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THE VIRAL POWER OF ART

The new year 2020 has begun with an unpredictable danger named Covid-19 or Coronavirus, which determined an unprecedent global emergency. Its protagonist is a virus infecting, for the first time, the human being and, together with it, another kind of psychological and social virus, the fear. As every massive crisis, this phenomenon has demonstrated the implicit traits of our society, which are, on one hand, its vulnerability and, on the other one, its capability to react generating new opportunities and alternatives. Emergencies require both rational, political and economic decisions and emotional, cultural and social efforts. This means they generate a renewed way of thinking and doing.

Since the spread of the Coronavirus was announced in China at the end of January, a very unusual scenario takes shape. People are locked in their houses, whether government enforced or voluntary, all the commercial, cultural and entertainment activities are shut down, flights for and from China are cancelled. Big cities, as Shanghai, look desert and the few people going around are some curious taking pictures of such a unique scene or stocking up on goods to stay confined in their house for entire weeks. International airports are desert too. This is an actual sci-fi movie scenario.

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People taking pictures of Shanghai, totally empty, for Coronavirus safety measures.

I am one of those people locked in the house for the last month and half in Shanghai. It is frustrating, scaring and, above all, difficult if you are working on projects which have been suddenly stopped.

On the other hand, this is an opportunity, for all of us, to take a distance from everyday routine and normality and to reflect on our systems and, once again, on our behavior and role as part of a community facing new urgencies. One of the most powerful and helpful capability of humans turns out to be, again, their creativity. Creative disciplines, such as Art and Design, take on the challenge of probing alternative reactions, consequences and thoughts.

During the quarantine imposed by Coronavirus in China several creative responses came from Institutions, professionals and ordinary people. 

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Street artists performing in the center of Shanghai. They challenge the boundaries between the real and the fake, the fear and the safety.

When, from January 24th, all the Museums and Art Institution were shut down in China, Victor Wang, Artistic Director and Chief Curator of M WOODS Beijing made a consideration: “Do we need walls? What’s the use of architecture in art?”

He replies with the launch of a new format of online exhibition born from the concern of how audiences can experience art during times of closure. The museum released, on its social media accounts, a series of video called Art Is Still Here: A Hypothetical Show for a Closed Museum.

They consist of guided tours of a virtual gallery showing multimedia works. It is an online exhibition by artists and thinkers around the theme of ecology, nature, extinction, isolation and kinship, curated by Victor Wang. He believes that the great power of social media and of virtual technology should manifest, in those occasions, to share all kinds of information and above all to connect people and communities.

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Visual Communication for the project Art Is Still Here: A Hypothetical Show for a Closed Museum, curated by Victor Wang. Courtesy of M WOODS museum.

One of the artworks presented is expressly conceived to be enjoyed at home, by anyone, from any digital device by clicking on a link: https://t-h-e-s-p-a-c-e.com/protester/emoji/

The project is called protester/cursor/emoji made by the media artist, blogger, activist and programmer, aaajiao, who is the virtual persona of Shanghai- and Berlin- artist Xu Wenkai.

If you click on the link you can play with the cursor on the screen and some emoji and provocative symbols will appear as a clear protest against everything is happening.

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aaajiao: protester/cursor/emoji, 2019

Following the same principle, BANK Gallery, an independent space based in Shanghai, has imagined Pure Beauty, an online exhibition using livestreaming for performances and WeChat posts for visual art.

This project opens a wide range of new expressive possibilities and generate a new concept of producing and disclose art.

The gallery presents the project saying: “Through website and social media platforms, the show will explore the notion of ‘pure beauty’ as an antidote to the global crisis at hand as well as a muse on our aesthetic values. The exhibition presents works ranging from the sublime to the mundane that examine, not only how the idea of beauty has been shaped and developed historically, but how it is complex and multifaceted as the metamorphosing virus that scientists around the world are currently trying to extinguish. The exhibition also hopes to provide a glimmer of hope for humanity in the shadow of a collective challenge.”

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BANK gallery displaying Yanyan’s Instagram Performance on their social media.

Another very interesting phenomenon is the creative reaction of common people in lockdown. In order to make their stay at home less anxious and boring, they started to make original and creative activities and to share them on the biggest Chinese social media, as Douyin (China’s TikTok sister app), Weibo and WeChat, but also in the western world on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Moreover, people needed to be creative to find very practical solutions to problems such as the shortage of safety masks.   They started to use all the kind of objects which could answer to the same function: underwear, pads, bags…In turns, this inspired artists to make fun of the situation in order to lighten the anxiety and, most important, to bring light on the positive power of human being creativity. Very popular, in this sense, became “How-To Survive A Deadly Global Virus”, a photographic project by Max Siedentopf, a Namibian-German visual artist, inspired by masks found on social media during the Corona Virus outbreak where people shared photos of alternative solutions to the conventional air mask.

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How-To Survive A Deadly Global Virus, Max Siedentopf, 2020.

From a design perspective, the current situation triggers new reflections and ask for original solutions in terms of commercial goods, sanitary tools, supply chain, logistics and daily life habits and behaviors. I have been lured by professionals, thinkers and reporters who, during a global and frightening crisis, have made space for critical discussions and new alternative visions.

I found particularly interesting the analysis made by the design and architecture reporter Anne Quito who focuses on the “shape” of the temperature tool becoming an icon of Coronavirus: a gun.

The history of violence associated with this type of handheld device in the public imagination is so established that it’s hard to see a pistol-like object aimed at humans in a neutral way.

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How-To Survive A Deadly Global Virus, Max Siedentopf, 2020, photo credits @Reuters

This is a big provocation for designers and a call for reflections and future improvements: how is it possible that a medical tool, thought for people safety and health, has the shape of an object destined to kill and hurt?

In conclusion, a pandemic event, has generated, in only few weeks, an unexpected and unfamiliar scenario which proves our fear and fragility, but, at the same time, gives to us the opportunity to rethink and adjust many weak points of our society.


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