Fotograf Magazine

Letters from the Pandemic Era

In many cultural institutions, the unpredictable progress of the Covid-19 pandemic has kindled a digital revolution, but in most cases this has not transcended the concept of pre-pandemic exhibition programming. The CC: World project, initiated by the Berlin Haus der Kulturen der Welt, is exceptional in this respect, as it responds directly to the current reality of the crisis of the global pandemic. The curators of the project called on contemporary artists, theorists and collectives to capture the existential challenges caused or deepened by the ongoing pandemic in the form of digital letters. The pandemic is not reflected as the sole cause of crisis situations, but rather as the catalyst that has exacerbated existing economic inequalities and social injustices while also giving rise to new ties and expressions of solidarity.

The letters of the participating authors are published on a one-page scrolling website and are distinguished by color gradients, whose shading is determined by meteorological data from the areas where the au- thors operate. The range of colors framing the contributions thus most often represents the climate in Berlin, London, and in various cities in the United States. The non-western locations include, for example, Cape Town, Taiwan, Rio de Janeiro and Cairo. From an Eastern European perspective, the project’s geographical focus is awk- ward as, despite its proclaimed worldliness (and HKW’s real geographical proximity), it neglects Polish women’s rights protest movements and the long-running Belarusian protests for free elections. The brutal inter- ventions of the state repressive apparatus, the escalation of police surveillance or the suppression of civil unrest in the name of pandemic measures, are thus topics treated primarily in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Alongside explicitly political contributions, such as the text of the philosophers Maria Chehonadskih and Andrés Saenz de Sicilia or the interview between sociologist Ruha Benjamin and theorist David Theo Goldberg, the project presents a number of works that relate to the current situation in performative, musical or visual forms. These forms are most suggestively combined in video clips by choreographer Meg Stuart and her group Damaged Goods, staged in the abandoned premises of HKW. The solo études of the individual dancers interweave with attempts to establish a mutual connection against the background of an abstracted architecture that cannot fulfill its original function because of pandemic measures, just as social bodies are forced to look for new ways of interacting and existing in space. In her essay, filmmaker Hito Steyerl also discusses the experience of disorientation in space when she describes the current situation using the metaphor of a free fall. According to Steyerl, instead of addressing each other directly, the perspective of the individual becomes real only through the mediated testimony of third parties. The notion of a universal experience of the pandemic, whether constructed by the media or by mere observation, is one questioned also by the cultural theorist Peggy Piesche, whose text calls for the representation and improvement of the situation of those facing isolation, disease, and economic crisis from underprivileged positions. As the diversity of the letters from the pandemic era shows, however, the notion of universal experience might not only ignore different existential conditions, but may also become a starting point for mutual empathy and solidarity based on the sharing of emotions, as when Fatima al Qadiri’s musical composition evokes feelings of melancholy from the loss of the old along with the promise of building the new.



Markéta Jonášová