Towards the end of visual capitalism
Visualizing the History of Pandemics
By now, as to be expected from a news situation as engrossing as this one, the compulsion to reach an (or even the) image of the pandemic (if not the world history of pandemics), is tantamount. The visual production on/of the crisis has been accelerating for weeks and has currently entered its competitive phase.
Map of European countries that have (or haven’t yet) closed their schools (The Guardian, March 16, 2020)
Photo editors and designers for news outlets such as The Guardian are constantly feeding the collective imaginary, sometimes in the form of helpful collections of visual aids to cope with the crisis, but mostly with editorial artwork deploying the key visual tropes of the moment — the “battlestar” virus and humans seeking protection from it through items such as gloves and face masks.
In addition to these standard visual responses, however, there’s a strand of creativity and inventiveness in infographics that capitalizes on the situation, using it as an opportunity to enrich and extend their portfolio. Consider the site of infographic agency Visual Capitalist, popular among World Economic Forum folks and followers. Apparently, with their “visual history of pandemics,” the people of Visual Capitalist are prepared to turn the crisis into an/their image. Visual Capitalist’s mission statement reads sufficiently self-confidently in this regard. “Visual Capitals exists for one reason – to help make this complex world a little easier to understand. Humanity generates a staggering 2.5 exabytes of data every day, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to glean insight from the tsunami of information we’re exposed to. We cut through the spin and noise of the news cycle to highlight big picture global trends, and explore the context that gets overlooked. We use data-driven, powerful visuals to keep millions of people around the world ahead of the curve.”
This is not to say that VC should be blamed for doing what they do. Their reading, processing, and translating of the data may actually prove to be a viable contribution to the solving of the crisis. It is the competitive drive behind these enterprises in visualization that makes one wonder how they relate to all the other races (scientific, medical, technological, political, economical …) to increase insight, provide rescue, develop a vaccine, etc., as to be witnessed at the moment — while the default modes of capitalist competition are put on hold, and being suspended step by step as the crisis unfolds. Competing for the right, and that is, the most useful image in times such as these, should cease to be a race for property rights, commercialization and gatekeeping – visual capitalism (even if meant ironically, as one may suspect in the case of Visual Capitalist) has definitely reached a deadlock. TH
March 16th, 2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes
Avery F. Gordon, in an interview conducted by Katherine Hite and Daniela Jara in Memory Studies: “Non-participation is one modality of what I call being in-difference. Being in-difference is a political consciousness and a sensuous knowledge, a standpoint and a mindset for living on better terms than we’re offered, for living as if you had the necessity and the freedom to do so, for living in the acknowledgement that, despite the overwhelming power of all the systems of domination which are trying to kill us, they never quite become us. They are, as Cedric J Robinson used to say, only one condition of our existence or being. Running away, living apart, squatting, communing, feral trading, bartering, self-managed currencies, human, debt, labour, knowledge strikes, boycott, divestment, non-policing, throwing your shoe at an occupying president: the ways of non-participation in the given order of things are many, varied and hard to summarize. And they are taken up for a variety of reasons, including the failure or irrelevance of states and the US–European post–World War II social movement model.”
July 7th, 2020, Tom
Denise Ferreira da Silva via Canadian Art: “Visuality or rather visualizability—being available via social media and accessible through electronic gadgets—seems to have become the main (if not the sole) criterion for reality, which becomes crucial for the ethical-political demands for the protection of black lives, for state accountability and for justice. If that is so, the only way is through these conditions of representation. I mean, the creative move first takes the visualizable as it is, that is, as a twice removed re/composition (at the same time a live streaming, news reporting and documenting) of the scene of violence which only tells us that it happens. It exposes the excess that is the state’s use of total violence, of law enforcement as technique of racial subjugation, while simultaneously removing the black person (the father, the sister, the friend) out of the scene of violence and its visualization. It does so by restoring the dimensions of their existence that the camera cannot capture. That is, the creative move must protect (as an ethical gesture) the black person (keeping her obscurity) in the excess that is the very visualization of the scene of total violence.”
June 28th, 2020, Tom
Ajay Singh Chaudhary on the politics of climate change, via The Baffler: “One of the most common misconceptions concerning climate change is that it produces, or even requires, a united humanity. In that tale, the crisis in the abstract is a ‘common enemy,’ and a perfectly universal subject is finally possible in coming to ‘experience’ ourselves ‘as a geological agent,’ through which a universal ‘we’ is constituted in a ‘shared sense of catastrophe.’ The story I am telling you is different. In this story, there is no universal ‘we.’ Climate change is not the apocalypse, and it does not fall on all equally, or even, in at least a few senses, on everyone at all.”
June 23rd, 2020, Tom