THE EYE OF THE STORM
If it were a sentence, this first online
exhibition would have been conceived in future perfect tense, as an
action started in the past and expected to be completed in the future. It is a
caustic prelude, but it comes with hope.
One of the most iconic and reproduced images of our time was taken on 7 December 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17 on their way to the Moon. It was the first photograph of the Earth as seen from 45,000 km away, a distance too far to distinguish human settlements or disruptive events, even though the Tamil Nadu cyclone is shown forming in the lower part of the image. In that same period, there was a significant surge in environmental activism in the U.S., and the image of our planet – one small, vulnerable entity floating in the giant Milky Way Galaxy – quickly became its symbol. From up in space, the image also collectively inspired a mass sentiment to protect nature and humanity as a whole rather than focus on petty economic and political interests. Although this sentiment is often subjugated by systemic forces such as globalization and the belief in perpetual economic growth, many share it today and in particular now, as we contemplate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
NASA’s so-called Blue Marble photo shows us that everything is connected, yet we live in an imperfect world, which rewards competitive behavioral patterns and keeps us plugged in, diluting our survival instinct with solid fictional narratives. In fact, the presence of the Tamil Nadu cyclone has never prevented appreciation of the picture, despite the fact that it killed 80 people in South East Asia. Covid-19, by contrast, has affected everyone because of its highly infectious nature and global spread. In less than a few months, our routine has been collectively disrupted and the precarious architecture of our lives suddenly exposed, together with the imaginary structural strength we believed to be the base of our carefully calibrated plans and actions. Covid-19 does not make us equal – we can assume UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson accessed better health care than a random individual in a less wealthy country – but it rattles our desire for certainty and comfort more than anything in our lifetimes, more than a collision with an asteroid or the alarming signs of climate change.
As we adjust to a state of emergency and contemplate the unknown that awaits us on the other side, switching on the life of yesterday at will seems deceptive. We should not be blind to the fact that things could be different. Myths such as exponential growth and anthropocentrism have been exposed, and new narratives are emerging. In 1970, two years before the Blue Marble photo was taken, a founding myth of 20th century human society came into the spotlight – the escalating consumer society and the predatory behavior that it elicited. Two seminal books tackled this specific issue - Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life. Besides being the intellectual pillars of the Situationist International (SI) – a revolutionary organization of the European avant-garde active between 1957 and 1972 and critical of capitalism – the books championed the end of market exploitation and consumerism in order to allow a genuine human society to emerge. Will their claims reverberate as an effect of the Covid-19 pandemic? Could this be the time to reveal the glitches in our social, economic and environmental systems, and take action?
The seven invited artists and collectives – David Claerbout, Jonathas De Andrade, Elena Mazzi / Sara Tirelli, Aernout Mik, Laure Prouvost, Jon Rafman and Pilvi Takala – have animated the gist of the recent debate on art and society, with their contribution offering significant insights in different aspects of life: the cultural shifts of the digital world, our relations with others, techno-capitalism, and environmental issues. Their practices have something in common; they produce a distancing effect that makes us question the things which society would have us believe are inevitable, and natural. It is this distancing effect – achieved with storytelling, irony and new media technology – that engages the viewers and inspire them to judge critically, and The Eye of the Storm seems to be an apt metaphor for these undertakings. In spoken language, it has come to epitomize the risks of finding yourself stuck at the center of a difficult situation. Yet in meteorology the eye of the storm is the calmest zone of a cyclone, where skies are clear and wind milder. It is deceptively calm, but possibly the best place to be for a short time while processing the state of things.
As the Covid-19 pandemic challenges the conventions of time, the very existence of public space and the social canons that regulate living together, science alone cannot address the flaws and prospects of a new society. Art will stay at the center of the storm, and push for change. As put by philosopher Timothy Morton, who studies the ecologies of the Anthropocene: “Things are open. Open also in the sense of potential […]. Something happening in one specific place (say a feather falling on pavement) would mean the whole universe changes everywhere. Things are connected but in a kinda sorta subjunctive way. There is room for stuff to happen. Or, as the anarchist composer John Cage put it, “The world is teeming. Anything could happen.”
– Sara Dolfi Agostini, curator
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 Gregory A Petsko, The blue marble, 2011 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3218853/.
 Timothy Morton, Being Ecological, The MIT Press, 2018, page 14.