Miasma and A&SM#4.5

Here’s the video ‘released’ today at Affect & Social Media#4.5 and Sensorium Art Show Media Virality and the Lockdown Aesthetic. Panels and presentations (some of them) archived here https://viralcontagion.blog/asm4-5/.

Miasma, 2020

From the middle-ages to the nineteenth century it was commonly believed that diseases such as bubonic plague and cholera were caused and spread by a poisonous, stinking night vapour known as miasma. The source of this miasma was thought to be rotting organic matter, the discarded and fetid waste from densely populated urban environments. We might relate miasma theory to contemporary conspiracies about 5G and Coronavirus – a new invisible and imagined bio-technological threat. Meanwhile, “deforestation and other forms of land conversion are driving exotic species out of their evolutionary niches and into manmade environments, where they interact and breed new strains of disease” (Watts, 2020). These biological (and ecological, technological, geo-political, social and economic) threats are becoming more visibly connected.

This video was shot under lockdown conditions from a house and garden in suburban Tottenham. It is eerily quiet, a strange vapour emanates from defunct TV relay transmitters and lampposts as night falls. Data travels through a tangle of cables into the ‘cloud’ whilst slime slips down screens and crystals are found in a primordial garden. A twenty-first century plague doctor dressed in Amazon-sourced PPE stuffs her mask with a nosegay of Hydroxychloroquine to ward against poisonous data clouds to a soundtrack of ASMR squelches, whispers and clicks.

This video assemblage suggests that miasma theory might be useful to help frame media more materially, bust cloud myths and connect trashy memes with mineral extraction and species extinction. It also implies that however advanced we think we might be, the ‘new magic’ of today’s tech means ‘we have never been modern’.


Watts, J. (2020) ‘’Promiscuous treatment of nature’ will lead to more pandemics – scientists’ in The Guardian 7 May 2020 [Online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/07/promiscuous-treatment-of-nature-will-lead-to-more-pandemics-scientists (Accessed 12 June 2020)

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Affect & Social Media #4.5 this week!

image by Mikey Georgeson
image by Mikey Georgeson

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A&SM#4.5 2020

Welcome to Affect & Social Media#4.5 and The Sensorium Art Show

Media Virality and the Lockdown Aesthetic

still from Miasma, 2020

I’m delighted to be taking part in this year’s A&SM#4.5 conference. A full programme of links to pre-recorded videos, short position papers, artworks, performances, presentations, book launches, and online discussion groups, and so on… will be released throughout a two-day period from 16th July 2020 from Dr Tony D. Sampson’s Viral Contaigon blog. The programme and list of contributors can be found here.

My contribution is a new video work called Miasma, inspired by the poisonous, stinking night vapour thought (from the middle ages up to the nineteenth century) to carry bubonic plague and other such infections.

This video was shot under lockdown conditions from a house and garden in suburban Tottenham. It is eerily quiet, a strange vapour emanates from defunct TV relay transmitters and lampposts as night falls. Data travels through a tangle of cables into the ‘cloud’ whilst slime slips down screens and crystals are found in a primordial garden. A twenty-first century plague doctor dressed in Amazon sourced PPE stuffs her mask with a nosegay of Hydroxychloroquine to ward against poisonous data clouds to a soundtrack of ASMR squelches, whispers and clicks.

I suggest in this work that miasma theory might be useful to help frame media more materially, bust cloud myths and connect trashy memes with mineral extraction and species extinction. It also implies that however advanced we think we might be, the ‘new magic’ of today’s tech means ‘we have never been modern’.

I’ll post the final piece on here after it ‘debuts’ next week! If previous Affect & Social Media events are anything to go by it will be an excellent and enlightening couple of days.

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Why I’m Striking (it’s long but please read to the end)

I’m on strike. I don’t like it. I like going to work, I like my job as a lecturer and I miss it. I feel that to do my job is a privilege. I get to think (sometimes), be creative and critical, I work with amazing students from all over the world and I learn something new from them every day – I know it’s a cliché but it’s true. My team is great – our direction of travel is pretty much aligned, we are working towards the same goals and we are supportive and fun. Sometimes the job is challenging and stressful, but what job isn’t? So why am I on strike?

UCU called a strike and action short of a strike for 14 days over February and March this year over pay, workload, equality and casualisation. My institution’s union voted in favour of action. However, many who voted in favour of the strike are not on strike, and many colleagues are not in the union. I understand, it’s been an extraordinarily difficult decision for me to strike, despite voting for it. There is the disruption to the students, who pay through the nose for their education. I worry about damaging personal relationships built over the years with students who need support and reassurance, not just an unanswered email or an oblique out of office response. I worry about my colleagues who are holding the fort and doing extra so as to minimise disruption. I worry about my reputation, will I be seen as a trouble-maker, lazy? Will I damage my relationships with my colleagues not on strike? Will I miss out on opportunities or sabotage my own projects that I’m working on? I feel my pay and conditions are quite good compared to most other workers in the country. Will a pay rise come out of student fees? Finally, I’ve been worrying that it’s the wrong fight. Aren’t divisions in our sector a gift to Dominic Cummings and co. who no doubt think an Arts University like ours is a waste of billions of pounds (see Wintour, 2013). I probably worried about all these things more than the issues over which I voted to strike. I have never felt so uncertain about a decision. But I did strike.

I talked to colleagues before the strike a lot. I joined the picket line to continue to talk to colleagues to try to understand the strike better. On day 5 I nearly caved and went to work. I got up, got dressed, dropped my daughter at school and then went to the picket line instead to talk about my doubts and worries, to try to feel I was doing the right thing. I read and listened to what colleagues at other institutions were saying and doing. I spent a lot of time thinking.

Clearly, the point of a union is to do things together, it is only collective power that brings about meaningful change. If I don’t actively support the strike I may as well stop paying my subs and leave the union. But the hypocrisy would be too much. How could I face young people in the classroom and encourage them to take part in collective action, make change, make lives better, become critical practitioners, be involved in politics, be anti-racist, feminist, fight for all kinds of equality, critique neo-liberalism when I won’t strike because I’m worried about my reputation?

I’m on a 0.8 contract and I have worked out that (depending on how the university will dock our pay) I will lose either £142.84 or £101.75 gross pay per day that I strike. It is not lightly that any of us strike when we will certainly lose into the thousands of pounds. I do not have savings to fall back on, but I am married to a salaried person – so we can carry it. But this is not true for many colleagues who are fractional, single, carers and of course precariously employed hourly-paid lecturers (or any combination of those). I know a lot about precarious employment – I was employed as an hourly-paid lecturer for seven years (that’s the longest I’ve been in any job) and as the years wore on they had a profound effect on my well-being and mental health.

I likened my job at one institution to an abusive relationship, where they had all the power and I had to keep smiling just to get another day’s pay. One year I had my work cut back knocking thousands of pounds off my annual salary, literally hours before I was due to start the work. In 2012 I got pregnant and I worked right up to my due date – I didn’t have the luxury of planning for my maternity leave, as I didn’t get any. I wasn’t eligible, something to do with a particular day falling in the summer break when I wasn’t working. I went back to work at my earliest opportunity after nine months, mainly for fear that someone else would get my hours and I’d never get another opportunity to develop my academic career. I had only two or three days to find a childminder – the first one had to do. All the other new mothers that I met spent months selecting theirs and planning their return to work. The first few years of my child’s life were spent worrying about work, worrying about money and feeling like my career was just a hobby. At one institution I worked for a whole term with no pay, no id card, no access to the computer system or library. I often had to wait five minutes for a security guard to let me in and out of the building so I could go to the toilet.

During all this there were good and great colleagues telling me I was good and great and I know they did their best to find opportunities for me. They did what they could, but the machinery of the institution was too powerful. Every day I felt like an imposter and a second-class citizen. I had no right to professional development, no invitations to meetings, no training, I was excluded from important communications. I had no say – my contribution was deemed lesser than my permanently employed colleagues, and I felt lesser. Meanwhile, I worked hard with students, developing and writing new material, supporting them, thinking about them, giving them the best experience I could on behalf of those institutions.

It was a massive struggle to reconcile my feelings of inadequacy that developed as a consequence of these years of employment with my sense of self as a good, worthwhile and conscientious employee. That only happened when I got a permanent position two years ago at the University of the Arts London. Out of all the places I worked as an HPL UAL have been the best communicators, provided the best conditions and always paid on time. They also were the only institution who actually employed me on a permanent contract. After I got my job I was so happy, I got fit, lost weight, my mental health improved massively. Suddenly I had the bandwidth to deal with other aspects of my life instead of worrying about work all the time. All that time I thought it was my fault, it was actually theirs! I got invited to meetings! Who gets excited about meetings? Me! I still feel happy to be involved and included, part of something. However, I know others have not been so lucky at UAL and across the sector.

But I did feel so lucky to finally be employed that I forgot how terribly dysfunctional everything was as an HPL. And because of that everything seems fine now. I’ll happily work on the day I’m not contracted or at the weekend, because I’m finally employed. I’ll happily spend my annual leave planning that big unit – because at least I get to plan that big unit! Whoops! I seem to have dug myself into a massive neoliberal gutter. All that time taking punches made me immune to the everyday,  less instantly painful issues in our sector. So perhaps I can blame my years as an HPL for my compliance and unwillingness to rock the boat?

This is why I am striking. In the hope that the strike helps end this unfair employment practice.  I am striking for colleagues across the sector who want a place at the table but are employed as second-class citizens. I am striking for all you hourly-paid lecturers who have this struggle, who have to keep smiling and keep trying to be good and useful when you feel awful. To all those women, mothers and people of colour who statistically are more likely to be precariously employed, I am striking for you.


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In memory of Lynsey Dart

I first met Lynsey Dart in November 2016 after a Peaches gig at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green. It was the day of Donald Trump’s election and my friend Iris and I decided to drown our sorrows afterwards in a lively bar full of cool and interesting young people. This is where we got chatting to Lynsey and her friend, a colleague from her music degree. We talked about all sorts of things, including electronic music, my conceptual, feminist, agro-pop band Hot Guts (which she agreed to join), the Peaches gig and all manner of other things. We drank quite a few beers and downed a few shots too – it was one of those nights when the hangover was worth it (there aren’t many of those in your forties). I became Facebook friends with Lynsey after that and we exchanged a few words here and there. I was really interested in her as a young electronic music practitioner and her experience of being a creative undergraduate. When Lynsey posted that she has got a first for her degree last summer I wasn’t surprised. Lynsey seemed to be a person that was serious about what she did, but clearly knew how to enjoy herself too!

Just before Christmas 2017 Lynsey and I met up at the Royal Festival Hall to carry on our conversations. We swapped musicians we were interested in, bonded over Bjork, talked about whether she should do a PhD or not (why not?). I discussed my (temporarily lapsed) doctoral research. She was clearly a very motivated, interested, funny, brave and clever woman with big ideas for her future and a burgeoning interest in disability activism. We agreed that we would work on something collaborative in the future and that I would act as a kind of mentor for her. She asked me to come to a meeting with Marianne Waite, founder of Think Designable at the end of this month. I really enjoyed meeting Lynsey, I’ve never really met anyone in that sort of capacity before, and I think it was all testament to her spirit of getting on with things and getting the most out of every opportunity presented to her. My friendship with Lynsey was very short, nevertheless I was really looking forward to spending time with her and working on something together in 2018 and beyond. I think she had a lot to teach me.

I was devastated to hear that Lynsey died in her sleep last week. I don’t need to know how or why – that is for her close friends and family to know. I do know that it is a terrible tragedy and she will be greatly missed by an enormous number of people. I am incredibly sad to know that I will not have a little slice of Lynsey in my future.




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East London Artists | UEL Doctorate in Fine Art Showcase | June 2017

I made a new work entitled Repair Centre (2017) for my Doctoral showcase last month. Unfortunately the ‘arrangement’ I finally ended up exhibiting was far less successful than every single prior incarnation of the work. But these are the breaks! Like other work before it this work references many of the informal visual cultures one encounters in the less affluent zone 3 areas of London: shops with home-made signs temporarily fastened with visible tape and blu-tac; rolls of patterned vinyl; faded hairstyle posters and flyers that offer to solve all your problems. These references are juxtaposed with photographic images of another sort of global, the geological. Regular readers will know of my interest in combining the temporary with the seemingly enduring. In geological time-scales the ground beneath our feet is temporary too. If only I’d had the courage to leave the work on the floor.

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The Sensorium Art Show – Affect and Social Media #3

These posters were my contribution to the Sensorium Art Show, curated by Mikey Georgeson and Dean Todd as part of the Affect and Social Media #3 conference at UEL. They were posted around the campus and perhaps one or two slipped by as inspirational posters aimed at students.

Astute viewers will see logos from gone bust businesses and enterprises emblematic of failure alongside familiar requests of the inspirational quote meme to better oneself and feel happy in the face of hardship. Hopefully the imagery speaks for itself!


You are entirely up to you, 2017 (A0 digitally printed poster)



Stay Positive, 2017, (A0 digitally printed poster)



Beauty Begins, 2017, (A0 digitally printed poster)



Believe, 2017 (A0 digitally printed poster)



Be Somebody, 2017 (A0 digitally printed poster)


Here are the posters in situ at the end of year Doctoral Showcase. Unfortunately (but also happily) the Sensorium exhibition was too full of punters to get any good images!



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Vernacular Aesthetics continued…

It’s been an interesting few months for opening up the discourse around the Vernacular Aesthetics of the Global City and indeed my registration document for my Doctorate is now due, and most likely called ‘Global Vernacular Aesthetics’. A nice contradictory title!

In April I was privileged to present a paper and my short film The Brand Nobody Knows (discussed in much detail in other parts of this blog) at the Association of Art Historians Conference 2017 at Loughborough University. The stream was convened by Dr. Robert Harland and called The Object of Urban Visual Culture. It was really fruitful looking at my concepts of urban global vernacular visual culture via urban planner Kevin Lynch’s notion of the ‘city image’ and ‘imageability’ (1960). I argued that the kinds of global vernacular aesthetics I investigate in my work are frequently thought of as visual pollution, and lack the kind of ‘legibility’ and ‘clarity’ that Lynch holds dear for individuals to make a sense of place. Whilst Lynch accepts that one cannot fully account for how each citizen ‘images’ a city (and he also notes the limits of his sample in his research) his notion of imageability cannot fully take into account the complexities of global cities in the twenty-first century. I argued that in a superdiverse global city such as London, some 60 years after Lynch’s text was published, notions of imageability must be radically updated. Lynch did not, and perhaps could not have, predicted how mass migration and mobile networked technology has produced what we might think of as  distributed subjectivity. One cannot think of oneself singularly, in only one place at a time, but scattered across and attached to a variety of time zones, nations, countries, languages, social relations and digital spaces.

The imageable city and the powerful brand are at odds with one another. Vernacular aesthetics (as long as they are not squashed by ‘regeneration’) are useful in resisting the power of the brand. Ultimately I argued that the way ‘successful’ brands generate images on behalf of consumers has some relationship to imageability, however I am certain that if Lynch was working today he would develop his notion that “The observer himself should play an active role in perceiving the world and have a creative part in developing his image. He should have the power to change that image to fit changing needs.” (1960, p.6).

My paper is still somewhat unpolished, but I will post when complete but in the meantime here is a link to the presentation.

There was plenty of interesting discussion in the stream, not least about what ‘brand value’ could mean in the context of global vernacular aesthetics.

Works Cited:

Lynch, K. (1960) The image of the city. Cambridge, Mass, London, England: MIT Press


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Vernacular Aesthetics at Blackwall Beach

I will be having a conversation about (Global) vernacular aesthetics with artist duo Lloyd Coporation at an event hosted by the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at Blackwall Beach. Please do come along if you’re free and able. I’m looking forward to opening out the conversation about the problems of critical art making, informal economics, disinterested photography, ad-hoc aesthetics, super-diversity, Deliveroo and speculation about the precarious global city.


vernacular aesthetics flyer final-page-001

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Affect & Social Media – Conference & Art Show 25th May

Here it is… the full programme. Affect and Social Media 3.0: Experience, Entanglement, Engagement (including the Sensorium Art Show) *Registration Now Open Date and time: Thurs May 25th 2017, 10am – 8.30pm Location: The University of East London, Dockland’s campus (via Cyprus Station on the DLR) Keynotes: Jessica Ringrose (UCL) and Emma Renold (Cardiff) In […]

via Affect and Social Media 3.0 full programme for 25th May 2017 — VIRALITY

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