Language |H|as a Virus: from figure of thought to experimental laboratory

Abstract (in English): 

“Modernism is a history of infections: by political movements; by mass culture and consumerism; and now by the Internet, information technology, and interactivity. The openness to exteriority and its infections is an essential characteristic of the modernist inheritance, and that inheritance is the will to reveal the Other within oneself, to become Other, to become infected by Otherness.”

Boris Groys, "In the Flow"

The “Art in Quarantine” (AiQ) project [] is an online gallery launched after an international Open Call for (e-)mail art and art via email by cyberliterature collective wr3ad1ng d1g1t5 [], in the first 40 days that followed the Covid-19 pandemic status. Currently hosting more than 900 artworks, the AiQ project aimed to facilitate a safe place for artistic expression in the aftermath of one of the most restrictive and impactful periods of the COVID-19 pandemic so far.
Reminiscent of the viral-like behaviour intrinsic to mail art culture and community(ies), AiQ adopts several principles of mail art to the digital sphere, namely networking and collaborative practices as a form of disrupting conventional art channels. Functioning as a net art installation, it includes an interactive digital map in which visitors can track the arrival of artworks by day and location. Symbolically subverting a logic of infection, contamination, and contagion (from Latin contagionem, "a touching, contact"), this virtual interface reveals, day after day, the transmission chain of another type of virus: that of artistic expression.
On the whole, after its period of quarantine, the gallery featured artworks covering multiple formats and genres, by more than 350 authors from 57 different countries, and emulating the behaviour of “good” viruses that establish a symbiotic relationship with their host: in this case, the AiQ online gallery.
For the present paper, we will focus on 3 artworks that fall under the spectrum of “electronic literature”1. Working as organisms that are part of a specific ecosystem, or population, this sample has the potential to take even further the idea of language as a virus both as a figure of thought and experimental laboratory.
In their self-reflective nature, revealing language as a form of virus in itself, the selected artworks act as distinctive virus strains that make use of different poetic and programming languages in artistic creation: a generative online memorial, a mobile screen capture performance, and a software system/digital art installation.
Ultimately, the experience of confinement in pandemic times is the infectious prima materia that paradoxically constricted and impelled their creations and creation processes, leading them to experiment on distinctive media and languages, often away from their usual workspaces and into the online flow, where, to a great extent, life and art have temporarily moved.

1 Patient Zer0, by Pedro Alves da Veiga []; viral#c, by Robert B. Lisek []; Status Offline (from Thoughts on Screen series), by Clara Abi Nader [].

(Source: Authors' own abstract)


ELO 2021: Post-digital platforms?, May 28

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Lene Tøftestuen