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

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.”


via 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

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  “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
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