3. Virus Reload

Or how the pandemic has aggravated the course of the diseases that already afflicted us more than creating new ones.

If we weren’t ready before for an embrace, happy or not, today it is a problem even a handshake, any form of human and social contact banned, indefinitely.

Curious to note as something that seems to have taken too literally the invitation to overcoming barriers and boundaries between men in a yearning for freedom has been the first practical consequences the closure of borders and the renunciation of individual freedoms and sociability, confining ourselves into forced isolation within the walls of our private.

Dissolved or relegated to the background any argument other than the virus, we are now more than ever forced to observe the World only through the glass of our windows and screens, thus restricting our visual horizons.

There will be a tomorrow of course, although no one can predict when, nor how different it will be from yesterday, but it is today that some aspects will be decisive in the direction that our lives will take when the emergency is over soon.

Hence the need for rapid update and expansion of the map sketched so far, to try to trace more conscious routes in that perennial sight navigation which is human life, now in more turbulent waters than usual.

Observing from the window the clouds run fast and ubiquitous like the number of infected, always different and always the same as these days of isolation that seem infinite, counting the hours at a standstill in search of new horizons and new light (1).

1a.Luigi Ghirri,
Infinito,
Meltemi 2001

b.Bruno van der Elshout, 
New Horizons,
The Eriskay Connection, 2014

c. Helmut Völler (ed.), Masanao Abe,
The movement of clouds around Mount Fuji,
Spector Books 2016

Billions of people simultaneously forced or invited to lock down themselves at home, the unique walls that can protect us from the looming threat, and preserve the health system from collapse.

Even if the last ones don’t have a house, and for the penultimate it is a too much precarious refuge; the new emergency does not cancel the previous one, it exponentially amplifies the difficulty level. But the virus proves to be democratic by striking indiscriminately also first, second and all of us in the middle.

Short-term isolated in more or less comfortable cells, we are however in privileged condition compared to other innocents wrongfully forced for years between the walls of real jails, (2) when sometimes the only windows on the World are nothing more than pieces of paper (3).

Before crossing over into a new bibliography on prison conditions (4), the analogy among the forms of detention it is proposed here as an invitation to find those resources within oneself that even in situations of greater contingency allow us to overcome difficulties (5).

 

We are not detained, and our houses are not prisons!

2. Taryn Simon,
The Innocents,
Umbrage 2003

 

3. Amy Elksin,
Black is the day, black is the night,
self published 2017

 

4a. Ernst Cole,
House of Bondage,
Random House 1965

b. Mikhael Subotzky,
Beaufort West,
Chris Boot 2008

c. Donald Weber,
Interrogations,
Schilt Publishing 2012

d. Danny Lyon,
Conversation with the dead,
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1971

e. Thomas Roma,
In prison air,
Powerhouse Books 2006

f. Alessandro Toscano,
A closed up story,
self published 2015

5. Nicolò Degiorgis,
Prison Photography,
Rorhof 2017

Of course, at the moment when the population lives for the first time in human history more in large urban conglomerates than rural areas, and families are less and less numerous, the rooms in the which we find ourselves are always smaller, in the context of densely populated areas in which for decades we have been used to conduct social relationships in interconnected communities but spatially distant, in the physicality of isolated lives often devoid of the most basic proximity and neighborhood ties, in which it is difficult to recognize and greet one’s neighbor landing (6).

Houses full of traces and memories of the lives of those who live in them (7), houses like Eden we don’t want to leave (8)

Houses that are infernal, like those seen by Donna Ferrato in Living with the enemy (9), because as already mentioned, the greatest danger of this epidemic is that of complicating the course of diseases that already afflicted us more than creating new ones.

 

6. A unique note like incipit, or notes for a new path dedicated to the theme of living that brings together, among many others:
a. Gianni Berengo Gardin & Luciano D’Alessandro, Dentro le case, Electa 1977
b. Robert Adams, Interiors 1973-74, Nazraeli Press 2006
c. Robert Adams, The place we live, Steidl 2013
d. Jim Goldberg, Rich & Poor, Random House 1985
e. Todd Hido, House Hunting, Nazraeli Press 2005
f. Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse, Ponte City, Steidl / The Walther Collection 2014
g. Michael Wolf, The Transparent City, Aperture 2008
h. Michael Wolf, Architecture of density, Peperoni Books 2012
i. Peter Bialobrzeski, Neon Tigers, Aperture 2004
j. Peter Bialobrzeski, Informal arrangements, Hatje Cantz 2010
k. Wolfgang Müller, Karat. Sky over St Petersburg, Vice Versa Verlag /Nazraeli Press 2004
l. Peter Menzel et al., Material World. A global family portrait, Counterpoint 1995

7. Maurice van Es, Now will not be with us forever, RVB Books 2015

8. Martino Marangoni, Nonni’s Paradiso, Danilo Montanari / The Eriskay Connection 2016

9. Donna Ferrato, Living with the enemy, Aperture 1991

Through the dirty Merry Alpern’s windows on Wall Street (10), let’s move into the interstitial space that exists between our respective, individual private: between mine and yours there is the public space, shaped according to the uses and functions of a community of individuals momentarily excluded from practicing it. 

10. Merry Alpern, Dirty Windows, Scalo 1995

11. Michael Wolf, Kurt Caviezel e Mishka Henner sono tra gli autori che prima di altri hanno saputo vedere le potenzialità del mezzo.

12. Britt Salvesen & Alison Nordstrom (eds.), The New Topographics: Photographs of Man-Altered landscape, Steidl / ICP 2010

Street view and webcams (11) as a substitute for a walk or a canceled trip abroad, the ghostly void of these places so anthropomorphized returns one alienating sensation, without much consideration in the post-apocalyptic Hollywood’s imagination, but which seems made for the purpose to bring to life images and theories of the so-called New topographers, and their countless students, fellows and followers (12).

Continuing a patrol through concentric circles, let’s cross the threshold between literal and metaphorical public space to get to the political and social, to the reason the very existence of these pages.

With the state of emergency, in the public space suddenly disappeared debate and confrontation, the places of representation appear empty of men and functions (13); in parliamentary democracies and even more so in presidential ones, now is the time of the “Strong man”, of the ship’s captain only in command to decide the route, which in the name of a higher collective priority has the power to erase civil rights and freedoms with a stroke of the pen.

The weak (political) man becomes strong, the strong authoritarian one, and in already authoritarian regimes, well, there is never a limit to the worst …

Public health on one side of the wall, individual freedoms on the other.

No hesitation in choosing the first one over the second ones, but in a world that was already there facing populist, nationalist and authoritarian drifts, we are sure that at the end of the emergency those pen strokes will be canceled with the same diligence and speed (14)?

International cooperation treaties cost decades of negotiations, social rights laboriously conquered by the struggles of the generations that preceded us abrogated sine die, while old and new walls get stronger every day (15).

13a. Candida Hofer, Architecture of Absence, Aperture 2004
b. Richard Ross, Architecture of Authority, Aperture 2007
c. Jaqueline Hassink, The Table of Power, Menno van de Koppel 1996 – 2000

14. Taryn Simon, Paperwork and the Will of Capital, Hatje Cantz 2016

15. Ruth Stoltenberg, Schengen, Kehrer Verlag 2018

During the first severe pandemic in a technologically advanced era, at the speed of contagion accompanies that in adopting more and more social control instruments and pervasive and invasive measures, both in the public and private spaces of our devices.

Surveillance Index is an excellent collection of 100 photo books on the subject (16), which deserves an honorable mention, from which to draw some of the most significant suggestions, trying to add more.

Analysis of telephone cells to track meetings and displacements, thermal scanners and surveillance cameras everywhere, with increasingly sophisticated algorithms to cross sensitive data from an increasing number of sources to be offered to states and governments.

Today for COVID-19, but something that seems clear from the early days of the worldwide Lock-down is that many of these systems will become an integral part of our future lives, to preserve us from new epidemics (17).

By offering – almost – voluntarily and consciously our assent to the explicit possibility to build archives of our lives and make old books and dossiers (18) pale as those of the notorious Stasi, to which a section of the extended version of the bibliography on walls proposed here in short version (19).

Following the thought expressed by Susan Sontag in Illness as a metaphor (20), until we will continue to use war metaphors in our language to refer to the epidemic, the words will condition thoughts, and the actions that follow will be those of the periods of war: closure of borders, full powers to the premier and suspension of protections and rights, each deprivation a necessary sacrifice in the name of the struggle of Good against Evil.

The virus is the enemy to fight, the culprit of our imprisonments; but in the pictures that old and new control technologies will give us back, it will never appear, because what we are used to looking for in the flow of surveillance cameras is the face of a guilty, while the virus continues to circulate invisibly.

n this case, more than ever, we will not be able to see enemies, but only victims that our eyes accustomed to the aesthetics of mugshot (21) will consider guilty, greasers; scapegoat today.
Bearers of other invisible dangers like divergent ideas tomorrow.

The step is too short and inviting not to be moved.

16. Mark Ghuneim (ed.),
Surveillance Index Edition One,
Mediaeater 2016

17a. Esther Hovers,
False Positives,
Fw:books 2017

b. Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin,

Spirit is a bone,
MACK Books 2016

c. Richard Mosse,
Incoming,
MACK Books 2017

d. Richard Mosse,
The Castle,
MACK Books 2018

e. Edmund Clark & Crofton Black,

Negative Publicity,
Aperture 2016

f. Harun Farocki,

Serious game
(in VV.AA., Topographie de la guerre, Steidl / Le Bal 2012)

g. Lewis Bush,
 
A treatise on the camera obscured,
self published 2014


h. Trevor Plagen,

Invisible,
Aperture 2010

i. Richard Gordon,
American Surveillance: Someone to Watch over Me,
Chimaera Press 2009

j. Diane Dufour (ed.),
Images of Conviction. The construction of visual evidence,
Le Bal / Edition Xavier Barral 2015

k. Laura Poitras,
Astro Noise,
Whitney Museum / Yale University Press 2016

18. Christof Nüssli & Christoph Oeschger,
Miklós Klaus Rózsa,
C Press / Spector Books 2014

19a. Arwed Messmer,
Reenactment Mfs,
Hatje Cantz 2014

b. Tommaso Tanini,
H. said he loved us,
Discipula Editions 2014

c. Simon Manner,
Top Secret,
Hatje Cantz 2013

20. Susan Sontag,
Malattia come metafora,
Mondadori 2002
[ Illness as metaphor, Farrar Strauss and Giroux 1978] 

21. Ando Gilardi,
Wanted. Storia, tecnica ed estetica della fotografia criminale, segnaletica e giudiziaria,
Bruno Mondadori 2003

22a. Tiane Doan Na Champassak,
Looters,
self published 2011 – 2014

b. Daniel Mayrit,
You haven’t seen their faces,
RIOT Books 2015

 

looters inside

When public health is no longer in imminent danger and we will move between the rubble of an economic and social crisis with consequences that promise much worse than those of the 2008-09 crisis, the bearers of what faults we will believe to see in those faces (22)?

All too easy to predict a large increase in inequality and new poverty in the near future (23), while most political and economic institutions do demonstrate short-sighted if not blind to simple principles of solidarity and cooperation, sure that closing the door and look elsewhere, pointing as enemies to all those being locked out is the best approach to face the challenges ahead.

23a. Rob Hornstra,
101 Billionaires,
self published 2008

b. Rob Hornstra,
101 Billionaires, Crisis Edition
self published 2009

c. Carlos Spottorno,
The Pigs,
RM Verlag 2013

d. Carlos Spottorno,
Wealth Management,
RM / Phree 2015

e. Rosie Heinrich,
We always need heroes,
Fw:Books 2018

What Sontag proposes is to replace the metaphor of war with its binomial victim/executioner, that of citizenship. The Kingdom of the Healthy and that of the Sick, the State of Health and that of the Disease, with citizens with double passports that cross continually the threshold between the two. Walls, but permeable and with bidirectional openings.

As we have seen before, not all passports are the same and offer the same rights, but avoid terms related to the conflict and start thinking of it as part of a global community could help us avoid even worse consequences than the pandemic itself.

Closed in ourselves and in our rooms, we will find a new world waiting for us outside the door, which will force us to reinvent forms of social contact and interaction. A new era in which to redefine knowledge, relationships, and priorities;

An unrepeatable opportunity to compile a new alphabet, a shared lexicon, learn a new language that can make us understand how universal the nature of human experience is and how ineffective and dangerous it is every Wall that wants to divide our destinies.

Additional references

5. Aglaia Konrad,
Schaubuch: Skulptur,
Roma Publications, 2017

6. Ad van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2017

7. Donald Weber,
War sand,
Polygon Books 2018

5. Aglaia Konrad,
Schaubuch: Skulptur,
Roma Publications, 2017

6. Ad van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2017

7. Donald Weber,
War sand,
Polygon Books 2018

5. Aglaia Konrad,
Schaubuch: Skulptur,
Roma Publications, 2017

6. Ad van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2017

7. Donald Weber,
War sand,
Polygon Books 2018