Aiming to get to Berlin this summer to do some lectures on neurocultures, experience capitalism and aesthetics for Warren. In the meantime, here’s his manifesto… an ongoing project that resonates well with discussion in my books The Assemblage Brain and A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media.
Here’s an extract:
1. Every person on planet Earth has the right to fully develop their neural plastic potential. This Manifesto of Activist Neuroaesthetics is a call to arms against engineered neural optimization. Activist Neuroaesthetics seeks to produce fully developed singular entities constituting a multiplicity whose differences in neural architectures (their neural diversity) are embraced and promoted as forms of collective autonomous power. Activist Neuroaesthetics promotes the idea that artists and art professionals play a key role in making this happen.
2. Neural plasticity is a human trait that knows no boundaries.Neural plasticity refers to the ways and means that the brains’ structure and function is modified by experience throughout life, although more so in youth. The brain’s materiality, both its grey matter consisting of cells called neurons especially its dendrites and synapses, as well as its white matter composed of myelenated axons called tracts are modified in this process. In addition to normal training and experience recent evidence has drawn attention to injury induced functional and structural plasticity as well as plasticity involved in learning new skills. Activist Neuroaesthetics embraces neural plasticity as a political tool and means for change, resistance, and emancipation against the powers of neural capitalism which aims to normalize plasticity by sculpting its potential into something supple and easily controlled. As Catherine Malabou states: “Flexibility is plasticity without its genius.” While flexibility encourages supplication to power by unquestionably taking on its form, plasticity counters its power by inventing and creating its own forms beyond sovereignties normalizing apparatuses and dispositifs.
I have an interview published in The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory (Volume 1, Issue 2, 2020 Media, Materiality, and Emergency).
It’s an interview with the very talented Jernej Markelj based at Cardiff University. Our discussion addresses viruses and modes of contagion but also the ‘dark refrain’ of far-right populism and social media. Much more than the current state of emergency due to COVID-19, the conversation addresses the political and relational conditions of contagion in general.
17th July 2020
Good morning all, we’re back with more amazing contributionsat 10am GMT.
Yesterday A&SM#4.5 had 994 hits.
Before the panels start, we have a very special guest appearance by Plastique Fantastique Communique!
“Stories Spread Just Like A Virus”
Followed by the first panel: Viral Media 1
Welcome to Affect & Social Media#4.5 and The Sensorium Art Show
Media Virality and the Lockdown Aesthetic
A full programme of links to pre-recorded videos, short position papers, artworks, performances, presentations, book launches, and so on… will be released throughout a two-day period from 16th to 17th July 2020.
Please note that times below may vary, so check from time to time. Live programme is here: https://viralcontagion.blog/asm4-5/
16th July 2020
Introduction by Tony D Sampson
Before Covid-19, the concept of universal virality cut a hitherto marginal figure in media theory. References to contagion, immunology, epidemiology and viral networks were of ancillary concern. After all, media and communication studies were supposed to be about establishing connection; not the opposite of it! Viral metaphors referred to trivial contagions of fads, crazes and marketing hype. Some media theorists optimistically translated these metaphors into the media viruses and spreadable media of participatory culture. However, now, all of a sudden, unpredictably, and rather shockingly, viral media stands at the centre of contemporary issues both materially, economically, and socially. In the wake of global uncertainty and anxiety caused by the uncontainable spread of Covid-19, there has been an abrupt move to the viral – from the margin to the middle.
Covid-19 draws urgent attention to the workings of a viral logics that criss-crosses from biological to cultural, technological and economic contexts. Virality is a techno-social condition of proximity and distance, accident and security, communication and communication breakdown. Indeed, it is in the current context that our understanding of the movement of people and messages is framed by the logics of quarantine and confinement, security and prevention.
Virality automates affective reactions and imitative behaviours that relate to different visceral registers of experience compared to those assumed to inform the logic of the market. Which is to say, the mainstream cognitive models that are supposed to support the failing economic model of rational choice (if indeed anyone really ever believed in Homo Economicus) are replaced by seemingly irrational and uncontrollable financial contagion.
Recent outbreaks of panic buying of toilet roll and paracetamol, some of which have been sparked by the global spread of Instagram images of empty supermarket shelves, are spreading alongside scenes of isolated Italians, impulsively bursting into songs of solidarity and support from their balconies. All of these are bizarre contagions because, it would seem, they are interwoven with contagions of psychological fear, anxiety, conspiracy and further financial turmoil; all triggered by the indeterminate spread of Covid-19. Virality is resolutely non-metaphorical.
To think these contagions through is, for a number of reasons, a difficult task. We are after all dealing with an ecology of technological, biological, and affective realities moving about in strange feedback loops. Future predictions are taking place against a backdrop of contested epidemiological models, reliant on, for example, the uncertain thresholds of herd immunity or total social lockdown. Certainly, following a sustained period of comparatively stable risk assessment, mostly based on known knowns and known unknowns, we have just entered a vital, possibly game changing phase in which unknown unknowns will prescribe the near future.
Our Keynote and Special Guest: Dr Who and the Non-Entity
“Redefining the Immunity Problem in the Empire of Like”
Panel Performances One
Performative Viral Flows – Masks and Earworms
Maria Madero (The London Interdisciplinary School):
Archive delirium is a collection of 120+ multidisciplinary works related to topics of the mask. It is growing, being in constant revision and construction. It encompasses the diversity of times, spaces, disciplines and dimensions that the mask has. It wants to be a repository of connections and an incomplete collection of moments. It also intends to make visible and more intelligible the Global South’s—unrepresented—artists and thinkers. It is written by Maria Angelica Madero as a storytelling and reading of the images that are part of it. The archive started upon realising that we are becoming a masked society. Protestor’s masks for anonymity, facial recognition technologies, respiratory masks in hospitals, medical masks for viral protection, the mask as a military device, ethnographic masks, and others. Upon this, there is the necessity to unveil the complexity of the mask and its implications with a more rigorous study of the mask’s dimensions.
Colin Black (Composer, Sound Artist and Radio Artist): Gloves, Masks & Confinement. Performance streamed live during the lockdown (18 April 2020) while the artist was in Ljubljana.
Elena Pilipets (University of Klagenfurt, Austria): Fuzzy, Nonsensical, Mundane: The Gesture of Sharing #dontdrinkbleach and the TikTok Lockdown Aesthetic
This short contribution draws attention to the gesture of sharing on TikTok. By discussing how TikTok’s infrastructural and creative affordances affected the spread of #dontdrinkbleach videos in the wake of Donald Trump’s now infamous comments on treating Coronavirus, it pursues two main objectives: The first is to address the lockdown aesthetic of TikTok through recent theories about the circulation of natively digital visual material. The second is oriented towards methodological experimentation with the capacity of this material to mediate fuzzy experiences of sharing nonsensical content. By combining Vilém Flusser’s notion of technical images with theories of digital aesthetic and viral contagion, I approach #dontdrinkbleach as a gesture of ironic distancing, arguing that the less an image informs, the better it communicates. Brought out by users’ interactive contributions during the pandemic, #dontdrinkbleach comes to increasingly trouble the distinction between shock and boredom, opening the realm of TikTok lockdown aesthetic to a larger ensemble of meaning and (non)sense making social media.
Maria Puskas (Artist): Shopping Drift (Guided Meditation on Panic Buying)
We have always been limited by the structures and paradigms we lived by. However, the current restrictions regarding physical activity and behavior – which does not differ from structural change – generated some great tension both on a universal and personal level. We have a strong sense of lacking freedom, despite the fact, that for example – as urbanists have realized decades ago – it is barely possible to freely pick our path in cities. It rarely comes to our mind that we are already physically limited by the layout of the built environment. The current restrictions are just a small adjustment made on our otherwise comfortable or at least known structure. There are many doubts regarding the sense of these new rules applied. The overloading yet blurry information about covid just enhances the tension. I would like to offer a meditation, a guided visualization of slow, maskless, pre-covid grocery shopping – an invitation to practice some virtual grocery store derive. A 20-minute video focused on the audio recording with a tasteful background image, uploaded to youtube to fit today’s most popular guided meditations. This work sheds light on the desire to (only) live in structures that are comfortable for us. Keywords: abundance, visualization, relaxation, mental window shopping, real virtuality, viral, solfeggio frequencies, derive
Glenda Torrado Rodríguez (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México) and Gustavo Gómez-Mejía (Université de Tours – Prim): Corona Sound Machine: Singing the Virus with Vernacular WhatsApp Latin Aesthetics
Within the Latin-American digital landscape, WhatsApp groups are essential spaces for sharing so-called “viral” contents. During the Coronavirus pandemic, those groups have been used as channels for different types of spreadable media: health tips, official information but also ‘fake news’ and rumours are widely circulated via WhatsApp among families, colleagues, friends and diasporas. From a cultural point of view, Corona-related music is perhaps an original aspect of the Latin-american ‘infodemic’. Cumbia, reggaetón and other regional music genres have been repeatedly used to sing the virus before and during the lockdown. As the virus inspires a wide range of spreadable media, sharing diverse musical expressions (as clips, videos or snippets) has been part of a vernacular experience in recent months. “Corona Sound Machine” is a digital collection of Latin music about the virus. In order to turn spreadable media (often considered as ephemeral junk) into a contemporary cultural archive, 15 Corona-related songs have been collected via Latin-American WhatsApp groups. How to sing a global virus with Latino aesthetics? Beyond Miami-centric cultural stereotypes, the pandemic blends with diverse traditional and modern genres inspiring multiple creative directions. Our online collection of embedded video players will provide analytical comments about these vernacular phenomena. From vocal folk performances to synthetic post-Internet mashups, such contents spread complex emotions (e.g. paradoxically trying to laugh during the tragedy or exorcizing fears about what may happen during the lockdown). They also express “viral” ideologies about collective preventive action, gendered normativities, celebrity cultures and social injustice.
Paul Good and Kirsty Wood (Artists): Relics
We are an artist duo. We work with sculpture and sound. We are influenced by the environments we inhabit or encounter collectively, trapping various aspects of the past and present. While being on lock down one positive has been to have time off, being collaborate artists having time off together is always more productive. We have used the time to work on new material. This new work is forming into what will be a second album, Relics is one of the pieces we have been working on. We are interested in the context of sounds representation physically i.e. the same way as a score. Sounds we make include sampling, directly sourced from surroundings, with guitar, drums and some vocal elements to create a description of form. Music is movement, for this reason it is always in flux, it has the ability to transcend and work on many different platforms. Sound is pushing our practise further creating something that is becoming a micro-environment. Musically we create each piece as we would a sketch, starting with a basic structure, slowly building and editing until something forms that feels complete. The compositions are about balance, how one part sits next to another. We want the listener to feel immersed in a sonic landscape.
Ruth Adams (King’s College London): ‘Coronavirus is a Paigon’ – UK Rap Music as a Public Service and Public Good in the Time of Covid-19.
Stuck at home during lockdown, Grime, Drill and Garage artists were quick to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, producing tracks and accompanying videos that functioned not just as a creative release, but as public service announcements. ‘Spitting bars’ that encouraged others to “keep your salivas” (Lady Leshurr), some echoed more mainstream media messages in promoting good hygiene habits and social distancing. Could these tunes lead to a reassessment of UK ‘urban’ music’s reputation? No longer a culture held responsible for anti-social behaviour, but one that encourages social responsibility, where covering your face suggests not gang warfare but germ warfare? In part, the songs and their messages can be seen as a response to the disproportionate impact of the virus on the communities from which these genres emerged – BAME, working class, urban – and a desire by artists to reach them with public health information often more straightforward and unambiguous than government campaigns. These Covid-19 tracks can be seen as part of ongoing criticism by these music scenes of the governments’ perceived inability or unwillingness to tackle inequality and its effects. They are of a part with Stormzy’s calling out of Theresa May’s handling of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and its aftermath at the Brit awards in 2018. Grime and allied genres continue to function as a vital voice for fractions of society often denied access to the conventional institutions of power and public debate.
Mikey B Georgeson (Artist): Music to my Ears – entangling with lag
At the beginning of lockdown, I recorded and filmed a song Music to my Ears. I’m a deaf man and this handicap has given me access to felt modes of embodied knowing. The point, at first, was to share my passion for music as a means of transmitting a sense of material vitality. Music, perhaps more than visual art, is something that emerges before our reasoned sense of separation from the land and each other. Music is not an added extra it is the basis for thought-in-becoming and a sense of the cosmos as one dynamic substance. In a musical methodology of working via aesthetic and keeping post-rationalisation at a useful distance, I see a strong connection to Libet’s research into the lag between an intended action being registered in neural activity and conscious awareness of this activity. Massumi suggests that this half-second lag records the “overfull space of the prepersonal, an emergent casual order, from which the will or consciousness subtracts”. According to Massumi this half second lag is an affective event which “happens too quickly to have happened actually” and is therefore “virtual”. When making music collaboratively online, you are immediately confronted with a lag of, as luck would have it, about half a second. The common sense (spatially fixed thinking) approach to the problem is to seek out an application but my intuition told me that there would be something beyond the scope of algorithmic order in the sparkling textures of stuttering drusiness when attempting to sing with virtual friends. This film combines the first emergent recording with the consequent virtual lag entanglement jam. The actual jam went on for about twenty minutes as we dared ourselves to push past the limits of common sense and outside of the “Empire of Like” until deafference was allowed to emerge.
Panel Performances Two
Lockdown Aesthetic & Quarantine Blues
Veera Jussila (Goldsmiths, London): Postcards from Lost Cities (2020)
Postcards from Lost Cities is a deep learning project inspired by the viral images of spring 2020: empty streets, eerie airports, ghostly landmarks. In her project, Jussila worked with small, handpicked datasets to create messages that captured the feelings of loss, longing and confusion in the middle of the pandemic. Via deep learning algorithms, archive material and new photos of tourism destinations blend with the news coverage of the exceptional spring. The piece utilizes generative adversarial networks (GANs) and is mostly coded in Python. RunwayML software was used for the AttnGAN part. The piece is Jussila’s final project for the machine learning module in MA Computational Arts at Goldsmiths, University of London. Postcards from Lost Cities addresses virality in several ways. It was born as a response to the sudden isolation of popular tourist cities – the kind of destinations that populate our imagination and social media feeds. At the same time, the results only capture a fleeting moment in the pandemic. As Jussila notes in her presentation, the viral visuals have already changed, with images of crowded beaches emerging on our news feeds and representing threat.
Matteo Preabianca (Artist): Like a cloud
I am an Italian, living in Scotland. In my home country the coronavirus death toll was and still is very high. I decided to self-isolate. The term “quarantine” comes from the Italian word, “quarantina”, which means “forty days”. I found it sadly amusing that the UK government wants travellers and people with coronavirus symptoms to do a 14 day quarantine instead of 40 days. The first 2 weeks of self-isolation I tried to work, finishing some projects, but my mind wandered around, thinking about family and friends struggling and dying around Milan. While I was blue, laying down on my bed, I looked up, through my window. I live in an attic, so some of my windows are in the ceiling. I saw another kind of blue: the sky. I start observing all of the clouds. So, I decided to take a picture every day at 10am about clouds. Looking them via the window frame, they seem perfect instant paintings, a sort of primitive Instagram, which remind us to slow down, like the clouds. Now I have a series clouds in different weather, 40 clouds for 40 pictures. They show the negativity of this time, like if you look them via a “nice prison”, but also the impermanence of our life. Every time I took a picture, I looked the death toll in Italy. Was it a coincidence any time the number of deaths increase, the sky was intensely blue?
Angie Voela and Darren Ellis (University of East London): After Lockdown – Opening Up: Psychosocial Transformations in the Wake of Covid-19
This video is about a forthcoming edited book which emanated out of a series of online lectures at the University of East London, named the Monday Afternoon Lockdown Sessions. The sessions were popular, lively and thought provoking, focusing on for example, the effects of living in isolation, strategies of coping, increased reliance on digital communication technologies, the racialisation of Covid-19 and, more generally, the exacerbation of inequalities inherent in Western societies. On a conceptual level, this project reflects the character of Psychosocial Studies at UEL and indeed the two editors’ interest in combining psychoanalytic thinking with process philosophy. ‘Opening up’ therefore chimes with the fundamental psychoanalytic operation of working through, and, when necessary, breaking through and traversing phantasies to effect change. ‘Opening up’ also chimes with potentialities, processes and relations of affective capacities.
Debra Benita Shaw (University of East London): Leaving Home: Safer Spaces Beyond the Neoliberal Family
This video presentation covers Debra’s chapter for the After Lockdown project discussed above.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rise in cases of domestic abuse worldwide. In the UK, the Guardian reported that, by mid-April, domestic abuse killings had already doubled and, in the same week, the government acknowledged the increase and published updated guidance for victims suffering as a result of the lockdown. For many, most of them women, the government instruction to ‘#StayAtHome and stay safe’ is, potentially, a death sentence. This chapter will examine the history of the home as an assumed place of refuge in the context of urban and suburban architecture which both assumes and discursively constructs the contemporary neoliberal family. I want to challenge the determination of the home as a place of safety and interrogate its connection to subject formation. I am interested in how the concept of ‘home’ invokes ideas that conflate specific understandings of corporeality with raced and gendered ideals of social structure and how these are expressed through the built environment. My question will be whether the vulnerabilities exposed by Covid-19 might open a space for imagining safer spaces beyond the neoliberal family and its association with a highly circumscribed idea of what it means to be ‘home’.
Marija Lobanova (University of East London)
This video presentation covers Marija’s chapter for the After Lockdown project discussed above.
This chapter will explore the lockdown as a testing environment for the ego and superego through the concept of time. In contemporary society, we have given an immense authority to clocks to determine our daily behaviours – setting up alarms to wake up at a particular time, catch a train that runs (or at least should run) according to a schedule, get to work/school/university on time, leave work when the clock says so, and go to bed at a reasonable time to repeat the process the next day. However, during the lockdown for many of non-essential workers several of these, perhaps hated but nonetheless structuring, properties of the clock have faded. Elias (2005) argued that as clocks became external tools measuring time of the day, these external constrains of time also took control over the individual psyche in the form of self-control and time-conscience. During the civilising process, daily routines became psychologically internalise and insinuated themselves into our mind-sets forming a part of our egos and superegos. However, the clock and the time of the day it measures are also external structures, without which the internal ones can struggle to sustain their routine/healthy functioning as well as maintain the demands of the id. The question that this chapter is going to explore, is what happens to the internal structures in the absence of the external support of managing time, e.g. many working from home doing flexible hours, alarm clock being switched off and classes being recorded, etc.
Fidelia Lam (University of Southern California): Stuck in a Room
Stuck in a Room examines quarantine digital aesthetics and the strange spatiotemporal reality many of us find ourselves in. This collection of videos acts as an ongoing log and response to the paradoxical events of pandemic and protest that mark our present reality. When the rhythms of everyday life are stripped away, what is left, and what occurs? We find ourselves in Zoom rooms and Skype calls and Google Meets and FaceTime exchanges and WhatsApp connections, stuck in virtual rooms and domestic spaces in the same posture for hours on end. In most recent weeks, we find ourselves caught between pandemic and protest, stuck “doom-scrolling” for hours on end. This paradoxical spatiotemporal reality engendered by the pandemic (and exacerbated by the protests) has raised questions of productivity, labour, digital access and literacy, accountability, governance, among many more, amidst an ecology of affective, media, and biopolitical feedback loops. It’s easy to get lost amongst this ecology of feedback loops, to be overwhelmed by the sociopolitical and economic implications of the pandemic, and paralyzed by ongoing uncertainty of how and when this might “end”. We are also caught in multiple registers of experience in our isolated connectiveness, collapsed into the same physical and virtual spaces — we see increased global tensions and police brutality in stark juxtaposition to virtual turnip bartering and discussions of yeast starter all in the same spaces— how do we respond to this immense cognitive dissonance? Stuck in a Room demonstrates a response to continuously unfolding present events, one by no means perfect, but one that grapples with the paradoxical ecology of our present’s media virality.
Genevieve Costello (Royal Holloway, University of London): Worry People Eat the Dollhouse
This is a lockdown aesthetics narrative. Carried by a body that lives under the (non)normative orders of chaos by way of chronic illnesses that are mostly invisible, and inherently, irresolvable, its pre-existing standard of infinite and unknowable confinement stands in parallel with Covid-19’s rampant effects on the reorganizion of social life, or, in some ways, lackthereof. The piece takes form as a mixed digital media screen performance of internet-mediated intimate exchanges and chosen and unchosen domestic scenes, including videos, texts, images, and readings, as a roving-through-another’s mind-body, revealing layers of spatiotemporal and socionormative captivities of this extreme moment in global history. It engages with the concepts of vulnerability, security, and ethics of care, in tension with dependency, power, and control. But, it is not without hope for thinking with a radical relationality that may be felt when loss of control encapsulates and founds subjectivities and socialities, possibly exposing reservoirs of alternative care capacity in new forms of interrelations – a cascade of virality and #quarantinelife under Covid-19.
Natalia Stanusch (John Cabot University, Italy): Reserved for Social Distancing
This film is a semi-autoethnographic project, lasting less than seven minutes. The film focuses on the state-of-mind during social distancing, embracing lockdown aesthetics in an indefinite Coronavirus-caused exile. The film explores the feelings of longing for being outside during isolation: isolation inside one’s room, one’s mind, and one’s digital dependence. The ‘outside,’ however, is represented both by the world outside the window and the world inside the computer screen. The physical space fuses into the digital realm where social interactions can occur. The character goes through a series of fluctuations, from the physical space, through one’s mind, to the digital space. The film explores the anxiety related to quarantine and the fear of breaking free from a seemingly safe, closed, and digital space and the fear of ‘after lockdown’ world. In the glass mediated reality, where both a window and a computer screen provide an escape to something as unreal as the past, the voiceover gives a glimpse of feelings and thoughts of the character, who is mediated through a smartphone camera.
Mikey B Georgeson (Artist, University of East London): Stockholm Syndrome
Where has the potential for change gone? How does a body perform its way out of a definitional framework that is not only responsible for its very “construction” but seems to prescript every possible signifying and countersignifying move from a repertoire of possible permutations on a limited set of predetermined terms? (Parables for the Virtual)
The title Stockholm Syndrome came from a song about how Ingmar Bergman loved Sweden above any other place and admitted that he felt no strong desire to travel. He feels an entanglement with the specific landscape and his film Wild Strawberries presents an embodied fiction of Bergson’s theories of embodied knowing. Wild Strawberries struck me as being more radically empirical than the more overtly psychological approach found in the Seventh Seal, which relies on a coded reading for meaning. It is a mode of fictioning, including the percipient in the region they are navigating, as a means of creating and understanding the subject that motivates me. The series of short films comprising Stockholm Syndrome, features an academic who is struck by the dystopian nature of the future he finds himself in but then as an unpredicted pandemic spreads, what had begun as a fiction to reveal a truth begins to seem anachronistic. He is forced to find a new route through the unfolding crisis and his movements through geo-specificity generate a dialogue with Massumi’s above question. For Massumi, the lag created by the skin being faster than the word means that affectual perception is a virtual, something the current occasion seems to have been designed to interrogate in the most intense and mind-bending ways.
Stockholm Syndrome Episode 5, Digital Assemblage Cameron Poole 2020
Cameron Poole has created digital assemblages from his engagement with the episode’s as I released them over the first half of this year. They replay the films as simple shimmering tapestries and enliven my own understanding of the process. Cameron’s collages act as lobby cards for those who feel emboldened enough to dive into the film’s vortex of lockdown, to catch hold of a recurring form and resurface in non-bifurcated euphoritopia.
Valentina Signorelli (University of East London): London Lockdown
Two party goers randomly stuck inside of a house and an artificial intelligence who seems to be keeping them captive. This is “London Lockdown”, the first European comedy web-series ever made… remotely. Six episodes, 5 minutes each. After a massive hangover, the two protagonists wake inside of an unknown house. Their phones are dead and there is no way for them to verify what’s happening outside. Their only source of information is Oracle, the house AI, who confirms the lockdown is on all over London and decides to lock them inside until further notice. Will they be able to escape? My name is Valentina Signorelli, director and producer. I moved to London six years ago from a small place in the north of Italy called Bergamo. My hometown is currently the worst hit territory from COVID-19 in the whole of Europe, with over 5.000 deaths and a mortality rate increased by 568% in March 2020 only. (EcodiBergamo, 2020; Washington Post, 2020) After losing three family members in less than a week, I started to question how creativity could play an active role in facing this catastrophe. I believe that comedy not only has the power to heal our pain. It is also a mirror of society which reflects vices, criticises habits and exposes privilege. Above all, comedy can bring people together, even if they are forced to stay apart. “London Lockdown” was made possible thanks to a team of writers, actors, producers and editors currently self-isolating in three different countries: UK, Germany and Italy.
They have been working and communicating with the help of social media and a discontinuous fibre broadband. The series has been broadcast on Daitona’s social media channels between 27th April and 14th May 2020.
Tony D Sampson (University of East London) – Covid_Lockdown_Blues
This short piece began life as a rendition of Summertime, but ended up a very different song. A bit like 2020.
Panel Performances Three
Diagraming the Virus
We are very excited to present the artist, Joseph Nechvatal’s Viral Venture
Viral Venture consists of a projection installation of Joseph Nechvatal’s artificial-life computer virus digital artwork. It is a looped 51:37 minutes captured animation, accompanied by a musical score of 200 electric guitars by the well-known post-minimal composer Rhys Chatham, recorded live at La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Paris.
Mattia Spagnuolo (Artist): #iorestoacasa
#iorestoacasa is a virtual artefact that visualizes data relative to the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of a particle system. The most relevant data about the virus outbreak is mapped to variables that modify the shape and color of the system. #iorestoacasa was entirely conceived and developed during the period of lockdown that was introduced in Italy, among other nations, to combat the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. At the very beginning of my confinement at home – everyday at 18:00 – I turned on the news to hear updates on the virus situation. However, after about a week or two, I was so overwhelmed by all the numbers, that they stopped making any sense. That’s when I had the idea to take that same data that made me feel so uneasy and represent it in a more soothing way. A way that would still encourage reflection on the world’s situation and remind everyone of the importance of compliance with the lockdown measures, but less brutally. The title of this work – #iorestoacasa – which translates to ‘I stay at home’, is a tribute to the communal world effort that permitted a halt to the spread of the virus and relieved pressure on the healthcare system.
Yanyi Lu (Goldsmiths, London): New Handshake in Post-Covid19
This artwork speculates a wearable device for new handshake way in COVID-19 period to keep safe social distance between humans. Users can control the warning LED and virtual hand by their phones. This system explores how to show friendly by a silent way without direct contact and communication like traditional manner. I would like to use this “simple” prototype to show audience a new possible way of communication. I appreciate how we can use technology as a better means of communication in these times and I also reflect the inertia of this kind of social change through this ‘odd’ wearable device. Would we go back to normal social contact after COVID-19 and would we be skeptical of other’s contacts and used to socialize with distance in post-COVID era?
Christina Karpodini (Composer): Detuned Piano
Detuned Piano is a project that aims to reflect the impact of misleading information through the Media about the current crisis of Covid-19 on people’s mental health. A big majority of people are getting stressed by receiving misleading information which does not always reflect on reality. As the information changes a little, from one source to the other, people often are not able to recognize how much of the original information is there in the current information they are receiving. At the same time, both receivers and media are constantly interacting with reinforcing and perpetuate the spread of these unreliable sources. This is a performative audiovisual piece consisted of a generative melody of piano sounds that are being processed with a controller. The quality and tonality of the sounds will be visualized on the screen. The unprocessed piano sound represents the original information about Covid-19 as they presented by the government and scientists, the interaction with sound through the controller represent people’s interaction with the information and finally the processed sound and the visualization of it correlates with the misinterpretation of the information by the media and the disturbance they produce on people’s mental state. As this idea of this piece pre-exist the western world’s lockdown, it is an on-going project that evolves and developing by taking the form that best supports its message. Therefore, from an installation in physical space that was the initial idea, it became a prototype installation in my house and now it is ready to evolve in a semidigital performance.
Link to existent documentation of the first version of this piece.
Chia Yang Chang (Artist): The Map and Sea-Foam
Sea-foam is an artwork inspire by COVID19 Viral modelling, simulate an organic life in the computational method. Sea-foam is composed of lignin, oil and simple protein molecules. These are just some simple element; however, due to the Ecological cycle, this will cause damage to the animals around the sea-foam, which includes human. Instead of modelling the COVID19, this artwork simulates the sea-foam as an image presenting the virus is not evidence to see is harmful but could lead to the catastrophe. Moreover, this manifests behaviour, such as coughing, could release the infection particles to others. The similarity of the virus and the Sea-foam are aware we can not underestimate the tiny but dangerous things.
The map is a simple data visualise program base on the COVID-19 data from parts of Europe country. The program demonstrates the numbers of cases and death. User can click the country to get the data from it. However, when the country’s death number is high, the map will start to displace. I want to use this artwork to raise the concern of the COVID-19. We cannot directly see the virus or death doesn’t mean that we can start to underestimate it. In this artwork, I use a straightforward way to demonstrate the higher risk country, which makes the user and audience more easily to see the impact of the virus. After months, the virus is still impacting our world; people are still being infected and dying. Therefore, we must be more careful when we go out, protecting others.
Marina Zagidullina (Chelyabinsk State University, Russia): We are clever than the brainwashed majority: the visualization of “anti-viral” routes of a COVID deniers’ movement in social and news media
This paper analyzes a media representation of a COVID deniers’ movement. The basis of the deniers’ ideology is a refusal of a lockdown imposed to the majority of the population. “Panic attacks” of collective lockdowns are considered by deniers in conspiracy logics (i.e. “the government tries to benefit from this situation”, “this is a false threat” etc.). The investigation will be focused on the media-aesthetic of the deniers’ movement.
Allan Siegel (Hungarian University of Fine Arts): ON TOURISM Mapping the Local seminar
“Tourism had long proven to be a Pyrrhic victory: the yearning for freedom from society has been harnessed by the very society it seeks to escape” (Hans Magnus Ensenzberger). Tourism is engrained in modern life. Comprehending or untangling the dilemmas presented by an abundance of tourists – overtourism - and its impact on local populations, the environment and all the other consequences of tourism is not simple. The Mapping the Local block seminar will focus on comprehending, communicating and visualising these issues. Each working group develops their own artistic practices that examine the tourism puzzle. Each group becomes a tourist agency or non-profit company. At the beginning of March with the rapid appearance of the COVID-19 crisis the focus of the seminar changed dramatically. Instead of “overtourism” as the theme the issue became one of imagining what ‘tourism’ looked liked in a time of crisis; each of the seven working groups in the class were asked to NOW re-design or envision their tourist agency with special qualities relating the various travel and other restrictions. The results of this process of re-imagining appear now as brochures or advertisements for tourist agencies during the time of the COVID 19 crisis. The Mapping the Local seminar at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts (MKE) is organised jointly by Eszter Lazar, Allan Siegel and Szabolcs Kisspal from the Intermedia and Art Theory and Cultural Studies Departments; participating students are from MKE and the Erasmus programme of the European Union
Subsection: Viral Games
Simon Taylor (University of New South Wales is an Australian): Fever Games
Public-health experts expect fever detections from temperature-scanning to thermal imaging, as modelling of COVID-19 contagion, to become a widespread staple of public life. From airports, workplaces, schools, housing complexes—anywhere we gather en-masse—fever surveillance is a game state that govern rules of labour and play, with FDA regulations of temperature-set conditions to triage cultural matters disrupted by ‘hot’ bodies. But is temperature a useful indicator of contagion? Or is ‘febrile purity’ a cultural value suddenly reframed in measures of heat? If it is medically established “that body temperature is subject to many influences” (Houdas & Ring, 2013) how is it even possible to isolate thermal elements of bodies from surrounding environments? FLIR markets heat-sensing cameras as people flow intelligence. The Oura is a wearable ring with infrared LEDs and NTC temperature sensors. Companies like Amazon use US black-listed technology of Dahua CCTV systems to create a thermal-scape game where ‘body temperature is no longer a piece of private information.’ This is a containment world-order ruled by “temperature taking that precedes decision making.” (Parks, 2014, p. 2518) To make sense of this thermo-cultural game requires analysing operational imaging and sensing calibrations of ‘blackbodies’ to idiosyncratic foundations in the history of medicine, behaviourism, biometrics, and a feverish cultural politics i.e. how “’we are culturally raised to be wary of fever […] and how cultural practices spread as widely as infectious diseases and medicine behind them.” To gain a clearer understanding of how thermal surveillance is a game structure for our bodily matter to circulate in the world, this proposal reviews how the new technical “apparatuses of thermal manipulation establish ‘cuts’ that produce phenomena as usable and as knowable elements of mediation.” (Starosielski, 2016, p. 305) How temperature ‘cuts’ play a key role in the ‘lockdown aesthetics’ of bodies to goals of cultural policies and how ‘cut’ samples distribute the “artefacts of description, creators of habit, shapers of process” (Bateson, 1979, p. 202) A game of thermal-fever now begun.
William Bishop-Stephens (University of East London): Game for Two Players and the Lockdown Aesthetic
This live event will be a re-playing of Will’s The Game for Two Players adapted for social distancing. The players will each need to be a metre away from the table, and a PIR movement sensor will trigger a sanitiser spray. These modifications raise the formality, add rules and another layer of jargon and absurdity to the event. The event will be filmed, and streamed live, followed by the release of a resulting animation, which would also be projected within the space as part of the live event.
17th July 2020
Panel Performances Four
Viral Media 1
Before the panels start, we have a special guest appearance by Plastique Fantastique Communique!
Stories Spread Just Like A Virus
Alberto Micali (John Cabot University, Italy): Dining Out with COVID-19: (Biopolitical) Control and Lock-down Aesthetics, or Why Media Studies Neglect to Face the Crisis of Representation
The spread of COVID-19 has led to an intensification of security measures. Whilst these public health actions to contain contagion seem to recall modern mechanisms of discipline, their escalation and fragmented nature have only confirmed the ruling centrality of the power diagram of control. Indeed, as happened in the case of Italy, the neo-liberalist paradigm maintained the superiority of its primary interest in the freedom of economic domination over bare life and care. Within such a frame, the social imaginary has been schizophrenically overwhelmed, polarising it around both catastrophic and hopeful scenarios. In our encounters with the virus, difference is the rule, but the plane of such encounters is materialist in its transversality. Hence, the aesthetic field provides a privileged position from which to understand its inherent relationality, by precisely acting on individual and collective figurations.
Drawing from the materialist critique and the current crisis of representation in media and cultural studies, I first argue that universal contagion is a material encounter of subjective production. Contrary to the assumptions sustaining the recent discovery of mirror neurons, I maintain that imitation does not follow linear resemblance. Rather, the intensive formation of subjects and unconscious triggering of social responses is activated via the diffractive patterns of contagion. Second, I contend that (biopolitical) control affectively operates within the securitisation paradigm, straining to maintain its destructive functionality by intensively enacting an imaginary that is incapable of facing the eco-systemic, capitalocene-centric nature of our dinners out with COVID-19.
Judith Fathallah (Solent University, UK): Is the meme blank parody? Or, postmodern flatness and the problem of meaning in corona memes
Millennial humour as epitomized in meme formats is often characterized by surreal randomness, and the juxtaposition of signifiers with no apparent connection or meaning. Whilst there are obvious continuities with surrealism, postmodernism and indeed modernism itself, the rapid viral spread of memes today might seem to produce an attitude of indifferent laughter or indeed total lack of affect concerning contemporary tragedies. Memes concerning the coronavirus have brought this phenomenon into sharp relief. This paper questions what it is about meme formats that create this sense of Jameson’s pastiche as blank parody, or depoliticized lack of affect, whether it is related to the meme format or content or the context of meme production and distribution. I go on to consider whether we can understand it in the same tradition as the modernist rejection of grand narratives in the wake of two catastrophic wars, or whether the concept of metamodernism can better adapt these ideas to contemporary culture.
Jacquelene Drinkall (Artist): The telepathy aesthetics of viral culture
Cybernetic and post structuralist theories of linguistics have considered the alphabet to be a cultural plague and cognitive virus. Alphabetic consciousness is inherently telepathic and viral, and emerged alongside agrarian, debt and literary cultures 5 000 years ago. My paper looks at the intersection of viral culture with telepathic culture of crowds as understood by Gabriel Tarde and theorists of affective contagion. Further, evidence of telepathic virality is found within science fiction and even within science itself. For example, the Marvel character Black Swan invents a telepathy virus, and telepathy viruses are a recurring motif within science fiction. Within medical science, the Telepath™ Ltd brand is closely associated with the tracking of microbiological infections, zoonotic transfer events, and data of virus patients. Medical data is literally entered into Telepath databases. Further, within medical and microbiological terminology, telepathology is the usual everyday method for diagnosing disease at a distance using digital technology. Endovascular surgeons and technologists are working to intervene in the high incidence of strokes within Covid19 patients using a variety of telepathic and telepathological techniques. The interventional neurosurgeon, stroke expert and tech entrepreneur Thomas Oxley recently developed an intracranial telepathic Brain Computer Interface for his interventional neurology. However, science generally prefers terms such as prediction, pre-emption and affect transfer instead of the word telepathy. The organisation called ‘Predict Ecohealth’ attempts to pre-empt future pandemics by data mapping the impact of capitalist exploitation of nature to viral mutation within wildlife.
Jernej Markelj (Cardiff University, UK): The Oedipal Bacillus: Fascism and Contagion
This paper engages with Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus to develop a theory of contagious fascism. Instead of seeing it as a historical phenomenon, like Hitler’s Nazism, Deleuze and Guattari understand fascism as a libidinal tendency, an inclination of the unconscious forces, which manifests itself in our smallest gestures, and is operative throughout our daily lives. For them, these fascist tendencies are expressed as an effort to order the world in a particular way, and to maintain, fixate and police the physical and conceptual boarders established by this organisation. Due to the disruptive forces of globalisation, Deleuze and Guattari see such paranoid policing as escalating under capitalism. Moreover, they point to the contagious nature of fascism. Fascist inclinations are, in their view, ‘fascisizing’: they spread out and engender the same kind of affective tendencies in others. While Deleuze and Guattari regularly allude to this viral quality of fascist affectivity, they never fully substantiate its logic. In my paper I draw on a variety of supporting texts and thinkers to explicate the contagious operations of fascist tendencies. I begin by mapping Deleuze and Guattari’s macro-vision of our social organisation and outline its two primary fascisizing vectors: the capitalist economy and the family unit. To theorise the transmission of fascist tendencies on the individual level, I then examine Freudian psychoanalytic practice and Nietzsche’s conceptualisation of the rise of herd morality. I show that in both cases the fascist tendencies spread by means of the fortification of ego, which has internalised the unconscious forces in terms of representation, and seeks to persist in its identity.
Panel Performances Five
Viral Media 2
Tina Kendall (Anglia Ruskin University, UK): Bored Media, Virality and #Lockdownlife
This paper will explore the ‘logics of virality’ as these have accrued around—and as they increasingly mediate and control—lived experiences of boredom in the context of the global Covid-19 lockdowns. If metaphors of contagion and virality have long been marshalled by social media corporations as part of their ongoing ‘war on boredom’ (Kendall 2017), in the context of the current Coronavirus pandemic, this virality is—as Tony Sampson and Jussi Parikka (2020) have suggested—now ‘resolutely non-metaphorical’. Indeed, as I will argue in this paper, what the lockdown has exposed and intensified is the pivotal role that boredom plays in the wider policing, management and control of bodies in an age of ‘digital psychopolitics’ (Han 2017). One concrete example of this can be seen in the massive outpouring of advice that was issued in the days and weeks following the imposition of lockdown measures, concerning how people could “beat” the boredom that might inevitably occur in this context. The emerging effort to contain the very real Covid-19 virus was thus underwritten by a ramping up of the metaphorical war on boredom, as governments, cultural organisations, and media outlets everywhere began to issue policy documents, tool kits, watch lists, and recommendations—many of which strangely echo both the structure and tone of bingeable media sites such as Boredom Therapy or Bored Panda. Drawing on work by Byung-Chul Han (2017) and others, my paper attempts to trace some of the ‘strange feedback loops’ (Sampson & Parikka 2020) that cut across the biological, cultural, technological, and affective layers of these experiences of boredom under lockdown. It will focus on a range of bored media that has emerged in this context, including government policy papers, newsletters and marketing material from various cultural and arts organisations, as well as user-generated content (#boredinthehouse; #boredvibes; #lockdownlife) that has flourished on the popular social media site TikTok as a means of documenting, expressing, or avoiding experiences of boredom during lockdown.
Ludmila Lupinacci (London School of Economics): Going with the (social media) flow: Notes on doomscrolling and stream flow-breakers in viral times
This short paper dedicates attention to a mechanism through which much of the online content is circulated, shared, and consumed nowadays: social media’s infinite streams, or ‘feeds’. These informational flows are central socio-technical conditions to the present-day logics of virality and memetics – phenomena that are always contingent on the existence of appropriate structures and vectors. The discussion focusses on what I am referring to as ‘flow-breakers’. These are posts shared by users of stream-based social media platforms targeting other (imagined) users who are scrolling uninterruptedly through a flood of gloomy content – a practice that is now generally called ‘doomscrolling’. Stream flow-breakers not only demonstrate the current normalisation of so-called mindless, endless scrolling as part of regular social media engagements but also serve to evidence users’ reflexive acknowledgement of both the readers’ likely repetitive (often labelled ‘addictive’) behaviour, and of the stickiness of these technologies. In a context of lockdown, the ‘mobility’ in mobile social media is less about portability or physical movement and more about affective motility and tentative practices of dwelling in platforms that are purposefully framed as agitated and restless. Keywords Scrolling; social media; platform; mobile media; flow; infinite stream; lockdown, phenomenology.
Donatella Della Ratta (John Cabot University, Italy): ‘Give it a shot. VVV: on Violence, Visibility and Viruses’
The ‘shot’ is the figurative device around which we (re)think what happened in the last decade in terms of the relationship between violence, visibility and the body. Ten years ago, the myth of the participatory culture incubated within the ‘social’ web (O’Reilly 2005) had nurtured the absolute faith in virality being the new ‘message’ of a medium that, by virtue of its speed and ‘spreadability’ (Jenkins 2013), had irremediably dissolved content into mere contributions (Dean 2005). The Arab Spring embodied the celebration of this belief. The hashtag ‘domino effect’, in which so many countries, from Libya to Egypt to Yemen, were trapped – dictatorship after dictatorship falling in weeks or months, in a row, first on Twitter, then on the ground –, seemed to be evidence of this virality and spreadability successfully at work. Contagion had finally materialized as a techno-social (and political) condition. This period was marked by the utmost visibility and violence: the more you shoot, the more you are shot at (and viceversa). To the reflection I’ve elaborated in my previous work on the metaphor of ‘shooting’ as in performing violence and producing evidence of that violence performed (Della Ratta 2018), I want to offer, ten years and a pandemic after the ‘Spring’, a further element to the intertwinement between visual media and the military, i.e. the pharmaceutical or, better, ‘pharmapornographic’ (Preciado 2013) aspect of the shot. The ways in which big pharma converges, with the media and the military, in redefining the body and the production of subjects and subjectivities as the ultimate battlefield for contemporary capitalism. From micro cameras to wearable and bio weapons, the ‘shooting’ has become more and more connected to technologies of the body becoming ‘microprostethic’ and ‘incorporated’ (Preciado, 2013) and, at the same time, globally networked. No longer extensions of the body, it is the latter that rather incorporates these pervasive spaces of surveillance and inherent violence. The pharmaceutical, pharmapornographic shot has taken over: endocrinology and the genetic (and semiotic) engineering of the healthy and the sick, from period (and virus) tracking-apps to networked sex toys.
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
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. Format: Video with Live Intro. Duration: 15 mins.
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)
Closing Conference Party
Before Covid-19, for we had planned a closing party event to celebrate the A&SM#5 conference.
David Devant & His Spirit Wife
As part of this event we were to have a musical performance by Mikey B Georgeson. While we wait for A&SM#5, here’s a video of the song Mikey’s was going to perform.
Music video for David Devant & His Spirit Wife. Produced and edited by Cameron Poole. Lip synch, and drawings Mikey Georgeson. Footage and photos contributed by John Marshall, James Foster and Richard Grimsdale Yates. Taken from a new album here
Mikey’s debut album with David Devant & His Spirit Wife in 1998 was a huge influence on Cameron Poole’s own music, which was put on hold for twenty years when he moved to Asia in 2002. Whilst living in Thailand and China, music production was replaced with a knack for video editing and graphic design. After rediscovering Devant on Facebook in 2017, a year after repatriating to the UK, he saw them live for the first time a year later and gradually became acquainted with Mikey and his other creative projects. A mutual appreciation of each others talents developed and lead to Cameron being invited to create a backdrop video for a Devant gig last December. This resulted in the opportunity to make a video for ‘Data Streams’ – a new track on the 2019 Devant album, Cut Out & Keep Me. A planned video shoot for another track, ‘Rake’, was thwarted by the Covid 19 pandemic, however, the subsequent lockdown has cultivated creativity and inspiration on both sides and sometimes they overlap.
A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media
We also had some funding from Polity Press to launch Tony D Sampson’s new book, A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media, published in June 2020. Here’s a short video introduction to the book.
Video by Devil John and dystopic music by John Leo Dutton
A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media, is now available from Polity:
In preparation for
Affect & Social Media#4.5 and The Sensorium Art Show
Media Virality and the Lockdown Aesthetic
The organisers present a somewhat profound seque between A&SM#4 and A&SM#4.5
Mikey B Georgeson’s Kindness is a Virus
A full programme of links to pre-recorded videos, short position papers, artworks, performances, presentations, book launches, and online discussion groups, and so on… will be released throughout a two-day period from 16th to 17th July 2020.
And a video to go with the new book . Thanks to Mikey Vessel Georgeson for aesthetic diagrams and images of his Somnambulist performance at the Affect Summer School last summer. A really big thanks to John Leo Dutton who allowed the use of his music – which is incidentally part of a dystopian media project we have yet to finish called Fordlandia.