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, 02 / Rosa Mercedes

On the occasion of the film festival “Reconstructing Realities,” the Broadway Cinematheque in Hong Kong will show the film “How to live in FRG” (1990) from Harun Farocki.
The screening will take place on Saturday, July 11, 2:30 pm (local time) at the Goethe Institut Hong Kong.
Online booklet:

Reconstructing Realities – A Film Programme to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Berlinale Forum

The screening will be followed by the talk “Harun Farocki’s Imitations of Life” with Doreen Mende, co-founder of the Harun Farocki Institut.
Time: Jul 11, 2020 04:00 pm Hong Kong SAR / 10:00 am Berlin time
Language: English

The talk will be held on Zoom, registration here:
After registration, you will receive an email with the link and the login information to join the talk.

July 8th, 2020, HaFI

Avery F. Gordon, in an interview conducted by Katherine Hite and Daniela Jara in Memory Studies:  “Non-participation is one modality of what I call being in-difference. Being in-difference is a political consciousness and a sensuous knowledge, a standpoint and a mindset for living on better terms than we’re offered, for living as if you had the necessity and the freedom to do so, for living in the acknowledgement that, despite the overwhelming power of all the systems of domination which are trying to kill us, they never quite become us. They are, as Cedric J Robinson used to say, only one condition of our existence or being. Running away, living apart, squatting, communing, feral trading, bartering, self-managed currencies, human, debt, labour, knowledge strikes, boycott, divestment, non-policing, throwing your shoe at an occupying president: the ways of non-participation in the given order of things are many, varied and hard to summarize. And they are taken up for a variety of reasons, including the failure or irrelevance of states and the US–European post–World War II social movement model.”

July 7th, 2020, Tom

Denise Ferreira da Silva via Canadian Art: “Visuality or rather visualizability—being available via social media and accessible through electronic gadgets—seems to have become the main (if not the sole) criterion for reality, which becomes crucial for the ethical-political demands for the protection of black lives, for state accountability and for justice. If that is so, the only way is through these conditions of representation. I mean, the creative move first takes the visualizable as it is, that is, as a twice removed re/composition (at the same time a live streaming, news reporting and documenting) of the scene of violence which only tells us that it happens. It exposes the excess that is the state’s use of total violence, of law enforcement as technique of racial subjugation, while simultaneously removing the black person (the father, the sister, the friend) out of the scene of violence and its visualization. It does so by restoring the dimensions of their existence that the camera cannot capture. That is, the creative move must protect (as an ethical gesture) the black person (keeping her obscurity) in the excess that is the very visualization of the scene of total violence.”

June 28th, 2020, Tom
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