14.03, People

Life Under Lockdown: Joseph Grima on Quarantine

Translator: Sasha Dorfman

Architect, curator, and former Strelka faculty member Joseph Grima, who is currently under the nationwide lockdown in Italy, shares a few thoughts on quarantine and its consequences.

This text was originally posted on Grima’s Instagram.

Joseph Grima is an architect and curator based in Milan, Italy. He is the creative director of Design Academy Eindhoven and chief curator of design at Triennale di Milano. He is also co-founder of Space Caviar, an architecture and research practice.

Habit is a powerful driver of human behavior, and a lot of things we do on a day-to-day basis are done the way they are not because it’s the only way, or even the best way, but simply because that’s how they’ve always been done.

Under quarantine, all of that changes. Habit is instantly broken, as almost every aspect of daily life needs to be reconsidered in the light of the risk of bringing danger upon oneself or others. At the scale it is being imposed in much of Italy, where I live and work, conditions one would have recently thought unimaginable have suddenly become normal. We don’t travel. We work remotely. We cook at home. Strange inversions happen: thousands flee the wealthy north, historically a destination for migrants, in search of relative safety in the south, only to be rounded up by the authorities and placed in quarantine as they get off trains. And so on. Life, however, goes on, and we find new ways of doing what we’ve always done. With the Triennale closed, we’re forced to put all our programs on hold. But we see this as an opportunity to question our habits in terms of exhibition-making and test new forms of cultural production compatible with the conditions within which we operate. Since last week, we’ve been experimenting with the idea of a new Decameron, a performance series inspired by Boccaccio’s tale of ten young aristocrats escaping the boredom of fourteenth-century quarantine by telling each other stories while waiting out the Florentine plague at a villa in the Tuscan hills. Every day at 5pm a Milanese artist, designer, musician, performer, thinker, or poet will transform a piece of Triennale and its exhibitions into a set for performances and storytelling. These are some images from the amazing performances of the past three days by artists Goldschmied e Chiari, performers Quattrox4, and musician and composer Saturnino. Today we’ll be hosting the actress Lella Costa. All this is more than just a fallback option—it’s a way to question our assumptions about how we operate as an institution.

The COVID-19 epidemic is a tragedy unfolding around us. Yesterday 196 people of all ages fell victim to the lethal disease here in Italy alone. It is also an almost unprecedented learning opportunity. The energy crisis of the early 1970s was probably the last time wealthy Western countries such as Italy were forced to place reality on hold and actually stop doing things they thought impossible to stop doing. Since then, our accelerating dependency on travel, on the extraction of resources, on the imperative of productivity has hardly missed a beat. We have been told—or assumed—there is simply no alternative. Suddenly and brutally, to quote Camus, a very concrete alternative has crashed down on our heads from a blue sky. And maybe we can learn from this new reality. Seen through a different lens, the current conditions here in Italy are a demonstration of how entire societies can quickly, peacefully, and effectively take drastic action if the need to do so is made evident. The circumstances are dire, but the coronavirus crisis can be given positive value if we observe it as a brief but enlightening climate experiment; a window onto the world we all know we are going to have to build if we are going to survive on this planet.

For this reason, at Design Academy Eindhoven we are launching a new episode of our Geodesign research and exhibition series. The open call to participate in this rapid-response research program, once again coordinated and curated by Martina Muzi, is open to all alumni of the academy, and the results will be presented in an exhibition at a future date in Milan. If you’re not an alumnus of the Academy, you can always apply for our new Geodesign master’s program launching this September under the direction of Formafantasma.

The reality we are currently experiencing is tragic. The least we can do is learn from it.

Cover image: Illustration of a SARS-CoV-2 virion created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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