pandemic books
On the opposite page, Aqui é mais que o Vírus, by Rosana Palazyan, a series of small masks in which the artist embroiders sentences with her own hairs

“Aqui é mais que o Vírus”, by Rosana Palazyan, a series of small masks in which the artist embroiders sentences with her own hairs

VIn recent times we have had a false impression of normality, often accompanied by a hope that everything could return to what it was before. However, even if it were possible to rescue old habits, only added (and not by everyone) by complying with protocols such as the use of masks and gel alcohol - which seems quite unlikely with the exponential growth of contagion rates -, there is something bitter in this illusion that lost time can be made up. Firstly, because the period of quarantine was not a parenthesis, a moment in suspension. This isolation, the intimate immersion in a daily life that at times reveals itself to be identical at times seems to be from another world, proved to be much more complex and challenging. It also ended up generating such a profusion of layers of interpretation, reflection, engagement or denial that it will be difficult to digest and that places us in front of a much more complex, paradoxical and contradictory world than the one before March 2020.

There are many unanswered questions that have accumulated since then and there are many points of view of these questions, generating an enormity of interpretations, desires, reflections capable of feeding a strong – and often distressing – doubt about the impasses of the current moment. and what we will see in the near future. Over the last nine months (not coincidentally, a time equivalent to that of a pregnancy), a lot has been produced and is slowly beginning to reach our hands.

One of these sets, which brings a wide range of analyzes developed by people from the most different areas of knowledge, is In the World Tremor, a collection of essays and interviews recently published by the publisher Cobogo. There are a total of 25 authors who seek to unravel not only the effects of the pandemic on the world, individuals and society, but also to understand how this exceptional situation helps to illuminate, transform or accentuate the current crisis, be it political, economic, environmental or human. The texts oscillate between an almost redeeming optimism and an acid pessimism regarding the gigantic challenges to be faced in order, in the words of Ailton Krenak (one of several interviewed by the publication’s organizers, Luisa Duarte and Victor Gorgulho), “to postpone the end of the world ”.

pandemic books
Book cover. Photo: Disclosure

There is nothing more terrible than a disease – until now uncontrollable – that reminds us that “tomorrow may simply not exist”, as Sidarta Ribeiro warns. Or, in the words of Guilherme Wisnik, a virus that reveals “a world dominated by growing feelings of paranoia and anguish”. The variety of responses rehearsed by different authors does not hide a common certainty: that the current moment works as a kind of alert, revealing the need for radical change. “Covid exposed the extent and depth of disruption needed,” summarizes Heloisa Starling.

The confrontation can take place through the concrete, real action of movements such as the Marés or the Movimento de Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas (MLB), whose combat strategies gain visibility in interviews with Eliana Souza Silva, founder of the NGO Redes da Maré, and with the MLB coordinators. But they also reveal themselves from wide-ranging philosophical reflections, which in most cases take up instruments that were already being developed by thinkers, as Pedro Duarte demonstrates in a beautiful synthesis of the main moves made by philosophers in these murky times.

In the more specific field of culture and art, a question seems to bounce off practically all the comments, interpretations and questions raised: how to think about the question of the experience of exchange, exchange – why not contagion – of artistic practice if the contact between the people was limited? Artistic creation itself seems to offer this bridge, to propose an approximation, poetic or reflexive, affective or symbolic, as we can see in several actions that have been shared throughout this period of “isolation”. This is the case, for example, of the diary that the writer Noemi Jaffe – one of the guest authors of In the World Tremor – proposed to write as an “act of elaboration in the midst of great mourning”.

Rosana Palazyan, whose work is marked by a cutting delicacy and the ability to combine the universal and the particular (her installation A Story I Never Forgot helped Armenia win the Golden Lion for Best National Pavilion in 56a Venice Biennale), also immersed himself in this period of quarantine in a rich process of symbolic elaboration of the collective drama experienced across the globe in 2020, and which in countries like Brazil – subjected to governments of a totalitarian and negationist nature and marked by profound inequality – is experienced even more intensely. Since April she has been developing the series Here is more than the Virus, a set of small masks that fit in the palms of his hands and were made from the only scrap he had (since the beginning of the pandemic, he decided to settle in his mother's house, staying away from her studio). On these delicate miniatures, Rosana embroiders phrases, words, drawings from the most different origins (appropriated from conversations, thoughts, reports…) using her own hair as a thread, material she has used since a work with street children developed in 1998. “ They are like the words and thoughts that come out of mouths that have become hidden. Space for our speeches, relating the daily events that we need to resist here to win far beyond a deadly virus, within an unequal and unfair reality”, she summarizes.

pandemic books
Book cover. Photo: Disclosure

Alfredo Nicolaiewsky, artist and professor from Rio Grande do Sul, also felt stimulated by the isolation of the pandemic and developed an interesting process of creation and exchange. With a freer schedule, he decided to resume his work with painting, a technique he had abandoned 20 years ago. He began to research new compositions daily, using discarded cardboard boxes as support. Contrary to the usual silence of the studio (usually artists prefer to show their works when they are ready or sent), he started to send images of these works and talk about them with a group of friends via Whatsapp, thus stimulating a dialogue and a closeness that shows, in practice, as culture is something collective. The result of this process ended up being transformed into a digital book, whose title Alfred in Process; Nicolaiewsky in quarantine ironizes this double level of relationship between the public author and the individual who faces daily adversities.

Several other books, virtual or not, have emerged in recent times, with different approaches and approaches, making this reflection richer. It is possible to cite, for example, the anthology Stories of the Pandemic, organized by the publisher Alameda, which brings together ten short stories by authors who bring different but complementary historical, personal and narrative points of view, in which moments of delicate comedy follow one another (Jealousy, by Luiz Kingnel), historical review (The Deaths of Antonio Valle, by Marcelo Godoy) or a narrative that mixes childhood memories, the awakening of homoerotic sexuality and the hardship of losses caused by the coronavirus in a society that refuses to see the obvious (Supernova, by Felipe Cruz).

This huge offer and the diversity of paths adopted only shows that, in the midst of the anxiety for the resumption, it is necessary to stop to think, keep eyes and ears open for less spectacular murmurs, but perhaps more organizedly connected with the traumatic experience of the last few months, observe attentively processes, reflections, writings, creations that were born from this period of quarantine, threat and isolation.

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