“Beauty is the reason why things can exist. Beauty is the ring of truth. Beauty is truthfeel. Beauty is also a tiny little bit of death. If the beautiful thing got turned up to 11, your internal organs would melt and you would die. Or you could eat the beautiful thing, and it would die. Beauty is an uneasy symbiosis. Beauty is the possibility of death — beauty is fragile. Beauty is fragility. Beauty is a virus.”
— Timothy Morton
The little Covid-19 virus has disrupted our lives. These disruptions have affected all aspects of society, from seismic shocks to business-as-usual, bitter polarisation around preventive measures such as wearing masks to new forms of sociality resulting from the inability of being in close proximity with other humans. This invisible enemy provokes anxiety and fear as people cope with the existential uncertainty caused by it.
Beauty is a Virus is a science-art project begins with the premise that one reason for such anxiety is the sheer difficulty of grasping what this invisible threat means to us, especially when we cannot directly sense or see its infinitesimal presence in our lives. In its place, we are constantly reminded of its looming and lurking presence through the myriad ways the virus is represented to us: through daily statistics reminding us of death rates, visual categorisations of a multiplicity of bodily symptoms, or close descriptions of how the virus spreads and its morbid risks. The Covid-19 virus is, in the words of ecological philosopher Timothy Morton, a new kind of “hyperobject” — something that exists in such different “temporal and spatial dimensions that it defeats traditional ideas of what ‘a thing’ is in the first place.” It is both intimate to our lives yet also something fundamentally alien to us: something so small and non-human that it can only be made “real” to us through scientific data or its conflictual media representations.
Taking cue from these anxieties caused by Covid-19 in our contemporary society, Beauty is a Virus is a new science-art project, which explores how these ongoing practices of rendering the invisible visible affects our lives and, in turn, our well-being. It explores, in particular, how especially experimental visual and sound arts can be used to engender new and more humane ways to relate to our imperceivable “non-human neighbours.”
The project will do this by engaging in two types of activities:
- The first part, the science part, explores the practices through which this infinitesimally small Covid-19 virus has been given its concrete form and being through its myriad representations in scientific data, images, animation, video and sound and the significance of these representations in our everyday lives and well-being. In particular, our aim is to developed what we call latent space anthropology to explore how creative AI is used to generate “knowledge” and represent the world.
- The second part, the visual arts part, builds on this research data collected to experiment with especially generative artificial intelligence (AI) as a way to reimagine — and thus render perceivable (and audible) — this strange invisible (and inaudible) “thing” that fundamentally affects our lives. By giving this threat a new artificial existence through art will, in turn, we believe, help us relate to it in new and hopefully less anxious and fearful ways.
Besides this Medium blog where a lot of these experiments and thoughts will be chronicled and published, the outcome of the project is an exhibition whose purpose is to educate people about our “non-human neighbours” in new, more creative and playful ways. The project will then be exhibited in a public space or an art gallery as well as with an online component.
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