Public protest in the age of Covid-19 (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 10)
This is the tenth 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
Public protest in the Age of Covid19
Was April the cruelest of the months of lockdown?
I see my dry hands, clean as hell, as never before. And I see fear in a handful of sanitizer.
First, we got socially immobilized, publicly absent, forcefully attached to our households. In Poland, leaving one’s home was only legal if one was heading to work or to satisfy the necessities of everyday life.
A crisis like this one hits the weakest and it seems at its core it means ‘a disaster to feminism’. Five weeks into the crisis Polish parliament decided to proceed a citizens’ bill to make even more stringent what has already been one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Ironically, while coronavirus seems to affect women less severely, the alt-right will try to re-claim its share.
left: Warsaw-Praga, line to Pewex, Aleksander Jałosiński/Forum
right: Warsaw, 3.10.2016, Black Monday, Chris Niedenthal (Archiwum Prostestów Publicznych)
The first thesis of the recently published manifesto, Feminism for the 99%, bespeaks the reinvention of the strike which took place in October 2016 in Poland, ‘when more than 100,000 women staged walkouts and marches to oppose the country’s ban on abortion.’ Yet it was not even 4 years later, when women under lockdown had to reinvent the strike again.
How to protest in the times of coronavirus, how not to surrender at the times of utmost confusion and fragility?
Amidst the health care crisis, we had to manifest exceptional self-care and solidarity without being able to take to the streets.
In this state of exception, measures were taken spontaneously and collectively, and beside online campaigning, we did go out, nevertheless. People began to form lines – keeping the prescribed distance – in front of grocery stores, waiting to satisfy their basic needs. This has been powerfully and ironically resonant of queuing in socialist times: hopeless and frequently fruitless everyday practice which was not teaching people – as some wish to believe – solidarity as much as it was exercising their despair and humiliation, especially in the 1980s, the first decade of my life.
left: Warsaw, 15.04.2020, Agata Siwiak
right: East News, Karol Malcuzynski
The queue I remember best, however, was an exceptional one on a spring day in 1986 when among a mass of people, we waited the get lifesaving Lugol’s iodine supposedly a protection against radioactivity flowing from Chernobyl. Another invisible threat, a concealed killer.
Is April the cruelest month mixing memory and militancy?
Warsaw, 15.04.2020, Jasza Strongin
May 2nd, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02
A word on “post-truth” by postcolonial and photography scholar Zahid R. Chauhary (from his 2020 essay “The Politics of Exposure: Truth after Post-Facts”): “So perhaps it is not simply that truth acts (such as whistleblowing) expose what we already know, but that the place of knowledge in an atmosphere of fetishistic disavowal lends such disavowal a libidinal frisson. In cynical reasoning, truth actually matters a great deal because acting in spite of it is what endows the action with its distinctive fetishistic pleasure.”
October 26th, 2021
In its last issue 155, Camera Austria published a review by Sabine Weier of the HaFI booklet Harun Farocki: Hard Selling. Reframed by Elske Rosenfeld.
October 26th, 2021
Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”
Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”
Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”
Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”
Sara Ahmed on the performativity 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