Kat Austen: Of Humans and Corals


Kat Austen about our environment and us at #rp17

Who would have thought, that there would be so many parallels between humans and corals. We want a roof over our heads, the coral builds itself a protective refuge. We live with thousands of micro-organisms on the inside and outside surface of our bodies, the coral lives in the ocean in symbiosis with at least as many micro-organisms. At the same time, the coral acts in the marine world as a sort of administrator: it doesn't just provide the algae with a habitat but creates entire coral reefs, which belong to the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet.

Kat Austen uses this analogy of corals for her project “Coral Empathy Device”. An extraordinary experiment, that with the aid of a Virtual Reality Installation, helps people to understand how different our perceptions of the world can be – a project about cross-species empathy, to help us re-awaken our awareness of our environment.

This connection between art and science is at the centre of Austen's work. In a second project, the trained chemist, transfers her method onto the experiences surrounding food. Vital | Flows uses different methods to emphasise the importance of food: DIY science, phenomenology, culture, history and not at least, our own instincts. Through this, we can experience and understand the boundaries of our own self, what our experience really is when enjoying food for ourselves and our environment. Austen has already realised her project Vital | Flows during a workshop with East London Bachelor students from UCL Arts and Sciences BASc and a community from NewVIc. She shared a particularly lovely feedback today in her talk during the re:publica; “I now connect with my food and experience it using my full senses.”

To conclude, the artist gives her listeners a poem by D. H. Lawrence for along the way. “Mystic” talks about the simple eating of an apple and therefore creates a vivid connection between Austen's presentation, her approach and in particular her project Vital | Flows:

They call all experience of the senses mystic, when the
experience is considered.
So an apple becomes mystic when I taste in it
the summer and the snows, the wild welter of earth
and the insistence of the sun.

All of which things I can surely taste in a good apple.
Though some apples taste preponderantly of water, wet and sour
and some of too much sun, brackish sweet
like lagoon-water, that has been too much sunned.

If I say I taste these things in an apple, I am called mystic, which
means a liar.
The only way to eat an apple is to hog it down like a pig
and taste nothing
that is real.

But if I eat an apple, I like to eat it with all my senses awake.
Hogging it down like a pig I call the feeding of corpses.

By Annika Zimmermann (FF

Photo credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer(CC BY-SA 2.0)