Panel Performances Six
Viral Realities in the Pandemic
Mikey B Georgeson (Artist): Kindness is a Virus
We are pleased to present a special mix of this song originally played live at A&SM#4 Sensorium.
Shortly after reading Darwin’s The Origin of Species, Marx wrote to Engels:
‘It is remarkable how Darwin recognises amongst beasts and plants his English society, with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, inventions and so forth.’
This clearly demonstrates how analogous thinking, prevalent in the zone Massumi calls “the Empire of Like” has repeatedly allowed hierarchies to be refreshed and an essentially negative idea of human nature within a competitive dynamic, to prevail. Another analogy is that of the brain as IP machine established as the default mode for reasoning as understanding. Inspired by an alternative model shaped by William Blake’s radical empiricism and the non-bifurcated theory of “feeling” put forward by A N Whitehead, I think this piece is the closest I can get to becoming a slime-mould artist, feeling their way through sounds and images until I have formed a sense of having returned home. Massumi talks about “thought-in-becoming” as an alternative to the model of analogy and I would like to propose that using rhyme and melody is a way of pausing the habit of analysing and categorising long enough for difference to emerge. I believe I once heard Richard Dawkins on a radio 4 programme describe kindness as a virus. This was long before I had any idea of non-representational theory but it still struck me as an overly functional view of how I felt as a creative organism. I agree with Dawkins that nature is neutral but that must mean I am as well. So rather than being another critically detached human command module I am a feeling organism within an entangled cosmos. Within the tune, kindness is alive as a virus but separated from this living host it is no longer alive because it is dead.
Sophie Barr (London College of Fashion): Miasma
From the middle-ages to the nineteenth century it was commonly believed that diseases such as bubonic plague and cholera were caused and spread by a poisonous, stinking night vapour known as miasma. The source of this miasma was thought to be rotting organic matter, the discarded and fetid waste from densely populated urban environments. We might relate miasma theory to contemporary conspiracies about 5G and Coronavirus –a new invisible and imagined bio-technological threat. Meanwhile, “deforestationand other forms of land conversion are driving exotic species out of their evolutionary niches and into manmade environments, where they interact and breed new strains of disease” (Watts, 2020). These biological (and ecological, technological, geo-political, social and economic) threats are becoming more visibly connected. This video was shot under lockdown conditions from a house and garden in suburban Tottenham. It is eerily quiet; a strange vapour emanates from lampposts and defunct TV relay transmitters as night falls. Data travels through a tangle of cables into the ‘cloud’ whilst slime slips down screens and crystals are found in a primordial garden. A twenty-first century plague doctor dressed in Amazon sourced PPE stuffs her mask with a nosegay of Hydroxychloroquine to ward against poisonous data clouds to a soundtrack of ASMR squelches, whispers and clicks. This video assemblage suggests that miasma theory might be useful to help frame media more materially, bust cloud myths and connect trashy memes with mineral extraction and species extinction. It also implies that however advanced we think we might be, the ‘new magic’ of today’s tech means ‘we have never been modern’.
Stephen Connolly (UCA Farnham, UK): Chek Lap Kok, 21.00, 01.12.19
Please note you’ll need password for this one: ChekLapKok
In spring 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted air travel around the globe. In April 2020, passenger numbers are less than a tenth of the same month in 2019. Nation states have identified the mobility of people as a means of contagion, some have responded with travel bans and the grounding of airlines. How will the pandemic impact on the future of air travel? Two previously overlooked aspects of air travel are emerging from the pandemic; the clear socio-economic inequalities of this mode of transport; and its latent materiality. Flying is a privileged mode of movement: from the global perspective, only a small number of people globally have ever set foot in an aircraft. Fair travel is framed as a release from gravity and a freedom to roam the globe, yet as its material entanglements with the Covid contagion have brought it to earth. The infrastructure of aviation is deeply invested in material practices; airports are amongst the largest built environment installations, yet now grid-locked by nose to tail, parked aircraft. Chek Lap Kok, 21.00, 01.12.19,documents a walk to Hong Kong Airport from the Expo centre on the airport island, by means of slow travel, under makeshift conditions, and without carbon expenditure. It’s a harbinger of lean and informal travel arrangements which may be a feature of time to come.
Anna Fairchild (Artist): The Cognitive Revolution; Looking for Obsidian, 2020
Looking for Obsidian was inspired by long Covid-19 Lockdown walks and the joy of finding flints and fossils, revealed by the changing seasons in the recently ploughed fields of Hertfordshire. Obsidian (a black volcanic glass) was prized by primitive Sapiens cultures because it was extremely hard and could be made into very sharp tools. There is evidence that it was traded across the South pacific over distances of 400km. The concept of trading was made possible by the development of a ‘collective imagination’, which went beyond the essential elements for survival of species.1 It is the dual actual reality of trees, rivers and objects and the imagined reality of gods, laws and nations, which was the catalyst for the development of humankind (Sapiens) out of the kingdom of animals. This ever more powerful imagined reality, allowed for the accelerated development of Sapiens culture. What I found interesting on discovering these glistening black stones in the fields is the connection between the actual obsidian object and its newfound use in a collectively imagined reality. I prefer to think of observing the obsidian forms as actual objects and whilst holding it and listening to the sounds of two obsidian pieces rubbed against one another, to marvel in the actual spaces of the environment around me. This marveling and contemplation brought to mind the concerts of Ryuichi Sakamoto and his Improvisation for Sonic Cure, 2020.
Andrew Calcutt and Simon Miles (University of East London) aka the National News Service: From Plague Year to Public Sphere: News Poems of the London Lockdown
A sequence of five multimedia compositions derived from poems responding to breaking news of the coronavirus crisis. The news poem registers fellow human beings as such, and records their recent actions in a form of heightened speech which recognises the contradictions we have in common.
Subsection: Emotional Contagion/Emotional Overload
Johanna Margarethe Talbot (University of East London): Together, apart with emojis? Thoughts about the role of emojis in a digital environment (particularly relevant in times of social distancing)
Since the beginning of lockdown, face-to-face human interactions have become rare and we feel their absence, often painfully. Interactions happen increasingly on instant messaging applications, which don’t allow us to express ourselves in the same way. At first glance, emojis are a great way to connect with each other and replace, to a certain extent, the deep interaction we would have in a face-to-face conversation. However, due to a lack of consensus and therefore a high chance of misunderstanding, emojis have the potential to divide us further. There is also a sinister aspect to emoji use, as they can be used as code for all sorts of deviant or criminal activities. Emojis are also used as symbols for socio-political movements. A recent and prominent example is that of ✊🏿 which is used as a statement for ‘Black Lives Matter’. It is therefore essential to ensure equal representation to avoid emojis turning into another field of oppression. The field of emojis needs a lot more investigation in order to understand them as a phenomenon, as well as to make recommendations and inform policies regarding their governance. It is paramount to develop a model of what emojis are – a new language, an expression of emotion, or both, in order to prevent misunderstandings and inform policy around emojis’ creation and maintenance. Furthermore, emoji use can be applied to a number of therapeutic settings, such as teaching or online therapy or helping people with difficulty expressing their emotions face-to-face in their interactions. Overall, emojis should be promoted for positive use to allow creative expression in our online communications.
Poppy Wilde (Birmingham City University, UK) and Jacob Johanssen (St Mary’s University, UK): Who Cares? Thoughts on Facebook’s Care Reaction
In May 2020 Facebook introduced a new ‘reaction’ emoticon in addition to the already existing six (like, love, laughter, surprise, sad, and angry): Care. The Care emoticon has been rolled out seemingly specifically as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic that is shaking the world. At a time when people must be apart, Facebook’s caring figure – a cute smiley that lovingly hugs a red heart – is a symbolic expression of affective feeling. In the following opinion piece, we consider the underlying mechanisms beneath this seemingly simple expression of affect. Rather than offering an adequate exploration of the affective labour in a time of crisis, we suggest that Facebook’s care reaction instead becomes an exploitation of care. This occurs in multiple ways, namely through the user data acquired through tracking what we “care” about, quantifying our emotional experiences and selling them. This links further to the phenomenon of the affect economy and chaos capitalism. In come ways the care reaction is reminiscent of the embodied within the clapping for carers – a performative expression of care that does little to address the economic necessities of care, thereby suggesting a comradery that is not realized in compensation. From this perspective, a “care” reaction is not adequate on a political level, but neither is it adequate in capturing the individual labour of being apart or of experiencing a world in crisis. We therefore argue that the cost of “care” is real, and the quantification of contagious clicking-to-care fails to open this dialogue up.
James Hutchinson (Artist) – Instagram images (using emoji as material vitality more than)
James is inspired by the world around in all it’s minutiae and sees beauty in the anonymity of daily detritus. An engaging stream of pictures grows like a virus, gathering pace in an expression of waste and the underestimated potential of discarded things. The gathering of these images is comic-strip-like, flitting at a pace, past your eyes like a subconscious stream of pricking guilt. Plastic bags hang, gallows like from trees, twisting and spinning, deathly windsocks or hollow corpses hanging there for all to see as a reminder of time past, time wasted and a warning for the future. There are many readings to be taken but ultimately it comes down to the iconification of rubbish (Trash) into a meaningful representation of life and times as Hutchinson sees it.
Anne Robinson (Artist): Fellowship
My thinking behind revisiting Fellowship was partly because it was on my mind, a screening having been cancelled by the pandemic and then the time travel aspect, the space of 1984 when it was filmed, because of lockdown, but more importantly for this context – the contagion of violence and especially the narrativisation of war – and resistance to that in the form of questioning statues – thus a foreshadowing in some ways, of the ‘why these dead men’? questioning of recent days and the toppling of the statues. War has entered uninvited into our homes and taken up residence…’ We are contaminated by war. The stories of war are a contagion, spreading from page to screen to screen to screen.. viral. In lockdown’s weird temporality, I time-travelled to 1984 and making this work: in fear of nuclear contagion, at Greenham, taking on the biggest military-industrial complex in the world, weathering abuse and dancing on the silos whilst haunted by the rash of dead men in our cityscape and questioning them. A war memorial inscription: ‘Here lies a royal fellowship of death’ the body of a fallen soldier – his hand gnarled, skeletal, turning war to narrative to keep the hero myths rolling on. As a film loop now, these reflections seep through into the contemporary world of instant news… the women’s voices shaking the fence and the military presence… toppling monuments. (Bourke, J. 2014, Wounding the World, London: Virago, p12)