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Biennale of Sydney forum

The amorous procedure

What relationship does beauty have with our minds and our bodies? How do we experience it? Why do we experience it? And finally, what impact does it have on our lives? From permanent discontent to energy, morality to happiness, this one-day program explores the nature of beauty through the disciplines of science, philosophy and art.

Curated by Juliana Engberg, the 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire leads to a variety of destinations including the psychological, social and political. Falling under these ideas is a vested interest in the relationship between cognition and imagination. The amorous procedure addresses these topics through a cross-disciplinary approach and draws links between the cognitive and phenomenological implications of imagination and the art experience.


10.30–11.45 am
The fatal trio: beauty, desire, love
Professor Semir Zeki
From Plato, Dante, Hafiz and Rumi, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig, Zeki will address what neuroaesthetics can tell us about beauty. Analysing our aesthetic experience against a backdrop of famous literature on love, he will explore why the pursuit of beauty and love is commonly a desperate one, and how this permanent discontent can be used as a powerful source of creativity.

12.10–1.10 pm
You must change your life: beauty, goodness and the pursuit of happiness
Professor Mark Kingwell
At least since Plato, philosophers have struggled to understand the nature of beauty. Does it signify something in particular, like moral goodness, or is it an adventitious quality without meaning? Kingwell will investigate this ancient and vexed topic by concentrating on the nature of human desire and human imagination. He will broach three linked questions: What are we responding to when we find things beautiful? What implications does our answer to that question have for our experience of art, including art that is not beautiful? Finally, can art or beauty make us happy?

2–4 pm
Panel discussion with Dr Muireann Irish, Professor Mark Kingwell, Professor Mark Ledbury, Dr Astrid Lorange and Professor Semir Zeki


Professor Semir Zeki has been professor of neurobiology at University College London since 1981. He has specialised in studying the organisation of the primate visual brain and recently focused on the neural correlates of affective states, such as the experience of love, desire and beauty that are generated by sensory inputs. He has given many lectures around the globe and won different prizes, including the Prix Science pour l’Art (LVMH, 1991), Rank Prize in Opto-Electronics (1992, jointly with Ted Adelson and Tony Movshon), Zotterman Prize (Swedish Physiological Society, 1993), Aristotle Medal (World Psychiatric Federation (2011) and Rome Prize (Atena Onlus, 2012). His books include A vision of the brain (1993), La Quête de l’essentiel (with Balthus, 1995), Inner vision: an exploration of art and the brain (1999) and Splendors and miseries of the brain (2009).

Professor Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine in New York. He is the author or co-author of 17 books of political, cultural and aesthetic theory, including the bestsellers Better living (1998), The world we want (2000), Concrete reveries (2008) and Glenn Gould (2009). He has lectured extensively on philosophical subjects in Canada, the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia, and had held visiting posts at Cambridge University, the University of California at Berkeley and the City University of New York. Kingwell is the recipient of the Spitz Prize in political theory.

Dr Muireann Irish is a cognitive neuroscientist based at Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney. Originally from Ireland, Irish completed her PhD in psychology at Trinity College Dublin, before relocating to Australia. Her research focuses on how we engage in complex forms of thinking, including memory, imagination and daydreaming. By exploring how such processes are altered in neurodegenerative disorders, her research highlights how the human brain achieves incredibly sophisticated cognitive acts.

Professor Mark Ledbury took his degrees at the University of Cambridge and the University of Sussex. He was lecturer in art history at the University of Manchester, until he joined the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts in 2003. As director of the Power Institute, he ensures that the Power furthers its research and public engagement mission through talks, conferences and the support of research and publications. Ledbury’s research interests are in the history of European art, particularly French art, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and he is specifically interested in the relationships between theatre and visual art and in concepts of genre in Enlightenment philosophy and aesthetics. He is committed to historically and archivally informed scholarship, and has published widely on Boucher, Greuze and David, and on inter-arts networks and relationships.

Dr Astrid Lorange is an associate lecturer at the College of Fine Arts and researcher at the National Institute of Experimental Arts, UNSW. Her book, How reading is written: a brief index to Gertrude Stein will be published this year by Wesleyan University Press. She researches across literature, philosophy, aesthetics and politics. Her poetry books include Eating and speaking, Minor dogs, One that made it alike and Food turns into blood. She is a co-editor of the Sydney-based chapbook press, SUS.

Saturday 3 May 2014, 10.30am

Free, bookings recommended

Only limited tickets will be available at the door

Book through Eventbrite

Duration 6 hours
Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: 19th Biennale of Sydney

Related program: Contemporary at the Gallery 2014