Remote relations, cultures of distance


Artwork from Zoom website,

Among the most unsettling attributes that have quickly gained notoriety (and poignancy) due to the current crisis’ new linguistic conventions and discursive framings can be counted “from a distance” or “remote”. In particular, the prescription of “social distancing”, which for too long has been met with incomprehension and reluctance, plunged the idea that intimacy relies on physical proximity into deep crisis. Instead, the possibilities and necessities of non-physical proximity as well as long-distance business and educational relationships have been granted utmost importance. The Greek prefix τῆλε (tele) and its inimitable career in image and media technologies, through optical devices such as the telescope and the telephoto lens or in apparatuses like “tele-vision” gains an ethical dimension and at the same time seems to break ontological ground.

This new meaning of the long-distance relationship is far less novel than what is being presented at the moment. If Skype and Zoom are heralded as tools of learning and teaching, planning meetings and unplanned socializing in “remote” mode, they can also be seen as a re-enactment of individualized and locally unbound study. This was the case with television and how it was implemented by Western educational systems through didactic – rehearsed pedagogical sub-departments such as tele-learning or school television and educational institutional inventions exemplified by the distance remote learning universities of the late 1960s to the 1980s – arguably the most glorious example being the BBC’s intersection with the British Open University.

At a more fundamental level, however, every image is to be considered a distancing tool. In “Nah und Fern zum Bilde”, a short 1986 essay (the title of which was also used for a later anthology of some of his miscellaneous essays) by the late art historian Martin Warnke incorporated these somewhat mysterious sentences: “The gaze from a close range can be found suspicious of wanting to examine something, as if to watch something with a magnifying glass. To look at an image from close range usually implies wanting to get something out of it that it never wanted to give.” This formulation, inspired by a Rubens drawing of a Pordenone fresco, may be taken as advice for how to behave in these days. TH

March 19th, 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
moreless news