Conference delves into how media permeates everyday life

'What is Life?' logo

The role of media and communication in everyday life is the subject of the seventh annual “What Is?” conference at UO Portland’s White Stag Block campus.

This year’s conference will focus on “What is Life?” by exploring the idea that communication and media constitute and permeate all avenues of life, from scale, pace and pattern to the public, private and organic. It takes place April 6-8 and is open to the public. For admission fees and other information, see the conference website.

The event is a collaboration with departments and programs from the School of Journalism and Communication, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, and College of Arts and Sciences. It builds on last year’s conference, “What is Media?” expanding the definition of a medium and media to include physics, biology, ecology and the arts.

“In acknowledging science, technology and environments, communication is at an emergent crossroads,” said conference co-director Janet Wasko, UO Knight Chair in Communication Research. The other conference co-director is UO postdoctoral fellow Jeremy Swartz.

The schedule includes an interdisciplinary conference, an “experience” and an exhibition combining the work of 150 regional, national and international researchers participating in five public sessions and more than 30 panels. Fritjof Capra, founding director of the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy, will launch the conference with a keynote address on his theory that Leonardo da Vinci’s science of living forms can be seen as a forerunner of today’s complexity and systems theories.

A reception will follow the keynote and the opening of the LIFEWORLDS exhibit, featuring Leonardo da Vinci prints, multimedia work by Carla Bengtson and biologist Peter Wetherwax, masterwork bonsai by Ryan Neil, and photography by Gary Tepfer in the Light Court Commons.

The conference continues through the weekend with sessions on ecology and sustainability, ecocriticism and harmony, ethics and biology, political economy and platforms, media literacies for a living world and others.

The final facet of the conference is “The Experience,” a collaboration between the Portland Japanese Garden and the UO. It explores the garden’s newly opened Cultural Crossing expansion, including the Cultural Village with three LEED-certified buildings designed by architect Kengo Kuma, and “The Art of Life, A Rebirth in Clay,” a celebration of tea culture in the art and life of Hosokawa Morihiro, former prime minister of Japan. The experience will take place at the Portland Japanese Garden beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 7.

“Our hope is that this conference experience will continue to focus on an integrated view of communication for the 21st century and plant the seeds for deeper investigations into systems and environments and ecological approaches,” Swartz said.