Our Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator, Marta Pellerini, asked a series of artists to imagine and explore new ways of sharing and thinking about art in the aftermath of Covid-19. The following text is by artist Adam Chodzko, Rome Scholar in Fine Arts (1998–9).
Where did this all begin?
I was really trying to wonder exactly that when January began, well before I’d heard of Coronavirus. I’d retreated into my own self-imposed lockdown; a gift through a break from teaching or any other deadlines. Nobody out there was interested so, with nowhere to be, I could, I hoped, start identifying exactly what I most wanted to look at in the present. And, in this dithering mode, work on some drawings, which I need to do in these occasional chinks of air and light that temporarily leak into ruptures in the ‘bustle’. I bought, for a sculpture, a part of a dismantled Tornado jet’s wing – a part that looked like a leaf from a Pixar animation; cute, yet bringing death from above. I was given by a local scientist some microscopy images he’d made of the process of Ash die back disease spreading at cellular level. In addition I’d become pretty sure that the affect of growth hormones involved in the act of pruning were mirroring domestic human events…
Surrounded by all these loose ends I somehow ended up thinking about a particular moment, the act of eating, putting something (something ‘wrong’) inside the body, that’s described in the Genesis creation myth with the rapid succession of new feelings and actions that immediately followed this first instance of self-consciousness. This sequence of events produces an incredibly rich, intoxicating and extraordinarily complex knot bound around some apparently simple everyday actions. I read The Social Psychology of Adam and Eve, a paper by Professor of Sociology, Jack Katz and anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas’s amazing Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. Both these texts seem to be about desire, limits, rules, beliefs, consciousness and the social. At least, I began reading them but sensed that they were so significant that I had to take them very slowly as a drip feed. Their message needed special time; for me to develop a higher intelligence in order to be able to properly understand them. Now it’s June; they still sit there waiting on the kitchen table, half read because they still seem too important.
In late February my elder son was in Vietnam on his gap year travels and sending out Instagram pics of himself doing cheeky poses on the border with China. I became vigilant about monitoring the initial spread of the virus because he seemed so close to it.
With this series of prior encounters when the pandemic actually became our reality and not just other people’s and we (finally) went into lockdown I felt I’d already been dreaming it all as premonition. I was already in a massively slowed down state. I felt that I already knew how this enormous collective shift in reality felt and yet, despite this preparation, this ‘tip off’, still felt totally useless at recognising what it might really mean for us.
Covid has given us a model of contamination. It has shown how quickly something can become global just by going from one mouth to another. That’s an incredible demonstration of network theory. … It shows that we must not think of the personal and the collective as two distinct levels. The big climate questions can make individuals feel small and impotent. But the virus gives us a lesson. If you spread from one mouth to another, you can viralise the world very fast. That knowledge can re-empower us. —Bruno Latour
I like this idea of a rapid empowering viralising of the world through knowledge (and as importantly, the transmission of honest communication in the present to acknowledge what we don’t know) also managing to leap across time and between languages. I’m increasingly reminded of Into Eternity, (2010), the brilliant documentary by Michael Madsen, about the construction of the Onkalo waste repository at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant on the island of Olkiluoto, Finland. It shows scientists speculating how to deal with our future us over the duration of 100,000 years when the nuclear waste finally becomes safe. Do they put a sign over the burial site warning future generations? Or will a sign be misinterpreted as an indication that there’s treasure stashed below ground — an encouragement to explore? What for me becomes the real subject of this film is the gentle, tentative, almost childlike way in which these scientists transmit their wonder, trying to extend their attention and care into such a distant future. Nearly all of them seem to intuit that our future us will be a much more primitive species, comparatively (more) stupid, requiring a deeper level of consideration, responsibility and kindness; thinking ahead.
Adam Chodzko is an artist working across media, exploring our conscious and unconscious behaviour, social relations and collective imaginations through artworks that are propositions for alternative forms of ‘social media.’ Exhibiting work nationally and internationally since 1991, his work speculates how, through the visual, we might best connect with others. He was a Rome Scholar in Fine Arts (1998–9).
The text is part of the project Letters post Covid-19 by BSR Visual Art Residency Residency and Programme Curator Marta Pellerini. Read Marta’s introduction to the project here.