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?

Be well,

 

Danah Abdulla, CCW, University of the Arts London, England (www.dabdulla.com)
April 22nd, 2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes
Interface

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

Bernard Stiegler, quoted from The Neganthropocene (trans. Daniel Ross): “Does anyone really believe that it is possible to ‘solve’ the problems of climate change, habitat destruction and cultural destruction without addressing the consumerist basis of the present macro-economic system, or vice versa, or without addressing the way in which this system depletes the psychic energy required to find the collective will, belief, hope and reason to address this planetary challenge? Can this consumerism really survive the coming wave of automation that threatens to decimate its customer base and undermine the ‘consumer confidence’ that is fundamental to its perpetual growth requirements, themselves antithetical, once again, to the problems of biospherical preservation?”

August 14th, 2020, Tom
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