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
Interface

Sara Ahmed on the perfomativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”

November 7th, 2020, Tom

David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”

September 7th, 2020, Tom

T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk:  “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”

August 21st, 2020, Tom
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