The incompetence, the disdain, the laughter (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 27)

This is the twenty-seventh 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


As seen in Camberwell (Hana Noorali and Lynton Talbot)


The incompetence, the disdain, the laughter

A selection of Whatsapp, Instagram and email messages to friends, family and students between the period of 16.0320 to 30.05.20. A window that bookends the strict period of lockdown in the UK

By Hana Noorali and Lynton Talbot


[16/03, 15.03] Hi everyone. What are our thoughts on Mother’s Day? I know there were plans to see mum and although this might feel uncomfortable / unkind, I’m wondering if the right thing to do is not go. All fatal cases in UK have been over 70 year olds and while Hana and I are doing our best to social distance, our borough has the highest infection rate. We could all be unknowing carriers and I don’t feel comfortable putting mum at risk. It seems strange and a bit unreal but it really is real. Probably the most caring and kind thing to do ironically is to keep away from mum at the mo. Plans will shortly be rolled out to enforce isolation on the over 70s anyway it seems. I feel we have a duty to take it seriously now. Thoughts? Xx

[16/03, 18:42] Here’s something nice: Anne Boyer, my all-time fav… from This Virus; “We also must engage in large scale social distancing. The way social distancing works requires faith: we must begin to see the negative space as clearly as the positive, to know what we don’t do is also brilliant and full of love.  We face such a strange task, here, to come together in spirit and keep a distance in body at the same time. We can do it”.

[16/03, 11.03] In terms of being on campus, I took the personal decision to try to take my teaching and working online where possible. While I’m not only (or necessarily) concerned for my own health, it became increasingly clear last week that the responsible thing to do as an individual, was to keep distance from one another in quite a radical way so as to collectively protect the more vulnerable in wider society and help this virus slow down as significantly and as quickly as possible. I am confident we can still have productive tutorials and assessments and I’m looking forward to seeing some of you on Skype soon. I wanted to reiterate something D said to you all here: We know enough to understand that your talented brains are contained in physical bodies that need to be nurtured and protected. In the current crisis, our psychic well-being needs to be cherished as much as our physical health. Do ensure that you find room in your life for the hope that can match the anxiety that is being generated in the world. You are wonderful people, you have much to hope for. The future is yours. Once this crisis is over, you will realize once more that the world is there for you”

No one in the sector will be handling objects or gathering in public for some time in any gallery or museum and I think the effects will be long lasting and far reaching; a veritable paradigm shift in how art meets publics. Together, we can be prepared for this new world. Despite the inevitable disruption of this situation, as curators it is a very important time to rethink what we are doing, how we need to do it and who we’re doing it for. This must now be at the forefront of our minds. I’m looking forward to asking these questions with you.

[20/03, 18:35] Lol J, I agree. Do you realise what’s happening though???

This is beginning to look like a socialist state lol. This is exciting. This my comrades is what communism might feel like. Social provision WITHOUT CONDITIONS!!, everyone in solidarity, the mental easing that comes from a caring state, freedom from financial uncertainty not as a favour but as a right. In crisis, it is the only thing that can help. Where is free market capitalism’s help now?

[20/03, 18:40] Actually feels like there might be a radical change implemented here. It’s so bizarre, all the policies that the Conservatives have implemented this week are Labour ones. In a time of crisis, socialism is being turned to of course. Just goes to show we need it now and that capitalism simply doesn’t work for everyone. But, we need all these changes in policy to stay put. Lynton is convinced that communism is around the corner lol. Who knows, maybe Brexit might even be reversed?!

[20/03, 18:42] But listen, J. Let’s not lose sight of the need to insist Boris resigns and that we NEVER have a right wing government again. This is all Labour and the Trade Unions working their nuts off to bully the Tories into offering all of this as Hana says. Firstly, it’s not enough and it’s not being sent in exactly the right directions tbh.. But, it is a surprisingly good start. Make no mistake, though, it will all be redacted and rolled back after Corona has gone and the conversation will focus on debt and who will pay it. Under the Tories we will, austerity will… but if we can collectively grasp this narrative, kick them out as soon as possible we can have it all!!!!

We just wrote something as a provisional outline for a project we are developing. Can I share it with you all? It’s short.

[20/03, 18:45] Okay, it’s a project we’ve been thinking about for a while called Escape Horizon

The ‘escape horizon’ is evocative to us of a near possibility, a vision of something better that’s just about in reach but perhaps not quite yet. Our project is to galvanise a collective effort to identify the escape horizon as such and set sail towards it. Fiction, poetry, critical writing, political conjecture, philosophy, fantasy and speculation as the wind in our sails.

Right now, we are seeing the categoric failure of free market capitalism to respond to the real needs of people. As a result, we are witnessing a veritable paradigm shift. The murderous injustices and social inequality that the right have championed for decades, yet always managed to hide in plain sight, have been fully and brilliantly exposed by this crisis.

There will of course be pain and there will be death, but at the end, when all is said and done, and we are left to survey the damage and pass judgement on our governments, all will see that free market capitalism, that has been worshiped for so long, did absolutely nothing to help us. Nothing. The naysayers that have said time and again over the decades: “socialism just doesn’t work…” will face the unavoidable reality that it is, on the contrary, the only game in town. It has the answers and in systemic and decisive ways, it will save us.

This could be a tolling bell for the Tories and right wing ideology. As crisis provision is rolled out, people will see that financialised capitalism is itself a crisis and a plague and nothing but a death sentence to the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the old, the homeless, the marginalised.

This crisis has come like a gale. It has brought destruction, yes, but it has also blown clear the obfuscatory clouds that we have been living under. We can finally see our escape horizon. We want to gather wind in our sails by gathering a collective vision for what’s on the other side.

[20/03, 18:52] This is harder for some than others, provision will help some not others, the Tories’ lack of compassion will feel sharper for some than others and this may all end in disaster and capital may just flood the void in more ruthless ways than ever… But. I want to be as hopeful as I am anxious about this. Maybe it really will change things? If it doesn’t, then we will always talk about this time as you say, S. We might remember a moment when we at least tried, as a nation, to collectively model a different way to be. We considered society based on some radical shared values; Each other’s health, each other’s well-being, a deeper appreciation of each other’s work, a need to keep everyone sustained financially and a shared desire to keep each other alive. What a shift! We must remember at least that.

[20/03, 18:57] Exactly. I am also impressed but we have to remember it is Labour and the Trade Unions steering their response. They will take it all away again as soon as they can. Let’s not let them know we’re impressed, after all it is only the right thing they are doing, nothing more. If we want to keep the planet alive, our minds healthy, and our hearts good we need them out as soon as possible.

[26/03, 20:10] Boris on the steps of Downing Street clapping the NHS! Don’t make me laugh. It wasn’t that long ago there was rapturous applause in the House of Commons from Tory MP’s when they successfully blocked a pay rise for Nurses. GET BACK INSIDE YOU HYPOCRYTE!!

[07/04, 20.34] See that Conservative MP talking tonight on the news? Volumes of Hitler biographies over his right shoulder on view.. Jeez, this is gonna be so fun watching Tories talk from their homes in the coming months .

[15/04, 11.00] For a very long time now it has been easy to believe (or at least accept) that our freedom of speech and freedom of expression are best exercised on technological platforms owned by corporations dedicated to making as much money as possible. With Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc., there is a heady feeling of instant gratification that comes with instant activism and instant response. While it may feel we are speaking up and speaking out into the world beyond our screens, what we are in fact doing is addressing a carefully and deliberately diminished sphere of influence. Rather than voicing our dissent in meaningful ways, we are instead creating content we don’t own for corporations in which we have no stake. Our anger, pleasure and creativity, our last fancy dinner or most recent meme (life in other words), fuels the algorithm that offers space to bespoke advertising and we are the unpaid labourers making it happen. In short, our ‘activism’ diverts capital to a handful of the world’s richest people directly – white male billionaires, weapons profiteers, tax dodgers and sociopaths who want to build new nation states on floating island platforms (Kobek, 2016).

Now, quite rightly, we cannot leave our rooms. Our whole world is delivered to us via said technological platforms offered by google, Microsoft and others in more acute ways than ever. We have very little choice. This includes our entertainment, our politics, our communication, our family time, our exercise routines, our shopping, our teaching and learning, all our social interaction. From our private spaces, this is also the only way we might protest. The only way we might make our art meet a public. Or is it?

These platforms are territories and this conundrum is not entirely new. These technologies are not in any way neutral and certainly not impervious to our scrutiny. If we think about the paradoxical status that many of our museums, institutions and other territories for art have already always held; as simultaneously open spaces to play out political dissent whilst also sustaining and upholding many of the problematics that art intends to critique – unpaid labour, precarious contracts, corporate sponsorship and worse we will see this offers a similar problem to contend with.

I will argue it is in the language we choose that more discrepant forms of resistance can emerge. And that this, right now, is as urgent as ever. As artists and curators we must show the way in not lazily falling into techno-capitalist traps of exploitation. We will suggest that this can begin at home, now

[23/04, 20:10] Yes, I support the NHS but this weekly clapping is very clever. It’s the language of heroism given to us so that we might, of our own volition, help mask the brutal disdain our government has shown the NHS for decades. Here’s an idea: How about at 8PM, every single night of the week until the end of time, all Tories stand on their doorsteps and scream “I’M SORRY” into the night in unison?

[04/05, 17:03] Well I knew it would happen but this is just unreal lol… MICHAEL GOVE!! The Bell Curve? The discredited thesis that argues IQ and intelligence is determined by race and things like whether or not you were born out of wedlock lol… David Irving books?? Holocaust denial?? Biogs of Hitler that characterise him as misunderstood.. Fucking hell, I knew this would be good peering into Tories homes but this is White Supremacy levels of madness. You don’t amass that kind of reading material out of curiosity or by accident. WOW…

[10/05, 20:00] ‘stay alert, control the virus and save lives’??? Are you joking? So now we’re given a series of abstract, untenable platitudes so that responsibility and accountability is neatly shifted from government onto us; we must control this virus by staying alert??? I’m no epidemiologist but I don’t think that’s how viruses are controlled. May as well read: RUN THE GAUNTLET > TAKE ONE FOR THE TEAM > SAVE THE RICH or THAT’S ENOUGH > FUCK OFF > GO AND DIE or what about HEY PEASANTS > DO YOUR JOBS > DIE FOR THE BILLIONAIRES

[19/05, 23.00] Well that’s a massive understatement… The UK has a relatively small population; 0.8% of the global population. UK deaths from Covid-19 amount to nearly 15% of deaths globally from the disease. That’s how catastrophically badly the Tories have fucked this up. And now, they’ve just coerced the poorest and the most vulnerable back out to run the gauntlet in order to save on their social provision spend and lo and behold, we’ve seen cases rise from 140 deaths yesterday to nearly 500 today.. That’s another 300 families’ lives in turmoil, possibly ruined because the gov. want to test out their cheap plans at our expense. They’re like little boys playing the parts of ministers in a school play. Where’s the accountability?

 [25/05, 18.00] Cummings was like a 10 year old in the Headmaster’s office. “I had a tummy ache. My Dad owns a forest. My son did a wee wee. My dog ate my homework”…. Zzzzz.. Disgraceful.

[25/05, 18.00] BUT YOU’RE AN ADULT!! And you’re talking to a furious nation. Tens upon tens of thousands are dead and we are all trying as hard as we can. Apologise. Resign.

[25/05, 18.00] A “Poor me. Fuck you” combo is what it’s called… A sympathy card to mask the utter disdain he shows for others.

[26/05, 18.00] Well that’s it then. What a weaselly little prefect, circling around the head boy to protect him. The incompetence, the disdain, the laughter. Absolutely nothing matters to these boys. Children died alone, scared without their families beside them because their parents followed the rules. Now we’re told the parents were stupid for not spotting the loophole, not using their parental good sense, their child needn’t have tied alone and terrified… Now here he is trying to say it’s quite normal to drive across the country to test your eyes before he runs out of steam and faces the reality of what he’s saying and just starts to laugh at us..

 [26/05, 18.00] They’re laughing at us.

[26/05, 18:48] It does. But who knows? This could all backfire in many different ways.. We have been staying pretty much on self-implemented lockdown, leaving the flat only to take short walks regardless of new advice. It’s so surreal in the streets right now, it feels half normal – half sci-fi. We watched a film called The Quiet Earth a couple of nights ago. It was made in 1985 and tells the story of a man who wakes up one day and finds that he is the only human alive in the world. It solidified my feelings that community is more important than ever right now. We need to be close and take care of one another, even if that means still staying apart for the time being as a gesture towards one another. Over 800 dead in the last 48 hours yet the schools are returning? It’s madness.

[26/05, 18:58] It will be interesting to see the final analysis of the effects of this and how different govs. choose to move forwards and out of crisis.. what ideologies will be driving those moves. Early on I was hopeful that this would be a tolling bell for free market capitalism as it’s proved absolutely without question to have nothing to offer here. In fact, less than offering anything, it’s asked for help!! Corporations, that ardently espouse the virtues of the free-market and rile against public provision have sacked their staff and sought the public purse to maintain their business.. But we are also seeing socialist policies, rolled out at a huge scale, just to keep societies alive, well, cared for and up and running.. this state support gives a glimpse of what being truly cared for financially and otherwise could look like regardless of crisis. Different Govs will pay for it in different ways. The right will recoup the cost through austerity and by taxing regular people, the left might consider things differently. This has been a war economy. After WW2 we didn’t enter austerity indefinitely or rush to pay back the debt, we built the NHS, we invented the welfare state; further, unprecedented investment and spend. We spent this money now, in 2020, because we had to, because we all needed it. Because it was right to. We have surely learned a lot from it and might emerge changed by it? No apocalyptic myths of survival of the fittest, riots and chaos and bar a few toilet paper squabbles we’ve caught a good glimpse of our innate humanity and kindness. This must be viewed as money well spent – a mortgage on a better future that will only increase in value. Can’t we view it like we’ve collectively bought a nice new home rather than been begrudgingly given a gift we have to be eternally grateful for and indebted to? This debt should be a badge of pride that we live with while we arrange the furniture and ensure everyone has a comfortable place to live. Let’s unpack, settle in and then start working out how to distribute our wealth more fairly..

[27/05, 20:26] The moral bankruptcy of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson and his cabinet, and the utter betrayal of the people of the United Kingdom by their disingenuous interpretation of the rules needn’t be rehearsed further. But look, if Boris Johnson cannot do his job without Dominic Cummings’ assistance, the answer must not be to keep Dominic Cummings in his position, but that Boris Johnson must also go. Justice has to be done in the name of so many people who are working sometimes impossibly hard to do the right things based on guidance Dominic Cummings himself gave. For him to arrogantly flout those rules and garner the support of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet for doing so, makes a mockery of the pain, suffering and death we have all endured. Total contempt for us. Dominic Cummings has to go.

[30/05, 12:20] MICHAEL GOVE IS LOOKING AT PORN ON TWITTER! America is literally on fire, the UK on its knees. The government email servers are crashing trying to deal with the influx of messages from citizens calling on Dominic Cummings to resign, 324 more deaths yesterday (compared to Spain’s 2, Ireland’s 6, Hungary’s 8, Portugal’s 14, Romania’s 13 and countless other’s zero deaths), my sister in the London Ambulance Service, is now having to leave people with Corona Virus symptoms to die in their homes as A&E instruct them not to deliver Corona patients to an over stretched emergency room, we continue to see private ambulances enter our estate to remove bodies. Millions without jobs and their financial support coming to an end. Dominic Cummings comfortably keeps his job and MICHAEL GOVE IS WATCHING PORN!!!!


Hana Noorali and Lynton Talbot work collaboratively with artists to produce exhibitions, text and live events. Together they have started non-profit galleries in both London and Berlin and have curated exhibitions in public institutions, project spaces and commercial galleries across London and internationally. (DRAF, Lisson Gallery, Auto Italia, The Whitechapel). Alongside Parrhesiades projects and TRANSMISSIONS, forthcoming work together includes a project with WHW Akademija, Zagreb where they have been visiting lecturers in 2020 and a book published with Prototype Press that considers practice at the intersection of poetry and the visual arts.
June 2nd, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02