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Editorial

Marina Otero Verzier and Katía Truijen
p. 19-24
Translation(s):
Editoriale [it]

Abstract

Exhausted. Bodies are exhausted, from the scales of the individual and social body to that of the planet. Even in times of the Covid-19 pandemic – one of the most severe crises experienced globally in recent history – the demands for productivity, relentlessness and attentiveness are not diminishing. Instead, those demands intensify, while forms of extraction are pervasive.
In the last year, we have seen how governments have requested citizens to radically reorganize their lives to protect them – from practicing social distancing, to working remotely, while caring for families and friends in domestic and virtual spaces. Whereas these unprecedented measures are put in place to prevent or slow down the contagion of populations, work ethos oriented towards flexibility, adaptability, and profit has, in many cases, intensified. In other words, forms of burn-out and the ongoing pressure on bodies have become even more critical. We are asked to, despite everything, keep on.

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Editor's notes

DOI: 10.17454/ARDETH08.02

Full text

Caring

1The presence of extractive dynamics permeates all spheres of life. As a consequence of the pandemic and the societal changes instigated by it, immaterial labor (emotional, affective, digital, creative) has increased exponentially. The pandemic has given renewed perspectives on small-scale logistical networks and structures of care as local communities find ways to support each other through offering everyday services. Indeed, solidarity and empathy are particularly needed today. Yet, despite the hopeful side of these endeavors in times of crisis, the domestic and informal systems of care are even more vulnerable to abuse. Too often, the structures of power profit from these acts of empathy and as fail to make the necessary long-awaited reforms to their schemes for support and redistribution.

2The present situation exacerbates inequalities – often related to class, gender, and ability – among populations and territories. For instance, the pandemic has rendered visible the importance of infrastructures such as the internet network to our daily lives and social, cultural, and economic activities. Yet, internet access is an unevenly distributed resource, and its distribution is also subject to increasing surveillance tactics. In addition, these digital platforms, assuring the continuation of public life, gathering and communication in times of pandemic, are often centralized and privately owned. The voices requesting these vital digital technologies to be opened and transformed into collectively owned basic services are getting louder. So are those reclaiming the increase of taxes for the 1%. The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on certain professionals – nurses, doctors, security forces, cleaners, caretakers – who can’t work from home and are mobilized to provide support to the rest of the population. These communities, who are highly gendered, racialized, and ethnicized, have been systematically exposed to the risk of either contracting the virus through their jobs or of being laid off. Many of these front-line professionals have even been stigmatized in their own communities, seen as possible virus carriers. For the social distancing policies, lockdowns and travel bans have unleashed forms of criminalization of the stranger, the other, manifesting in increasing nationalisms and xenophobia, as well as geopolitical competitions. Individual and collective bodies are at a turning point.

Planetary exhaustion

3The contemporary moment should not be taken as an exception. Instead, it should be understood as part of a structural condition and a symptom of the ongoing structures that are bringing bodies to a systemic burn-out.

4Fatigue is not only a personal experience, but also a social process. As philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues, exhaustion, burn-out and depression are the diseases of our time. In the compulsive quest for ever growing efficiency and self-optimization, Han claims (Byung-Chul Han, 2010), the neoliberal subject has surrendered to self-exploitation and ultimately self-destruction. Yet in being a collective disease, its effects are far from affecting just one body. The requests for high-performance are inevitably connected to the escalating energy demand and the forms of extraction and consumption associated with it. Collective self-destruction leads to an environmental one.

5While during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, many praised the positive impact of the crisis on the environment triggered by the reduction of emissions in sectors such as industry and transportation, the information about the direct electricity consumption of data centers, data infrastructures, and households remains underestimated. The remote and digital work by those working from home have stretched the capacity of digital infrastructures and generated an increasing amount of traffic on networks around the world. With every click, every virtual meeting, message, meme, with every hour (and there are many) spent at home, in front of our devices, sharing, communicating, reading the news, watching series and movies, or attending online concerts, debates, museum tours, humans are contributing to one of the greatest rates of production and circulation of data in history.

Other spaces and infrastructures

6The growth of current data production not only means increased profits for a few companies, it also carries risks for the entire ecosystems. Data has a material dimension, a physical presence, it occupies space and comes with a large environmental footprint. Data centers and cloud computing depend on high consumption of renewable and non-renewable energy and produce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Our fatigue at the end of a day of endless virtual meetings is mirrored by the exhaustion we are inflicting on the planet. In this precise moment, there is a need to conceive renewed notions and scales of responsibility and care.

7With that aim in mind, this issue of “Ardeth” explores current conditions and asks if they could be deployed as a catalyst for reimagining and enhancing forms of collective organization and action. Contributors acknowledge the mutual dependency, solidarity, and care needed to develop new relations. In response, they propose infrastructures and spaces for collective practice.

8Femke Snelting describes the work carried out with Martino Morandi, Jara Rocha and the team from the Brussels-based association for art and media Constant. Together, they imagine and enact digital infrastructures that can be collectively owned, maintained, and used, and that counter the logics and abusive modes of tech-corporations. Similarly, the visual contribution by Cyrus Peñarroyo provides a spatial and visual response to current forms of exclusion and discrimination of those communities with no access to internet. Peñarroyo does so through the lens of Detroit – a city with one of the lowest rates of internet connectivity in the United States – and imagines how its spaces and public life would look like if digital infrastructures would be collectively owned. These convivial technological environments proposed by Snelting and Peñarroyo are not driven by optimization and ever least latency – which generally come hand in hand with extractive and exploitative dynamics – but by the quest of ending the endemic exhaustion of human and Earth resources.

9Countering forms of depletion is also at the core of The United Voices of the World - Section of Architectural Workers’ (UVW-SAW) aims. They have mobilized to create awareness on how planetary exhaustion is fed by that of the workers. And, in particular, the architectural workers. The UVW-SAW members organize in action groups that call out burn-out culture in architectural practice, its pervasiveness and glorification. Their campaigns are playing a major role in the fight against overwork, precarity, discrimination in the architecture, as well in the design, and cultural fields in cities such as London and Rotterdam. Their collective actions and forms of solidarity are triggering the radical restructuring of power relationships in the workplace by urging all parties involved to rethink the ethics of architectural and design practice, its ends and means; and ultimately by opening the possibility of a non-extractive and exploitative architecture.

10These examples point towards a shift from the individual towards the plural. Yet, that plurality is not only necessarily formed by our own peers nor by humans. With her design work, Serina Tarkanian advocates for spatial entanglements that involve humans and microbes. Her Microbial Bathhouse instigates forms of healing and collective bodily practices of care; practices based on an interdependency that can renew our relations to each other and our bodies to then transcend the fear projected towards ‘the other’ during the pandemic. This fear that Tarkanian’s project address is unpacked and visualized by Yafei Li’s powerful contribution. In “Cannibalism City”, Li draws an imaginary place under the attack of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although speculative, the story is a familiar one: a locked down city with people placed in quarantine and urged to maintain social distancing; a place where anxiety and segregation soon result in an epidemic of egotism, racial discrimination, and conflict.

11Cannibalism City is a cautionary tale on the consequences of this rampant discrimination towards certain bodies, and a prelude to Willem Schinkel’s essay. Schinkel continues reflecting on the intensification of forms of discrimination during the pandemic, particularly against the racialized body, and on how health concerns have been mobilized for xenophobic gains. He demonstrates that what is to blame is, in fact, not the virus or its possible carriers, but racial capitalism, its forms of production and necropolitics. Schinkel ventures into putting his finger at food production and the associated cartesian, intensive and standardized spatial models that are heirs of colonialist enterprises and are now supported by finance and big pharma. Instead of only focusing on techno-fixes such as vaccination, Schinkel argues, we should break with productivism and learn from the agro-ecological and ecosocialist modes of production.

12Ecological thinking is also what drives the work of Claudia Rot. She investigates the tensions surrounding Dutch notions and practices of sustainability. As in Schinkel’s text, Rot demonstrates that ecological modernization is paradoxically sustained by extractive and polluting forces and interests. In the context of the Netherlands, that accounts for fossil fuel capitalism, extreme forms of land alteration, and blunt disregard for environmental justice. She argues for a systemic reflection on how notions of Dutch sustainability are rooted in a history of sacrifice, exploitation, and unequal burdens and profits, as a step towards creating a more inclusive notion of sustainability.

13Regional histories of ecological practice in the face of degradation and thread continue with the work of Elena Longhin. She investigates the North-Italian mountain landscape of the Piave river. In her essay, she questions the implications of the exercise of power over the environment, and in particular over local water resources exerted by capitalist machines. The increasing technification of the landscape to control and manage water resources has resulted in the radical alteration of nature. Now rendered as a mechanized system of production, Longhin argues, this highly controlled landscape is incapable of responding and adapting to the challenges posed by climate change. New models are needed. Anastasia Gkoliomyti and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto propose to learn from the post-disaster experiences of human displacement, collective trauma, loss, and memory in Japan. In their essay, Gkoliomyti and Tsukamoto focus primarily on the 3.11 earthquake that shaked Tohoku and draw parallels with the current global crises. Through the description of a series of architectural responses that actively involve communities, the authors argue for the capacity of ‘post-disaster memoryscapes’ to allow reconciliation. According to them, the use of ethnographical modes of operating architecture beyond building and reconstruction could be understood – in the words of Donna Haraway – as a form of ‘sympoietic caring’.

14Fostering new ‘infrastructures of care’ in architecture practice is also what Ianira Vassallo and Federica Doglio advocate for in “After the burn-out”. They emphasize how the pandemic has forced architects to rethink their profession and to rediscover their public role as interpreters of the needs of communities and territories. While the pandemic has redefined and restructured cities into ‘immune spaces’, Vassallo and Doglio make a plea for taking this historical moment to assert a more critical and resistant-based architecture.

15In “The Burn Out Space”, Maicol Negrello and Roberta Ingaramo also speculate about forms of practice and alternative scenarios that could remediate the psychophysical effects of ongoing policies of lockdown and self-isolation. Taking a biophilic approach, they associate the possibility of healing from burn-out with the connection with natural elements. Resolve Collective also seeks new ethics, strategies, collective practices and, more specifically, institutions to address contemporary forms of exhaustion, degradation and depletion. They do so by exploring the transformative potential of existing institutions to adapt to the challenges ahead. In their 8-bit game-essay “The Fold”, RESOLVE Collective offers a methodology for “topological” intervention in institutions, which is concerned with the “folding and unfolding” of institutional parts to identify opportunities to affect and disrupt. While taking as a case study a past institutional “fold” - in this case the merger that led to Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2012 – they aim to prompt the imagination of future ones through interactions with various actors, times, and spaces in the history and present of the institution.

16All of these contributions demonstrate that while burn-out is a state in which bodies, procedures, processes stop working, it could also be considered as a generative point of departure to rethink the role of bodies, institutions and infrastructures towards non-exploitative structures and relations. This pursuit is also part of an ongoing investigation on burn-out by Het Nieuwe Instituut’s research department. In 2018, the institute’s annual call for research fellows focused on burn-out as a by-product of contemporary labor ethos and structures, and as a symptom of the exploitation of human and non-human bodies. In 2019, the research trajectory aimed to instigate forms of coexistence, sensibility, and care for multispecies, collective bodies in times of planetary burn-out. In 2020, The Call for Fellows focused on the role of institutions on sustaining or mitigating burn-out conditions, as well on the conception of alternative forms of governance, organization, and institutional collective practices. As one of these institutions, Het Nieuwe Instituut takes this task as its own.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Marina Otero Verzier and Katía Truijen, “Editorial”Ardeth, 8 | 2021, 19-24.

Electronic reference

Marina Otero Verzier and Katía Truijen, “Editorial”Ardeth [Online], 8 | 2021, Online since 29 October 2021, connection on 04 December 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ardeth/2109

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About the authors

Marina Otero Verzier

Het Nieuwe Instituut – Contacts: m.otero@hetnieuweinstituut.nl

Katía Truijen

Het Nieuwe Instituut – Contacts: k.truijen@hetnieuweinstituut.nl

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Copyright

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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