Is There Love in the Covid-19 Embrace?


Pandemic Encounters: being [together] in the deep third space is a participatory networked performance installation by Paul Sermon in collaboration with Randall Packer, Gregory Kuhn & the Third Space Network. Pandemic Encounters is the kickoff Leonardo Global Laser and takes place Saturday, May 23rd, 12pm EDT. To register and access the event, visit the Third Space Network Crowdcast platform.


The experience of intimacy has been radically transformed in the course of this pandemic. Kissing, touching, embracing, hugging has been disrupted by social distancing and the migration to telematic connections. Except for the close proximity we have to one another in our immediate pods, we have been driven apart from physical human contact.

And so we ask, is there love in the Covid-19 embrace? This rhetorical question finds its roots in the British media theorist Roy Ascott’s seminal 1990 essay: Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?, in which he questions the expressiveness of social interaction in Internet art despite the separation of geographical distance. Now we found ourselves shrouded in masks, connecting in Zoom, avoiding physical contact, quarantined & isolated from one another. The whole notion of “being together” has been undermined by distanced modes of social interaction and human expression. Is there still love in the dystopic reality of our altered embrace?

This is the question we must now come to terms with in order to face the challenging, horrific impact of Covid-19. We are in fact in uncharted territory, a strange new social landscape that we are all navigating as a collectively evolving human species. Whether we are speaking through our masks, or at a six foot distance, or on the other side of the world via telecommunications, how do we reconfigure our ability to emote, to express, to reach out, to console, to comfort, and all the rest of the myriad ways we make connections with one another.

Being together now has an entirely new meaning. We find ourselves gazing at one another within the third space (shared networked space) via a rigid grid of Webcams. We dodge and careen our way through public spaces, masked and shielded, avoiding contact like some kind of pandemic pinball machine. We line up six feet apart to enter into the supermarket, sanitized and wiped down, mortally concerned about everything we touch. Being together is now an “at risk” venture into in public spaces, or a mediated transmission in virtual ones, only to return to our pods form some semblance of normalcy. And for those who are a pod of one, there is no physical contact at all.

What kind of a world are we moving into? Will social life as we know it be permanently altered by this social metamorphosis we are living through? Will we become distanced emotionally from one another, or, will this rupture in communication and contact bring about new found remote pleasures and creative experiences overcoming distance? Is the world becoming the “global village” that Marshall McLuhan forecasted some fifty years ago, or are we doomed to a frightening underground seclusion & permanent quarantine as in E.M. Forster’s dystopic novel, The Machine Stops?

Performance of The Machine Stops, based on the book by E.M. Forster

In the new Covid-19 reality, it is nature’s turn to assert itself, to heal itself from mankind’s dominance and destruction. Perhaps the new notion of being together is an acceptance and understanding of our role in nature, including the virus, which is s culture strain that emanates from shared biological material. We are no longer dominant, as the virus is competing for control: we now share its world, its molecular structure, its dangerous permutations that are populating within our bodies. Meanwhile, we see polluted skies clearing, the weather cooling, nature coming out of hiding. Mankind has been reduced and humbled, forced into a new co-existence with other living forms. Our ability to find humility in the face of nature’s power to strike back, may very well define love in the Covid-19 embrace.


Pandemic Encounters: being [together] in the deep third space is a participatory networked performance installation by Paul Sermon in collaboration with Randall Packer, Gregory Kuhn & the Third Space Network. Pandemic Encounters is the kickoff Leonardo Global Laser and takes place Saturday, May 23rd, 12pm EDT. To register and access the event, visit the Third Space Network Crowdcast platform.


 

 

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