Against Resilience (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 26)

This is the twenty-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


Protest on Peckham High Street against the murder of George Floyd. Original image by Liam Rezende.


Against Resilience

By Helene Kazan


The British government’s herd immunity policy, implemented in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, has revealed a condition of institutional racism and structural violence, in which Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities have been affected by a death rate at least twice as high as that in white communities. However, the government shows no sign of taking responsibility, or accepting accountability for employing this terrible and unfounded resilience policy. Further, there can be no doubt that in the quick easing of the lockdown measures in Britain this week, there is an understood acknowledgement and calculation by the Conservative government that without specific protective measures being put in place, the same communities will again be disproportionately affected if and when the infection rate begins to increase.

The wartime rhetoric adopted during the COVID-19 crisis portrays the loss of life in this situation as an uncontrollable and unavoidable catastrophe, rather than an outcome of a series of known and unknown governmental decisions. To be clear, the extent of loss of life in both the context of warfare and a pandemic, comes in part from decisions made at state level. The danger of giving in to the logic of resilience measures is that in increasing the resilience of a population, a state might increase its capacity to tolerate imposed risk. Populations and communities can be subjected to a higher degree of suffering whilst allowing them to barely live with that potential threat. In short, resilient populations and communities are produced through state-perpetrated violence as they are forced to live under a calculated condition of increased risk.

The Black Lives Matter protests that took place in London this weekend against the murder of George Floyd reflects a deep-seated need to stand in solidarity against the far reaches of institutional racism and structural violence. On 10 May, a letter was sent from the UBELE community group in Peckham to Boris Johnson asking for support in the call for an independent public inquiry into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the UK’s BAME communities.[1] An important demand, as the community group argues that an investigation led by the government simply won’t have the capacity to produce a full account of this catastrophe.[2] There was speculation yesterday that the government’s review of the situation, led by Public Health England, was going be postponed in response to growing protest in the UK and US.[3] However, following pressure the report was published yesterday forcing the British government to recognise the similarities between the situations and the inequalities it brings to light.[4]

Seeing the Black Lives Matter protest spring into action on Saturday a short distance from my flat in Peckham, I couldn’t help but question whether bringing our bodies together in this way plays into the logic of resilience measures the British government has come to calculate as necessary collateral damage for the UK economy to start again.[5] Does protesting with my body mean giving in to the (un)caring biopower of the state?[6] If so, how do I protest, if not with my body? This question, at this time, obviously has a different weight depending on context. It’s not a question of my body alone, but of a body politic that stands together to demand that the British government accepts responsibility and accountability for the terrible outcome of employing herd immunity as resilience measure. Further standing in solidarity in the fight against racist and patriarchal governmental formations that sit on a settler colonial logic that allows such calculations to be made in regards to the disproportionate risks that affect our lives. #blacklivesmatter #BAMElivesmatter #nopeacetilljustice


[1] More information: (last accessed June 2, 2020).
[2] The important reasons for launching an independent inquiry is explained in further detail in this article Rianna Raymond-Williams (last accessed June 2, 2020).
[3] Reports of the delay of the PHE report: (last accessed June 2, 2020).
[4] The now published Public Health England report for the government the disproportionate affect of COVID-19 on BAME communities: (last accessed June 2, 2020).
[5] Information on the Peckham protest: (last accessed June 2, 2020).
[6] Ideas of a ‘caring biopower’ are outlined by Couze Venn, “Neoliberal Political Economy, Biopolitics and Colonialism,” Theory, Culture & Society 26, no. 6 (2009): 206–233.


Helene Kazan is an artist, writer and Lecturer in Critical Theory at The School of Arts, Oxford Brookes University and a Visiting Lecturer in Media Studies at the Department of Architecture, Royal College of Art, London. Kazan is a 2018-2020 Vera List Center Fellow in Art and Politics at The New School, New York.
June 2nd, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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