Fabula (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 40)
This is the fortieth 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
By Jordan Baseman
Narrated by Dr. Deirdre Barrett, dream researcher, Harvard Medical School
“I think that a chronically sleep deprived society has been catching up on sleep. The strongest correlate of dream recall and dream vividness is how many hours you sleep. People are recalling more dreams, they are longer dreams, they’re more vivid dreams. Both emotionally and in visual imagery. They’re more bizarre. More people are having powerful dreams that get their attention than in typical times.
Any crisis tends to stir up our dream-life for psychological reasons. We, we definitely get more anxiety dreams. But in most crises, we sleep less. All of our dreams are just thinking in a very different brain-state, very visual and metaphoric and intuitive, rather than logical, and linear, and verbal.
There were an awful lot of dreams, especially early on, about just coming down with the virus or thinking you might be coming down with the virus. But then probably more interesting were all the metaphors for the virus. One common one was bugs. And I wouldn’t say one dream stood out so much, it was just cumulatively the number and variety of bug attacks on different dreamers in their dreams. Swarms of flying insects like bees or hornets would be coming at some people. Armies of cockroaches running towards them. Dreams with different kinds of masses of wriggling worms. Most people were really being attacked by the bugs. Others would just open a door to a room or pull back the covers and there would be huge numbers of bugs that were experienced more as disgusting and dirty and disease ridden than literally attacking, potentially going to kill you because there was contamination.
But lots of the bugs were, were swarming at and attacking the dreamers. And a few were dramatic, bizarre and sometimes individual bugs, like there was a giant grasshopper with vampire fangs attacking one woman. And there was another woman who said that she had kind of a false awakening in her bedroom and, she saw a large tarantula crawling through the mail slot into the bedroom. She remarked that she had no mail slot anywhere in her house, much less in the bedroom. But in the dream the tarantula was coming in through the mail slot in the bedroom wall.
Many of the other metaphors I saw, like natural disasters, tsunamis, earthquakes and tornados and hurricanes and wildfires breaking out, I saw those after 9/11 and I’m seeing some of them now. But the bug attacks seem rather specific to Covid-19. It’s partly the slang term we say of getting a bug when we’re getting sick, especially with a virus. Also, just a swarm of lots of tiny things that cumulatively can harm or kill you makes bugs a very good metaphor for the current crisis.”
Fabula, the film
Jordan Baseman is an artist, living and working in London, he is represented by Matt’s Gallery London.
August 27th, 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.”
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 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