Zoe Porter – Collaboration and Kinship


Preparing for Dipnomorpha  (Photo: Catherine Paglia)


Zoe Porter  (Photo: Luke J. Going)

… [W]e require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles we become-with each other or not at all. (1)

Zoe Porter is a keen insurgent: she invites us to sidestep the everyday, and extricate ourselves from the ordinary. Her collaborative, multidisciplinary performances induce a feeling of knowing and not-knowing – of simultaneous familiarity and mystery. Converging the human with the nonhuman, she slips a wedge into viewers’ awareness, celebrating our symbiosis with other living creatures, invoking new archetypal pathways for world-making. Her provocative – sometimes zany – aesthetic produces a charged, primal detour from art as usual – a chance to reshape our human-ness.


Dipnomorpha (2017)  (Photo: Catherine Paglia)

Her practice encompasses the public and the personal, as she also draws, paints and makes collage in the studio. In these works, the human form merges with animal and plant-life. Shadows cast their colours across space and form; weird transactions of intimacy and the grotesque reach out to our most deep-seated sentiments. Her Apparition (2017) series explores pooling watercolour’s ability to conjure faces, flesh and pattern. While more graphic, naturalistic, ensemble imagery as In Exile (2016) and The Procession (2016) contrast human interaction and affect like dominance, powerlessness or ceremonial commonalty. And again, playing with the softness of watercolour and ink, she explores human sexuality’s liminal border with the nonhuman in a series devoted to Eros as sensual and life-giving avatar.


 In Exile (2016) (Photo: Zoe Porter)


Dipnomorpha  (Photo: Luke J. Going)

Like a free-form recipe folding in drawing, painting, sound, video, lighting and dance, Dipnomorpha (2017) incorporates collaborative, multidisciplinary actors (both humans and animals) and builds upon Ursula K. Le Guin’s wonderful thinking that

“… to use the world well we need to relearn our being in it… kinship of animal with animal, thing with other things – complex and reciprocal, nothing is single and nothing goes one way.” (2)

But unlike the ingredients of culinary method, the players in this pantomime are free agents – improvising together within the form rehearsed until enacted before an audience. The lungfish participates through imagery and archetype, and is an equal – the strong force partnering animal nature with human nature, activating shared zones of becoming.


Dipnomorpha   (Photo: Luke J. Going)

And so, for Dipnomorpha (presented outside the Queensland Museum during this year’s Brisbane Street Art Festival), Porter collaborated with Theatre of Thunder butoh dancers. Costumes designed with Megan Janet White metamorphosed Porter and dancers from human persons into otherworldly creatures evoking timelessness – ‘chthonic ones’ – Donna J. Haraway’s term for monstrous creatures both terrible and life-affirming:

“I imagine chthonic ones as replete with tentacles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs, and very unruly hair… they demonstrate and perform the material meaningfulness of earth process and critters… [They] are not safe… they writhe and luxuriate in manifold forms and manifold names in all the airs, waters, and places of the earth. They make and unmake; they are made and unmade. They are who are.” (3)


Dipnomorpha, Megan Janet White  (Photo: Luke J. Going)

Accompanied by electronica musician Exploko’s mesmerizing, ritualistic soundscape, cross-disciplinary artist Matt Dabrowski & The Many Hands of Glamour’s eerie lighting and effects and video projection by the artist, Porter drew and painted on a large paper scroll held upright by dancers as they slowly moved, open-mouthed and fixated internally upon, perhaps, their own autochthonous eternity.


Dipnomorpha   (Photo: Luke J. Going)

The Queensland dipnomorpha (or lungfish) is one of the oldest surviving vertebrate genera on the planet, and has remained virtually unchanged for well over 100 million years. (4) Porter explained:

“The lungfish was a concept that we worked with as we wanted to link with the Brisbane River and the animals that inhabit the river. It was partly used as an influence in the costuming, speckled drop sheets and the pink throats, as well as being a key element of the butoh choreography and movements.” (5)

The costumes, fashioned out of re-purposed props from Porter’s earlier performances and her paintings, were re-shaped over a number of weeks’ time, as both women’s aesthetics came into play. Lambs fleece, newspaper and silver paper were essential to create lightweight, mushroom-y headdresses and seaweed-y body cover-ups. Together, tentacular strips of silver paper and fabric, anarchically shaped headgear, and white and pink butoh body paint transformed Porter and the dancers into a fantastic community of human/lungfish.


Dipnomorpha   (Photo: Catherine Paglia)

“When I’m performing I am a drawer and performer. I do tend to go into a different state of mind, almost a trance-like state where I become part of the dream-like environment. I usually focus intently on the drawing and the action of drawing as well as interacting with the other performers… almost as if I am conjuring the group through the drawn imagery.” (6)

Porter’s experiments with more porous relationships across human and nonhuman species mirror new research models in the biological sciences and cultural studies. The hologenome theory of evolution, as presented in the work of developmental biologist Scott Gilbert in the paper, A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals, characterises all living entities as symbiotic holobionts. Gilbert’s work posits that, “animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical, or physiological criteria, because a diversity of symbionts are both present and functional in completing metabolic pathways and serving other physiological functions.” Thus, cooperation amongst “consortiums of several different species” forms the underpinning of genetic coding, immune systems and evolution itself, and leads to a “new view of co-dependent life where ‘becoming with the other’ may be as important as ‘survival of the fittest’.” (7)

Her multi-sensual, hybrid works affect how we see and feel ourselves as animals, echoing feminist cultural critic Katie King:

“Another index for valuing th[e] practice [of transdisciplinary inspection] lies in its possibilities for immersive play among sensations and platforms amid media ecologies; ways of participating in multispecies learning or self-organization across ecologies.” (8)


Dipnomorpha   (Photo: Luke J. Going)

As an artist and thought pioneer, Porter works within a mix of intuitive, speculative, and orderly – as well as disorderly – modes. She puts into play a composting of new media and aesthetic and material forms, mirroring the generative succession of decay and rebirth requisite for sustaining life – the wormy, crawly, terrible and ultimately, beautiful, source of creation.





1) Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham 2016), p.4

2) Ursula K. Le Guin, Keynote address, The Arts of Living on a Dying Planet, 8 May, 2014, https://vimeo.com/97364872

3) Haraway, p. 2

4) Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lungfish (accessed 12 April 2017)

5) Email from the artist dated 8 March 2017

6) Email from the artist dated 8 March 2017

7) Scott Gilbert, A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals Scott F. Gilbert, Jan Sapp and Alfred I. Tauber, The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 87, No. 4 (December 2012), p. 325, and http://iah.psu.edu/events/boundaries-scott-gilbert-1 (accessed 2 May 2017)

8) Katie King, A Naturalcultural Collection of Affections: Transdisciplinary Stories of Transmedia Ecologies Learning, S&F Online, Issue 10.3, Summer 2012 http://sfonline.barnard.edu/feminist-media-theory/a-naturalcultural-collection-of-affections-transdisciplinary-stories-of-transmedia-ecologies-learning/(accessed 23 April 2017)

4 thoughts on “Zoe Porter – Collaboration and Kinship

  1. Carol, This is you? !I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! Thank you so much for passing it along. I think I just signed up for future posts. I’m going to forward it to a couple of people. Your friend forever, C


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