Research-creation in confinement

In just one month, the world for much of the planetary population has radically transformed. Daily life has ground to a halt. Political, economic, educational, medical, cultural and social systems have been upended. The old ways of living and doing have been suspended. The pause button has finally been pressed.

We all face a collective crisis. This crown-like alien form that exists at less than 120-160 nm in diameter has no ideology. The viral order upends epistemes, conventions and borders. Despite the attempts to politicize, segregate and nationalize the situation, viral pandemics are great societal levellers. As Arundhati Roy in a recent article for the Financial Times writes, “the virus seeks proliferation and not profit.”

Of course, the ways we react to the crisis demonstrate the old divides: between the have and the have-nots. Between the old and the young. Between genders, classes and cultures. While the claims are that COVID-19 is a disease of the rich, spread by globetrotters with business in China or skiing duties in the Alps, its effects will be most extreme on the poor and the ignored. “The super-capitalism of today,” writes Mike Davis, “has become an absolute fetter on the development of the productive forces necessary for our species survival.”

Technology, in the form of vaccines, ventilators or new online platforms is seen as the solution to quickly get us back to normal. The vaccine may eventually come. Immunity will eventually develop. But this is the tip of the iceberg. What are the tools we need to be prepared for an uncertain future where things no longer function according to the old rules?

As funders in Canada and abroad open up the taps for new research funding and networks into the societal-wide cataclysm called COVID-19, Hexagram as a network dedicated to research-creation within the realms of science, technology and culture asks what role research-creation can play in this unprecedented moment? What place do research-creators have at the table alongside other knowledge producers who are trying to grapple with this unprecedented situation?

What are people doing at home between countless Zoom meetings, trying to balance their families, their livelihoods, their health and their sanity? They are, of course, turning to the products of culture – books, games, artworks, cooking – to stay afloat mentally, intellectually, physically, spiritually.

Social distancing and isolation are contradictory to the collectivity of the arts and cultural life. But as Peter Weibel, the artist and director of the Center for Arts and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany in a recent video interview claimed, while we increasingly lose the ability to freely move, the imagination can continue to travel and is always a necessary tool and technique to respond to crisis.

McLuhan famously said that artists or creators were important to the new technological society because they functioned as distant early warning systems of things to come. Indeed, creators have somehow had an anticipatory front seat in what is now taking place. In these times, Hexagram as a research network specializing in the power of the imaginary is in the envious position to pose the counterfactual – what if?

The Hexagram Network

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