Social Physical Distance Proximity Diagram (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 24)
This is the twenty-fourth 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
Social Physical Distance Proximity Diagram
By Dean Kenning
The virus enters the host cells of bodies of individuals in a population through physical proximity. ‘Physical distancing’ needs to be operative at a social level for prevention and containment to be successful – that is the duty of the state. However, the official term ‘social distancing’ might suggest a distance from ‘the social’, rather than society-wide physical distancing. Social distance was not at all the experience of many who, in various ways, felt social closeness during lockdown. In the UK, the term ‘social distance’ could be aligned with Margaret Thatcher’s dictum ‘there is no such thing as society’. On 29 March, six days after lockdown, Boris Johnson, physically isolating with Covid-19, declared that ‘there is [after all!] such a thing as society’ – a fact epitomised, of course, by the NHS, essential care work, and social cooperation. Johnson’s epiphany might be viewed as a purely cynical, not to say hypocritical political exercise, or else as a rhetorical concession as to the bankruptcy – now plain for all to see – of the anti-social(ist), privatising individualism which Johnson’s party has upheld as holy writ.
Given all this there are interesting positions to be mapped with respect to relations of the social and the physical in connection with both distance and proximity. In respect to a state’s responsibilities during a viral pandemic, social distancing at an ideological level may force physical proximity amongst sections of the population by those who remain at a safe physical distance. Alternatively, social proximity at an ideological level may, thanks to those who must necessarily remain physically proximate in medical and care situations, protect people by enabling physical distance.
Dean Kenning is an artist and writer living in London.
May 29th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02
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
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
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