[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on Contamination

Renate Terese Ferro rferro at cornell.edu
Wed Nov 15 16:27:43 AEDT 2017

Dear Bishnu and Tim, 

Thanks Bishnu so much for writing about the research for this new book.  It sounds fascinating in light of the panicked contangion that permeates the news so frequently.  I find the visual documentation  related to these accounts fascinating for examble a few years ago, the photographs of the doctors and nursers in fully sealed protective suits caring for Ebola patients and the videos of their boides being hosed down after a work day provided us with visual documentation but also an imagined understanding of the Ebola virus but also the cultural, racial, and political complications that became so entwined with that epidemic.  Looking forward to hearing more about your research on media and virsuses.  

Thanks Tim for the link to  C-Theory Digital Terror and also reminding us of how contemporary networks of contamination can fluidly slip across borders via  politics, language, images, and media  My intention in introducing this topic was to encourage cross-disciplinary ways that contamination manifests itself in contemporary global environments and this week’s news of North and South Korea is a great example. 

 Earlier this semster my students in Introduction to Digital Media brainstormed a list of media—books, tv, movies—inspried by a prompt I posed to them.  What happens when  bio-networks go awry?  We looked at ways that artists, writers, filmmakers simulate contagion and other models of contamination.  With the creative research as inspiration the students wrote creative  narratives.  After writing they were asked to collect an assemblage of found  natural objects from nature and with high definition scanning they composited visual models. Using  magnification, repetition, overlap, inverting color and other visual strategies they imapped  the microsopic contamination of their narratives.  We took multiple projectors and projected their simulated models on bodies and surfaces interjecting them back into the environment as a final intervention. The simplified prompt I gave to these 1st year art students prompted engaging discussions about health and safety, politics, the environment, language, truth, and more not to mention to resulting creative visual interventions.

I have attached a couple of images here. Hoping you will share more about your ideas of  media, viruses, and panic this week.  
Welcome back Christina McPHee who should be joining us tomorrow.  


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    Hi Renate, Christina, Tim, and others in the contamination conversation,
    Last week brought up some really key ideas around contamination and
    boundaries that it assumes between organic units or states. My research is
    on epidemic media, specifically focuses on how humans have learned to “live
    with” pathogenic viruses. I am writing a book titled “The Virus Touch:
    Theorizing Epidemic Media,” which essentially looks at the role of media in
    living with viruses: that is, how do media modify biological processes so
    as to “intervene,” as Anna Tsing puts it, in planetary damage. I’m excited
    Tsing’s and Haraway’s pathbreaking works are already in the discussion—they
    are central to the project.
    After all, the Human Microbiome Project confirms microbial cells weighing
    as little as 200 grams outnumber human cells 10 to 1. The “new biology,”
    argues Rodney Dietert (*The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome is
    Revolutionizing the Pursuit of Healthy Life*, 2016), suggests humans are
    multispecies “super-organisms” and not a single species at all. And yet,
    there is cause for alarm when a new species relation endangers one species
    at individual and populational scale. This is what happens when new viruses
    skip into new populations. At that point, we think about contamination as
    contagion. When the imminent takeover of one species by another--virus
    proliferation killing off hosts--is at hand, technological interventions
    materialize a series of mediatic interfaces. For example, living as
    undetectable with HIV is one such interface realized as numeric threshold.
    Such interfaces  separate microbial and human life; they are not
    ontological barriers but a series of effects (as media theorist, Alex
    Galloway calls them) contrused to regulate the existing or the potential
    coexistence of different species. Because these interfaces build livable
    microbial-human futures; because they enable multispecies accommodations, I
    think of them as *environmental media*.
    Yet every time I say I’m writing a book on epidemic media, folks think I’m
    writing about contagion as purely negative—you know, the contagion media
    that enthrone human heroism against pathogenic hordes. There is excellent
    scholarship on contagion fiction and non-fiction, movies and television
    shows, video games and comic books. Fed a steady diet of realistic
    fictional outbreak narratives and apocalyptic futures, we have become
    comfortably numb to the horror of coming plagues: to the symptomatic Ebola
    infection-like hemorrhage, to the inevitable segregation of the sick and
    the well, to the tales of military heroism and scientific triumph. Ebola
    plays the phantom microbe in these contagion media; it is the iconic
    instance of the resurgent bugs that scientist Joshua Lederberg once
    christened “the deadliest threat to mankind.” We have grown accustomed to
    its sudden emergences and drug-resistant mutations after the outbreaks of
    Marburg, Ebola, and HIV in the early 1980s. The introduction of a new
    course in infectious diseases at the Center for Disease Control in 1985,
    argues Melinda Cooper, serves as one marker for crossing the historical
    threshold into the age of “viral storms. In popular discourse, Laurie
    Garrett’s non-fictional *The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a
    World Out of Balance* (1994) was the tipping point for public panic. Since
    then “living with” such deadly pathogens, living in anticipation of the
    next outbreak has become historical necessity.
    That panic is now folded into the productive agendas of living as
    multispecies. Here, Anna Tsing is a key thinker, urging us to intervene in
    the “blasted ruins of the Anthropocene” (*The Mushroom at the End of the
    World*, 2017). The idea is not to return to a mythic natural contract, but
    to live among the ruins, to act among the ruins, to tend the garden. For
    Tsing, even “the most promising oasis of natural plenty requires massive
    intervention” (85). The real question is which natural and social
    disturbances can we live with? Which ones command our attention?
    This is the ecological angle—I thought it has a good resonance with last
    week’s concerns on residual contamination. I’ll post later on how
    contamination re virality has been taken up in media studies.
    Renate Ferro
    Visiting Associate Professor
    Director of Undergraduate Studies
    Department of Art
    Tjaden Hall 306
    rferro at cornell.edu
    On 11/13/17, 2:41 PM, "empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Bishnupriya Ghosh" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of bghosh at english.ucsb.edu> wrote:
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    empyre forum
    empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au

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