When I finish my essay, I will become obsolete for the world. This is a joke that becomes the truth and concerns literally everyone.
I am not able objectively to discuss self-isolation and the global consequences of a pandemic. I am not a politician, I’m a curator and most of the time I work at home. It’s kind of an isolation, but it’s a freewill. In this essay I try my best to describe my thoughts on the situation after the pandemic of COVID-19. There is an epidemic storm in Europe and the USA, and it is growing in Russia. Many people, among them my friends, believe that COVID-19 is harmless and there are different conspiracy theories that say it is built to destroy the economic system of the whole world. But the majority is still afraid to get sick and die.
Then I have a question. What is the main problem revealed with the start of the pandemic? Is it a fear of death? But it’s not a problem, it is a primal feeling we always have, and it escalates in individual cases. I think that the main problem concerns the changes in relationships between people, and these changes are affected by fear. Fear to die, fear to get sick, fear to lose a job, fear to become vain. Different kinds of fear between people have become a driving force. The virus has changed our relationships and is changing the planet.
In the face of a disease whose origin still causes controversy, globalization has proven powerless. Coronavirus gives a chance to individual nation-states and is a catalyst for the birth of dictatorship. For example, the state of emergency introduced in one of the European countries provided the current Prime Minister with almost unlimited power, which could lead to restrictions on freedoms and human rights. Let’s see what has already happened with freedom and human rights. I could never imagine such a thing, but the people of Europe instantly and voluntarily gave up their rights and freedoms in the face of an unknown disease and obvious danger. Museums, theatres, restaurants, cinemas, parks are closed, people are self-isolated and are waiting for the vaccine. In Moscow people only can go outside on passes and no further than 100 meters from the house, and they pay fines if they break their self-isolation.
There is a new reality in which there is a coronavirus. People of the whole entire world are not used to living in a new reality. This is the reality where familiar and favourite places (bars, restaurants, cinemas, museums) have turned into places that can cause COVID 19 and therefore kill people. The urban environment is collapsing, and our usual way of life has crushed. It’s amazing how people reacted to this. What is happening now looks like a dystopia. It seems like people have thrown away several centuries of cultural development, locked themselves in their houses, have given all their rights, and are waiting good times. This is a manifestation of animal fear of an unknown infection, the symptoms and parameters of which change in the media every day.
I am happy being alive and healthy. I appreciate free time that has appeared, I spend it with my family and, surprisingly, to work more. I am happy to see all the people who support the doctors, who are the true heroes of our time. If people still can help each other, then nothing is lost. But I think we should not forget the one thing. If we want to remain human beings and save mankind, one day we will have to open the borders, go to theaters again, shake hands and make friends. The one who first removes the mask after the quarantine is finished, and open the doors to other people, will be a hero. We just have to survive!
It’s hard for me to imagine what activities will be void or unnecessary. We observe that digital support has appeared in every realm. It turns out that you don’t need to go to the office 5 days per week in order to work well, you have an ability to work directly from home, and it turns out that if you are a responsible one your efficiency is bigger. Utility and optimization are becoming the main characteristics of the work, regardless who you are – a programmer or a methodologist in a museum. We are fully transitioning to online life. Digital is possible everywhere, but should it be everywhere? Where, for example, will the Tretyakov Gallery collection go after it is digitized? Will offline museum occupations become online, and will other museum offline ones be excluded? That is the question. Perhaps after the pandemic people who create content will be included in the system, competing for the attention because the attention will finally turn into a new currency in the world. People will sit at home and watch Netflix, and screenwriters will tirelessly come up with new stories. People will be able to visit the museums not leaving their homes. There are online exhibitions curated online by online curators. And you absolutely do not need to make physical contact with anyone. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?
Honestly I am not worried what should I do as a curator when it’s over. A curator is a person who creates ideas and meanings, a curator can form an agenda for today. I’m sure the curator can do anything and work in existing circumstances. I am concerned more about the issue of how homeless people, people with disabilities stay alive against the virus, how the environment will develop for such people, what will happen with palliative care? So many questions, and so few answers.
We live in interesting times, and only those people who are able to change and adapt will survive. We are now united in the struggle for life, but we have forgotten that dying and disappearing is normal. I would like to recall the concept of Timothy Morton: the world changes regardless of how a person wants to see it. We should not fear such uncertainty, but it should be perceived as something positive. No one knows what is going to happen next, but arts and culture always rise up after every major epidemic.
Madina Gasimi is a curator and cultural project manager based in Moscow, Russia.