Parallel Seizure: Art and Culture at the End of Days

Vaughan Pilikian
2021 PAJ : Journal of Performance and Art  
T here is a photograph from early on in the spread of coronavirus that shows the basement of a shopping mall somewhere in Asia, seen from above. The tiled floor, framed by two escalators, has been cleared of shoppers, the only vestiges of regular commerce a poster of a woman on a floor stand advertising a mobile network, and beside that, a vending machine. A grid of plastic chairs fills the space, each placed a fixed distance from the others surrounding it. There are men and women sitting upon
more » ... women sitting upon these chairs, some in a black and green uniforms and some not, all wearing facemasks and most contemplating their smartphones. Several of them have evidently been sitting where they are for longer than the others, contorting themselves into awkward poses to cope with the discomfort of their seats. A lone cleaner moves among them carrying a spray bottle and a sponge. According to its caption, the people on the chairs are cab drivers waiting to receive their instructions, but they look more like procrastinators in an antechamber of hell. Each of them is a microcosm, a sealed capsule separate from every other. Each is looped out of physical space by the device held up to the eyes, upon which attention is focused, as if the brains of these men and women had been flattened and externalized and placed in their hands with the recommendation that they cling on or die. The grid exerts a pictorial order which is also a sociopolitical order. It works here as a mechanism for the regulation of appropriate distance. In a world where Silicon Valley ideology has been universally internalized, we have forgotten that a network must first separate before it can connect. It sustains distance in order to simulate proximity. The grid in this image is what makes possible and legitimates the separation between individuals and it also ensures the inviolability of rationalized space. Within this structure, the people in the photograph have been barred from interacting with one another physically, while any subtler mode of communication is stymied by regulation headgear. A facemask not only dampens the voice and conceals the expression,
doi:10.1162/pajj_a_00543 fatcat:iw7uzhqoj5ajbk35zzbklkbtga