Life With and Without Animals: The second (Un)common Worlds conference

Date and time
Saturday, 7 November 2020
08.30 - 16.30

Virtual event

Due to the current COVID-19 situation, the Life With and Without Animals Conference will be taking place exclusively online.

Can we please ask that you refrain from making any travel arrangements as it is very unlikely this will change in the near future.

The date has been amended to one day only via the virtual platform - Saturday 7th November 2020 and we will be in touch soon to confirm the new conference structure.

Following the first (Un)common Worlds conference in Turku, Finland in 2018, called Contesting the Limits of Human-Animal Communities, the animal research group within our Digital and Material Artistic Research Centre is pleased to announce the second, Life With and Without Animals, a three-day international animal studies conference.

When the term ‘animal studies’ was coined in the early 1990s it was initially envisaged rather narrowly as a subfield of the social sciences, but by the time of two large and ground-breaking international conferences in 2000 – Representing Animals in Milwaukee and Millennial Animals in Sheffield – it was clear that the arts and humanities were at least as important to this nascent field as the social sciences.

Some of the concerns of those early conferences remain as important as ever: the avoidance of anthropocentrism, attention to the lives and experience of non-human animals that does not reduce them to symbolic representations of human values, and a recognition of the contested but necessary role of animal advocacy within the field of animal studies. Other priorities have shifted, perhaps most importantly in recognition of the impact of climate change, environmental degradation and species extinctions, and the changes these have brought about to our understanding of, and engagement with, the more-than-human world.

Conference Aims

Our aim with this conference is to convey a sense of what the interdisciplinary field of animal studies looks like in 2020, and we welcome your contributions in support of this proposal. In recognition of the 20-year anniversaries of the first animal studies conferences, and in response to developments within the field, we now invite proposals from all disciplines and fields in response to our title, Life With and Without Animals. We are particularly interested in responses to the following themes, but will consider others that relate to the conference title:

These themes are deliberately open-ended and are intended primarily as prompts for thought. Proposals that do not necessarily relate to these loose themes will be considered just as seriously as those that do so. As discussed above, some proposals may choose to address priorities that have shifted over the past 20 years. Others may be reports, contributions or presentations on research-in-progress within scientific and artistic domains.

Artwork involving a large upright fish

Conference leads

Angela Bartram is an artist and artistic researcher. Her work, made as objects, sound, video, print, performance event and published text, concerns thresholds of the human body, gallery or museum, definitions of the human and animal as companion species, and strategies for documenting the ephemeral. Recent exhibitions include Manchester International Festival (2019), Karst, Plymouth (2016), Hillyer Art Space, Washington DC (2016), Miami International Performance Festival (2014, 2013), and Grace Exhibition Space, New York (2014, 2012).

Publications include the co-edited book Recto-Verso: Redefining the Sketchbook, and her special guest edited volume of 'The Alternative Document' for Studies in Theatre and Performance. She also has contributed chapters to Collaborative Art in the Twenty-First Century and Intimacy Across Visceral and Digital Performance, amongst others.

Bartram has a PhD from Middlesex University and is Professor of Contemporary Art and Head of Arts Research at the University of Derby.

Steve Baker is a Norwich-based artist and writer. He is Professor of Research for Art and Media at the University of Derby, and Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Central Lancashire. He is an artist-member of OUTPOST and of the national Land2 research network.

Since 2010, Steve's work has been exhibited in the UK, USA, Australia and Europe, and has featured in major animal-themed museum shows in Poland and Germany. From April to June 2020, he will be one of fifteen artists from Italy, Germany, France, Ireland and the UK contributing to the exhibition As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Animals and Imagination at Limerick City Gallery of Art.

Baker’s academic writings over the past 25 years have contributed to the development of animal studies in the arts, humanities and social sciences. His books include Artist|Animal, The Postmodern Animal and Picturing the Beast, and his work is included in The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings and the Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies.

Keynote speakers

Role: Professor of English, University of New England

Susan McHugh, Professor of English at the University of New England USA, researches and teaches literary, visual and scientific narratives of cross-species relations. She is the author of Love in a Time of Slaughters: Human-Animal Stories Against Genocide and Extinction (2019), Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines (2011), and Dog (2004, 2019). She is co-editor of Human-animal Studies (2018), Indigenous Creatures, Native Knowledges, and the Arts (2017), and The Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies (2014). Forthcoming volumes include The Palgrave Handbook of Animals and Literature and Posthumanism in Art and Science: A Reader. McHugh serves as co-editor of the book series Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature and managing editor of the humanities for Society & Animals.

Role: Professors of Fine Art (Iceland University of the Arts, Reykjavík and University of Cumbria, UK)

Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson are a collaborative art partnership. Their interdisciplinary art practice is research-based and socially-engaged, exploring issues of history, culture and environment in relation to both humans and non-human species. Working very often in close consultation with both experts and amateurs in the field, they use their work to test cultural constructs and tropes, and human behaviour in respect of ecologies, extinction, conservation and the environment. Underpinning much of what they do are issues of psychological and physical displacement or realignment in respect of land and environment and the effect of these positions on cultural perspectives. Their artworks have been exhibited throughout the UK and internationally. They are frequent speakers at international conferences on their practice and related issues. Their works have been widely discussed in texts across many disciplinary fields and regularly cited as contributive to knowledge in the expanded field of research-based art practice. They conduct their collaborative practice from bases in Iceland and the north of England. Find out more about Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson’s practice.

Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir (PhD) is Professor of Fine Art at the Icelandic University of the Arts, Reykjavík. Mark Wilson (PhD) is Professor in Fine Art at the Institute of the Arts, University of Cumbria, UK. 

Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson are 2015-20 Polar Lab Artists-in-Residence with the Anchorage Museum, Alaska, USA, leading to a forthcoming solo exhibition in October 2020.

Call for papers

The deadline for submitting abstracts has now passed.


8:45 - 9:00 Welcome and overview of event 
9:00 - 10:00 Keynote live presentations from Professors Bryndis Snaebjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson
10:00 - 10:30 30 minutes of Q & A session with the keynote speakers
10:30 - 11:00 Comfort break
11:00 - 12:00 Q & A for presenters (Names TBC)
12:00 - 13:00 Lunch
13:00 - 14:00 Q & A for presenters (NAmes TBC)
14:30 - 15:30 Comfort break
15:30 - 16:00 Keynote live presentations from Dr. Susan McHugh
16:00 - 16:30 Close - Professors Ang Bartram and Steve Baker

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