Julie Andreyev in a recording session with Sugi (left) and Tom (right), working on EPIC_Tom, interspecies performance, 2014-ongoing. Photo courtesy of Julie Andreyev.

Convocation, Students, GLS

Convocation Profile: Julie Andreyev, GLS

June 07, 2017

When the Graduate Liberal Studies PhD launched in 2013, Julie Andreyev was among the first cohort admitted to the program. On June 07, 2017, she will be its first graduate.

The GLS PhD is for students who wish to pursue a doctoral degree but whose proposed course of studies is interdisciplinary in nature and cannot be completed within any one existing program. Andreyev is an artist, researcher, and educator who completed her Master’s in GLS in 1999. Since then, she has been exploring interspecies collaborative and participatory methods through her art practice; working with other animals, she investigates ethical, rather than exploitative, ways of generating creative content.

Andreyev, an associate professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, says she was drawn to the GLS program at SFU because it supports scholarly research, is open to practice-based creation, and it provides the opportunity to focus on research for an extended period of time. Her dissertation, Biophilic Ethics and Creativity with More-Than-Human Beings, is an interdisciplinary investigation into an expansion of ethics examined through interspecies relational creativity. In her research, Andreyev  examines methodologies in philosophy, ethics of care, ecofeminism, cognitive ethology, biology, naturalist methods, and aesthetics to question beliefs of human superiority and propose relational approaches to situate the human alongside Earth’s other beings.

Andreyev with a crab apple tree (Malus gorgeous gorgeous), working on Who are you hearing me? interspecies performance, 2016. Photo courtesy of Alex Metcalfe.

At the core of Andreyev’s project is an attempt to situate art-action as a way to counteract the anthropocentrisms that she says characterize human cultures and which become justified in the name of “economic growth” and “resource extraction.” She says recent scholarship across disciplines indicates that planetary harms are the result of ideologies of human exceptionalism, coupled with advanced capitalism: “You can see how entrenched the anthropocentric views are when you stop to pay attention to how humans talk about other animals and nature. For instance language that denigrates other humans often involves comparisons to other animals. I believe counteracting the ideologies of human supremacy and the detriments of advanced capitalism are the greatest challenges of our time.” To this end, her dissertation reflects on the applied methods that informed four interspecies art projects within her practice, Animal Lover.

Andreyev has worked as an artist since the 1980’s, and is particularly interested in how art can have a transformative role in culture: “With the social and ecological challenges of today, artists have a role to play in the public sphere. I hold the view that artists can be moral agents, questioning the status quo, and offering means for more empathy.”  She says that many artists have ecological practices in mind, but continue to engage in exploitative practices that re-inscribe forms of anthropocentrism. For example, she says, “the contemporary art genre called bioart tends to limit its examinations to human challenges brought about by climate change and ecological destruction. Bioart practitioners often hold a view on animals, plants and others as living material. This is exemplified through practices involving other beings in harmful and even lethal situations. Bioart practices do not take into account the implications for the other beings involved.”

In contrast, Andreyev’s research explores “processes that provide compassionate and reciprocal investigations with others.” In her art practice, which constitutes part of her dissertation, she works collaboratively with companion animals (her dogs, Tom and Sugi) and “free-living more-than-human beings” (crows, salmon) to explore seeing, listening, and feeling for ecological and empathic potential. The audio-visual performance EPIC_Tom, for example, uses motion capture and sound recording sessions to explore Tom’s state of mind in the moment before he catches a ball. The result is a project of call-and-response between Tom’s recorded voice and human musicians playing musical instruments.

Spawning sockeye salmon at Adams River for Salmon People, recombinant multi-channel audio video installation, 2014-15. Photo courtesy of Paolo Pennuti.

Another installation, Salmon People, uses camera point of view (below-the-water-line) to consider the “shared ecologies of salmon and humans.” By capturing videos of spawning salmon combined with human activity along the Adams River migration route, the project signals “the intertwined worlds of humans and nonhuman beings.”

At the core of these creative processes is respect for the autonomy of all the beings involved. Animal Lover, as a body of work, grew out of her relationship with her companion dogs Tom and Sugi. “As we got to know each other it became evident that they each had their own emotions, interests, intentions, concerns, motivations and expressions… I began to think deeply about their points of view and about how they communicated these. We brought this investigation into the studio, and it led me to think about other lives. Other beings also have their own intentions, projects, and ways of interacting. Imagining the other’s point of view—first theorized as biocentric anthropomorphism by Marc Bekoff—is key to my practice and this method has evolved over various projects.”

For example, Andreyev considers the dogs’ points of view in order to create an understanding of their desires, expression and potential frustrations in the recording studio. More recently, she’s been “thinking about crow viewpoints in relation to their annual traditions, such as nesting, how they manage their micro-territories, how they cache their food, how they communicate.” Andreyev says that by making an empathic effort, it is possible to enact more compassionate relations, and generate movement toward kinship and respect.

Andreyev with 100 crows for Symbiophony (work in progress). Photo courtesy of Greg Snider.

Andreyev also teaches about elements of interspecies collaboration in her role as an educator at Emily Carr.  She says she has been fortunate to bring her PhD research and practice into the classroom, developing courses where students investigate deterritorializing the human / nature divide by situating the human within nature, and suggesting that all beings are in relation. In one course her students began to question normative detrimental relationships with animals, such as in the food industry.

Regardless of the platform – research, art, teaching – Andreyev says her work is her everyday practice with the world: “Since working on the PhD, the boundaries between research, practice, life, play and teaching have become obscured. I have gained a fluidity in my life where I am no longer concerned about separating these realms.” Now that her PhD is complete, Andreyev says that she is looking forward to continuing her work on Animal Lover over the summer: “I’m elaborating on my research with neighbourhood crows by investigating cross-cultural sound making. They have been very generous with their trust, and have even been leaving me gifts. I hope I can reciprocate.”