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/.
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)