Life in the Bunker in Times of Social Distancing

For years I have been working out of my underground studio bunker in Washington, DC. It was always kind of a playful idea, the artist at work, a disrupter, a bit dangerous, a bit crazy, needing seclusion & quiet to construct all sorts of artistic mischief. Over the years, I have surrounded myself with the artifacts of virtual travels through many worlds real & imaginary. The bunker is where I dream & absorb, outputting any and all things passing through the signal flow of my digital operation.

But now the bunker has taken on a whole new significance. It has become refuge in the Covid-19 war zone of contagion we find ourselves in. I once welcomed and manipulated the steady 24/7 flow of the broadcast media, with its glossy ads and talking heads, perfect material for appropriation & media deconstruction. Now I hardly dare turn on the news, more frightening than any science fiction movie, as the media sensationalizes the social, political, and economic upheaval that is throwing the whole wide world into absolute disorder. With the streets of our cities increasingly deserted, people huddling inside their homes, food shortages in supermarkets, thousands, if not millions about to go unemployed, hospitals soon to be crushed by a wave of imaginable disease, I think we can all agree: nothing like this has ever been experienced in our lifetimes.

We have already grown accustomed to the new realities & the new terminology: regional lockdowns, social distancing, sheltering in place. In just a few months, really only the past week, global culture has been transformed. We are swiftly becoming a networked species, if we weren’t partially already, seeking telematic refuge in one massive migration. I am sure the networks are straining under the colossal crunch of bandwidth to support streaming Zoom & Skype & Facetime everywhere & for everything from business meetings to school classes to yoga to virtual parties to zoom dining.

Once upon a time, in some long ago distant utopian age, media visionaries such as Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Marshall McLuhan, Roy Ascott, Gene Youngblood, Kit Galloway & Sherrie Rabinowitz, et al, called for a technological communications revolution that would transform society, resulting in what Ascott referred to as the “telematic embrace.” Now it seems we are telematically hanging on for dear life, perhaps the only thing that is preventing (or at least slowing) a deep dive into a catastrophic abyss. Right now, the Internet, if not our new utopia, it is our salvation, our connection to food, supplies, information, and one another. The net is what binds us together right now as we face harsh human separation & social distancing: it is the only thing that is maintaining a sense of being together.

Are we about to become a new species, adapting to a new world, retreating to our respective bunkers to preserve what’s left of humanity? Or as Roy Ascott asked: is there love in the telematic embrace?

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