Theme “Contagion” – Anna Lindal, Editor of VIS Issue 6

Contagion concerns the transmission of something by direct contact; the transmission is in the touching. But touch itself can refer to a physical as well as an intellectual or emotional connection. And when we speak of being ‘touched’ by art, we are suggesting a process that may begin with a specific contact event but which leads on to something that has a lasting influence. The artwork ‘invades’ our own consciousness and may also be passed on to others with whom we share our experience. There are both parallels and differences between the transmission of biological infection and the ways that artistic works and processes are shared, disseminated and spread – just as there are in terms of the distribution of knowledge, rumours and myths.

Contagion is therefore a potent and multi-faceted concept that can function literally or metaphorically. In the artistic sphere, it may manifest itself as inspiration, imitation, iteration, replication, mimetics, references, whispering games and in many more ways.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2020, the global world has been living through a frightening and new experience, new because of the scope and rapidity of spread of this previously unknown virus. This has been a time of quickly moving contagion in which an unpredictable and elusive sickness has taken a terrifyingly heavy toll of human life and, in the process, has paralyzed societies and economies, fueled conflicts and forced the creation of new conditions for human life, brutally curtailing movements, interactions and socializing.

As part of these upheavals, the conditions for art have been radically changed, both on a structural and a content-based level. Those artists who previously depended upon human contact in form of audiences, spectators and listeners have had to re-invent themselves in the digital sphere. They have striven to find new ways to ‘touch’ us at a distance and through our virtual interconnections. ‘Virus’ and ‘viral’ are already established metaphorical concepts in our everyday language of the internet and its use, but contagion/contamination is a notion that has its own and more dynamic meaning.

In which ways is art moving – can it function as a benign, instead of a malign, infection? For that matter, might it have value as some kind of metaphorical ‘vaccine’ against the more damaging social consequences of the pandemic? How do we as artists infect others and get infected ourselves? How is art and its associated ideas, aesthetics and forms transmitted – between artistic fields and between the arts as a whole and the public? Can art have any impact on the growing fear and protectionism between nations and regions? In research we emphasize the importance of references and documentation; are there ways of mapping the patterns and algorithms of artistic contagion?

VIS welcomes proposals which address contagion from any of these perspectives and more. It will take considerable time for the impact of the 2020 pandemic to be fully understood and assimilated but it is already clear that it is a world-event that we, as artists, cannot ignore. Our hope is that the sixth issue of VIS may offer some kind of ‘first draft’ of ways in which art is being re-shaped by the presence in our midst of an infection that has transformed our attitudes to space, to human interaction and to mortality itself.