March - May 2020, Analogue photography
An invisible agglomeration of protein, fat and nucleic acid that needs a host to reveal any living traits. It transmits from host to host through small droplets that are in a way the interface between two hosts. As a direct analogy of the randomness and the fluidity with which the virus spreads, I photographed the distribution of coloured liquid in water through out one day by taking a picture every one hour and then moving slightly the plate to stir the system towards an increased entropy that would help the virus to spread. In the beginning the drops dissolved in smaller particles that slowly spread in random uncontrollable patterns from the centre of the plate to the periphery leaving at the end only few discernible droplets while the water was coloured by the liquid, an image reminiscent of recovery and acquired immunity or mutualism between the host and the virus; a new state of co-existing.
Similarly, in order to reveal its existence and detect the virus you need first to create a negative mould of its nucleic acid; RNA. RNA cannot be detected with the methodology currently used. First you need to turn it into DNA by using an enzyme called Reverse Transcriptase. Once DNA is created, it needs to be amplified through a method called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), which is similar to repeated cycles of copying and pasting that molecule of DNA. In every cycle of amplification you double the amount of DNA and you increase it exponentially until you have enough to be visualised. PCR is one of the most commonly used techniques in Biology and won its developer Kary B. Mullis the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993.
One can find analogies in the way we detect the virus and the photographic practice. Something undetectable (a moment in time) is passed on a film, therefore creating a negative mould and the image on that film is amplified by use of light and a photosensitive paper in order to be clearly visible. Just like PCR is revealing the existence of the virus, photography is revealing existence of hidden moments in our lives. Therefore a fleeing moment is RNA, the negative film is DNA, the camera is the Reverse Transcriptase and the amplified photographic image is the result of the PCR.
Just as PCR is not a procedure that happens in nature but only in a lab, an analogue photograph of a negative film was amplified digitally in photoshop, where in each cycle I was doubling and superimposing the image of the previous cycle, creating multiples in the power of 2 in each step.
One can look at the pandemic and its background through many numbers and the statistics they form.
By using a line of 1.5m, I formed and photographed the shape that would come out of such statistics. By studying these shapes one can get an idea of the nature of the pandemic and the sociopolitical consequences it brought upon.
Degrees of Freedom
“Degrees of freedom” in statistics is the number of values that can vary after certain restrictions have been imposed on all values(data). One degree of freedom is lost with each additional restriction. The less degrees of freedom, the more restrictions, the better a system is described and controlled. Every measure taken was reducing the number of values that can affect the spreading of virus, therefore reducing social degrees of freedom and interactions of the elements within the system studied.
The pandemic has changed our perception of the world. Apart from obvious temporary results on the environment, all of a sudden different things gained value in a coronavirus world. Protective masks became the new gold, supermarkets were empty of toilet paper, then eggs, then pasta and rice, then flour. Week after week something simple took the place of the new currency, the coronavirus gold. At the same time black gold was losing its worth by the day, as it was useless when any means of transportation was reduced drastically. A new currency system was emerging. Photographs of products that went scarce in the Dutch market named after the date that were turned into "corona currency".
Under the current conditions, the idea of home is changing for each and everyone of us. What does it mean, how does it feel and what has it replaced? For some it turns from a shelter, a place of comfort and introspect into a virus sanctuary, a prison, a confinement. It gained a multidimensional nature; office, home, space of interaction with friends and society; all spaces in one, and from a familiar place ("oikeios topos") it transforms to something foreign.
Light coming in was a messenger from the world outside, transforming the physicality of personal space by shadows. Shadows and light were the manifestation of the interplay between the outside world and the indoors. Windows were the physical borders between the two and reflections on those shaped and mingled the two spaces . Window reflections are creating juxtapositions of the outside world inside and bring the two together. They are shifting from being borders to the interface between the two spaces, creating a new dimension. But also the interiors I photographed seem to be stuck in a point in time, life in suspension, like nothing moved on any further.
The images represent how "oikeios topos", the familiar, changes and transforms.
Apolis in Ancient Greek defined either the person that belonged to a city but could not exercise civil rights, the person with no citizenship or the city with no citizens. For Sophocles, the polis is the crowning achievement of human social evolution. Whatever humans can produce, they are nothing outside of the framework provided by the polis. However with social distancing worldwide, the state of polis was crumbling as public spaces, the epitome of any political and social life in urban centres, were left void. We turned into a state of apolis, as any public space and podium for discussion ("agora") was kept at 1,5m distance and by consequence, any exercise of civil rights was reduced to a minimal. Pandemics are primarily of social nature, and reveal not the weakness of our biology but our social existence.
Photographs of friends or colleagues who I would socialise on regular basis form a distance of 1,5m.
While everything was revolving around the pandemic, nature around us was transforming. While everyone was in a state of panic and angst, Spring was entering and went unnoticed. Life was going on normally right under our eyes, a sign that not everything was revolving around he pandemic. In walks around my house, I photographed wild flowers growing in the neighbourhood.
At the same time, while front pages were dealing only with coronavirus, other news were hidden under a cloak of curves and death numbers. All of a sudden, refugees, war, famine, human rights and politics were no more an issue, not in the face of the pandemic.
Do you get the bigger picture?
Another aspect that is of importance is privacy. By end of March 10 countries are applying surveillance methods in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. First question then that arises here is to what extend would you allow access to your private data to the government and eventually to the whole country?
Another situation where something similar happened to actually protect citizens from an eminent danger, namely terrorism. Increased safety measures were put in airports after 9-11 and extensive data control to tackle a possible worse attack. Once the threat was ameliorated, the measures were still in force. It is easy therefore for a political power to enforce such measures in face of a public danger and by propagating fear for that danger to keep enforcing measures that can be against civil rights.
Second question then is for how long are we willing to give access to our privacy and complete surveillance in order to tackle coronavirus spread that is "mentioned" that it will not go away in the foreseeable future?
How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to feel "safe"? How much responsibility and power do we throw on our governments in order to protect us if by ourselves don't feel the need to be responsible citizens?
Home confinement is a way to control the pandemic but also the free citizen.
In biology the term mutualism means symbiosis which is beneficial to both organisms involved. And in social terms what we experience now is the commence of a new mutualism; to learn to live with the virus and with each other anew. Every radical beginning seems turbulent but it brings forth necessary changes.
It is anything but big that made us rethink and face up to our vulnerabilities and state of seemingly prosperity. Social distancing; we think that in a time of social media explosion, of facebook, instagram, twitter, blogs, you name it, that the lack of sheer human contact is isolation. People are getting bored staying at home, surrounded by technologies of interaction, but not the humanity of interaction. For me it was obvious how redundant those technologies are for the purposes we thought they were more than sufficient for. I think the virus made us reassess the value of sheer human contact. Those few micrometers of protein-nucleic acid agglomeration, managed eventually to infect much more our perspective of the world than our body. It showed us much more how dead our minds have become before our bodies even decline. Death rates of our consciousness revealed by the coronavirus are much higher than any mortality measured in hospitals. Life in isolation was becoming more and more surreal, I could not recognise my own body and existence. As if I was turning into a foreign entity outside myself, and facing myself from a distance.
Lockdown was canceling the urban. Urban experience is defined by proximity of bodies and their interaction in public space. By canceling that interaction, and by keeping only the virtual exchange, the body remains alone, alienated, "allotrio". From the place where it was defined by its relationship with other bodies, now it is condemned to a prolonged peripheral existence, an almost onanistic experience.
The brand of Immunity
Immunity passports are under discussion in some countries, where carriers that can prove that have gone through the disease can be issued an "immunity visa" that will allow them to enter the country. During the Yellow Fever outbreak in Antebellum New Orleans in the 19th century, acclimation to yellow fever—through surviving the mosquito-borne illness—stood as the quintessential demonstration of calculated risk-taking. White people who paid their biological dues were seen as worthy of investment, and were thus able to pursue economic advancement in slave racial capitalism. To become immune, or “acclimated,” as the locals called it, was “the baptism of citizenship.”
In recent times, HIV patients were not allowed in the USA before the 4th of January 2010.
Coronavirus, or any virus for what it is worth, is not here to block nor to exclude but to pause and evaluate. Same as HIV, it was a moment to re-think connection vs hedonism, mutualism vs segregation, commitment vs individual pleasure, effort in connecting vs frivolous interaction. Testing for the virus can be an opportunity for eliminating the virus or dignity.
Citizenship is transforming. Pandemic passports can also be obtained for the right price to guarantee a safe haven from the virus in countries with little impact and closed borders. Immunity passports are discussed around the world where your immunity is actually your capital and your privilege. Everything brought back dark visions of concentration camps where people were branded according to their biological content, like a new holocaust. The last number to be tattooed in a concentration camp was "202499".
Stigma is allowed when it is branded a biological raison d' etre, but how long does it take until it washes away?
Daily photos of stamped skin with numbers related to COVID, AIDS or other "biological" stigmas. Counting the time until stigmas will fade away or rebranding to intensify existing stigma.
While in many countries, measurements to alleviate strict lockdowns are coming in place, the question remaining is how will that reverse procedure affect our minds and collective psychology. How do we reform contact and how do we restructure society? What kind of emotional wounds are left? Because in the long run what makes us human is not our biology but how we respond to our biology in times like this. And the response in the current crisis is not an issue of how we walk out of it as a biological entity but as a social one.