Stay safe, stay healthy (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 6)
This is the sixth instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH
Stay safe, stay healthy
by Danah Abdulla
‘I hope this message finds you well.’ This is how I have always started my emails. I sign off with ‘be well’, a practice I borrowed from one of my favourite professors as an undergraduate student; a man we all referred to as ‘the silver fox’. He always signed off his emails with ‘be well’ – a line I found amusing because his first name rhymed with ‘well’ but one I also adored. I desperately wanted to take this line up as my own. And so I did.
Since mid-March, the emails that come through my inbox ask me if I am well, or if I am staying safe, or if I am healthy. The beginning of the correspondence does not say ‘hope you are well’ but the sender frames it as a question. Is the sender genuinely asking me if I am well or safe or healthy? Similarly to how they began, emails are often signed off with ‘stay safe’, or ‘stay healthy’ or ‘stay well’. Are these choices mine? Is the sender asking me if I have the virus and if yes, am I quarantining? Or is the sender asking if I am coping with social distancing as someone living on my own without any family nearby? Or the multiple other things I could be struggling with at the moment? Maybe it is none of these things and it is the smart compose feature at work.
Will this new practice suffer the same fate as the all too common ‘how are you?’ – a line that appears to ask you how you are doing but does not actually ask how are you? I wonder if, post-pandemic, asking someone if they are well and telling them to stay safe and healthy will move from being a genuine concern with one’s health to a polite way of starting an email (aided by the smart compose feature) before we get to the actual content of the email? Will this allow us to develop more genuine practices into our correspondences, ones we actually mean, akin to writing a letter to a close friend, rather than polite buffers before getting to the point?