems is based on the notion of transduction, which is defined as a “physical, biological, mental, social operation through which an activity propagates gradually within a domain, by founding this propagation on a structuration of the domain that is realized from one place to the next.” In this respect, transduction can be applied to different regimes of individuation. Following Deleuze and Guattari’s and Simondon’s insights, this paper will discuss some “unnatural participations” in the field of bioart.

The  paper will concentrate  on  a  specific  example of bioart, namely, Aurelia  1+Hz / proto viva sonification (2015) by Robertina Šebjanič (Honorary Mention Prix Ars Electronica 2016). The artwork uses bioacoustics (sounds, produced by Aurelia aurita, of a moon jellyfish, which were recorded at a marine station) to interrogate the interspecies communication between humans and marine animals. Aurelia aurita is an ancient species, having rudimentary sensory nerves that allows it to perceive light, smell, and orientation. Its gravity receptors, containing calcium crystals, are similar to our Vestibula system. In this sense, the artwork creates a certain “analogical paradigmatism,” which makes it possible to examine its cohabitation with other living systems. The interactive performance features live transmitted sound generated by Aurelia aurita; this sound is navigated by the performer Robertina Šebjanič, thus creating interspecies sonification as a kind of “unnatural participation.” The paper intends to examine the analogy between human and non-human species and to investigate a specific sonic assemblage created by the performer and marine animals.

Aurelia 1+Hz / proto viva sonification contains a tracking system that follows the interaction between the jellyfish and generates locative media. The jellyfish are tracked by a raspberry pi camera. The camera measures the data of contraction,  movement, and interaction between the jellyfish. The data captured by the camera in real time is transformed into information that provides navigation in the program of the sound archive containing recordings of previous experiments, such as sound data of jellyfish that was produced during the project, entitled Deep Blue, at the Institute of Marine Science and Technologies in Izmir, Turkey. The sound navigated by the performer/artist Robertina Šebjanič has been gathered by hydrophones recording underwater jellyfish bloom on the shores of Izmir in February 2014. The jellyfish used in the frames of the project are from the species of Aurelia aurita or moon jellyfish. It is the most common jellyfish found in seas and oceans worldwide and, at the same time, is a modular organism in laboratories for jellyfish research.

Becoming-Pig: Humanimal Proximities and Zones of Transit in Kira O’Reilly’s Inthewrongplaceness

This paper explores the resonances between the Deleuze-Guattarian theory of becoming-other and the series of bodily mutations that take place in the Irish performance artist Kira O’Reilly’s live piece Inthewrongplaceness (2005–9). Inthewrongplaceness stems from a scientific experimentation in a laboratory environment, in which O’Reilly explored the possibilities of biotechnology to recreate the body in an alternative way—by growing living lace out of her own skin cells alongside pig’s tissue. As a response to her experience in an animal research facility, O’Reilly performed a naked dance with the carcass of a pig, during which disconcerting shape-shifting transformations, boundary-crossings, and mergences occurred between the human and the dead pig. As a biotech-induced corporeal event, O’Reilly’s piece critically interrogates the distinctions between self and other, human and animal, art and science, and raises crucial questions regarding interspecies interactions, cross-species metamorphoses, and ontological liminalities.

Much of the secondary literature on O’Reilly’s performance approached these questions through spatial, representational, and pre-given terms. This recalls the issue of the reductive and static interpretations of subjectivity via the “process of naming that tends to confer stabilized being”—a problem that dominates performance art criticism, as delineated by Susan Melrose (2006, 8). The critical scholarship analyses the temporary entanglements of the human and the pig within the performance predominantly via stabilised metaphors, such as “half human, half animal” entity (Bissell 2011), “centaur-like creature,” or “hybrid” (Zurr 2008). Yet such kinds of discursive constructs, with their emphasis on the preconceived idea of the “outcome” and “renewed” identity designations, fail fully to specify the dynamic and durational aspects of the bodily amalgamations taking place in O’Reilly’s performative piece. These fixed positional paradigms, while undeniably helpful for rendering the effects of transformation in more graspable terms, steer the temporal processes of bodily change inherent in O’Reilly’s work all too quickly back onto the transcendent schemes. Citing Brian Massumi (2002, 3), on such kinds of commentaries, “there is ‘displacement,’ but no transformation; it is as if the body simply leaps from one definition to the next.”

In this paper, I look at how one might rehabilitate O’Reilly’s practice from the limitations of such readings by turning towards Deleuze and Guattari’s processual and relational ontology of “becoming-other.” Rather than spatial and end-result-oriented models, I argue in favour of approaching the transitional, intervallic, and in-between modes of being opened up in the blurring of human and animal states during her live performance; I do this through the notion of “becoming-animal,” as a way to access nonrepresentational, nonteleological, and nonidentitarian ways of thinking about those mutations and transitions. The visceral intimate performance, during which O’Reilly holds, caresses, and merges with the pig, is considered as a process of “becoming-pig” whereby the artist is momentarily put into contact with pig “affects.” Drawing on the Deleuze-Guattarian notion of “zones of proximity” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 240), this paper further contends that, during the fleeting passages and transitory moments of interpenetration, the pig and the human flesh contaminate each other to the point of indistinction and create what I call “humanimal proximities” and “zones of transit” that are common to both. This way, not only do I arrive at a reading that provides an alternative to the linear, predictable, and clichéd images of change ubiquitous in the existing literature of O’Reilly’s work, I also scrutinise the largely uncharted implications of Deleuze-Guattarian thought for the emerging field of biotech-assisted artistic praxis. This paper construes the importance of this reading of O’Reilly’s performance as posing a challenge to the ontological pre-eminence of humans and providing the possibility of an escape “if only for an instant” (ibid.) from the confines of the molar institutional spaces—laboratories and slaughterhouses—that continue to promote hierarchies and inequalities against animals.


Bissell, Laura. 2011. The Female Body, Technology and Performance: Performing a Feminist Praxis. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix, 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Massumi, Brian, 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Melrose, Susan. 2006. “Bodies Without Bodies.” In Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity, edited by Susan Broadhurst and Josephine Machon, 1–17. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zurr, Ionat. 2008. Growing Semi-living Art. PhD thesis, University of Western Australia.