1 1/2 LIFE
“1 1/2 Life” was shot on medium format film during home isolation in Amsterdam from March to June 2020. It comprises a photographical essay approaching the COVID-19 pandemic from multiple perspectives; from the science behind it, to its psychological, social, financial and political consequences. The images are intertwined with text to form ideas and visual representations of scientific aspects of what the virus is, how it spreads, how it can be detected and confined, what were the consequences of the isolation on the perception of one’s self and one’s surroundings, the danger of stigma and surveillance that is arising in the aftermath, but also questioning what the identity and shape of that aftermath will be.
© VASSILIS TRIANTIS 2020
A representation of the virus made out of pressed toilet paper and clove. A virus is an invisible agglomeration of protein, fat and nucleic acid that needs a host to reveal any living traits.
On the way to Symbiosis (from 9:00 to 19:00)
In order to portray the randomness and the fluidity with which the virus spreads, I photographed the distribution of coloured liquid in water through out one day. Each hour I was taking a picture and then stirring the system towards an increased entropy that would help the virus to spread and mix.
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.
Turning the invisible into visible
(from 1 to 2048)
In order to reveal its existence and detect the virus you need first to create a negative mould of its genetic material called RNA. That mould is DNA.
RNA cannot be detected directly unless one creates DNA from it 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 nowadays and its inventor, Kary B. Mullis, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993.
One can find analogies in the way we detect the virus and the photographic practice. The unseen 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.
Since PCR is not a procedure that happens in nature but only in a lab, an analogue photograph of a negative film was amplified digitally, 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.
These shapes give an idea of the sociopolitical thread of cause and consequence that is related to the pandemic.
By using a line of 1.5m, I formed and photographed the shape that would come out of such statistics.
Degrees of Freedom
“Degrees of freedom” in statistics is the number of values that can still vary after certain restrictions have been imposed on the system studied.
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 restriction imposed was reducing the number of incidences that can affect the spreading of the virus, therefore reducing social degrees of freedom and interactions of the elements within the system studied.
Oikeios / Xenos (A new cartography of home)
Oikeios: familiar, deriving from the work "oikos" meaning home. Xenos: foreign. 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. The images represent how "oikeios topos", the familiar, changes and transforms.
Light coming in was a kind of communion from the world outside, transforming the physicality of our personal space, while shadows were the imprints of that world on our isolation, creating a new cartography of our habitat.
Windows were the physical borders between the "oikeios" and "xenos" 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 dialogue.
Oikeios / Xenos (Microcosmos)
During confinement our universe shrunk and multiplied at the same time. A few square meters became all we had and where one space transformed into all spaces at once; House, Office, Public Space. Photos of my partner occupying all these spaces around a 12h period; a perpetual cycle that was repeated day after day.
Allotriosis: alienation. Lockdown was canceling the urban. Urban experience is defined by proximity of bodies and their interaction in public space. By canceling this interaction, and by keeping only the virtual exchange, the body remains alone, alienated, "allotrio". Social distancing measures prohibited human contact. From the place where the body was defined by its relationship with other bodies, now it is condemned to a prolonged, isolated existence, an almost onanistic experience, leading to an aggravation of mental health issues.
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, it worths 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 who I would socialise on regular basis from a distance of 1,5m.
The Brand Of Imuunity
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. At the same time certain countries are subject to stricter security measurements as their citizens are deemed more dangerous for spreading the pandemic.
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. Everything brought back dark visions of branding people according to their biological content.
During the Yellow Fever outbreak in Antebellum New Orleans in the 19th century, Immunity (or acclimation as it was called at the time) to yellow fever through infection and survival was a privilege of white people that had access to hospitalisation and proper health care. To become immune, or “acclimated,” as the locals called it, was “the baptism of citizenship”, that would allow you to acess any social benefits and avoid exclusion. In recent times, HIV patients were not granted VISA rights for the USA before the 4th of January 2010.
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.
The Doughnut model, based on British economist Kate Raworth's theory of economic growth in ballance with the environment, has been proposed as a desired way forth after the COVID-19 pandemic. The inner ring of her donut sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life, derived from the UN’s sustainable development goals and agreed by world leaders of every political stripe. It ranges from food and clean water to a certain level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone not attaining such minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole.
Anyone not attaining such minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole.The outer ring of the doughnut, where the sprinkles go, represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. It highlights the boundaries across which human kind should not go to avoid damaging the climate, soils, oceans, the ozone layer, freshwater and abundant biodiversity. Between the two rings is the good stuff: the dough, where everyone’s needs and that of the planet are being met.