May 5, 2020 - e-flux - More “Letters against Separation” on e-flux conversations
May 5, 2020


Hera Büyüktaşcıyan, From the Island of the Day Before, 14th Istanbul Biennial, 2015. Photo: CHROMA.

More “Letters against Separation” on e-flux conversations

Dear friends,

A month ago we started publishing “Letters against Separation” on e-flux conversations, a project conceived by Hito Steyerl to keep sharing critical ideas, personal reflections, and perspectives at a time when we cannot share physical space. Artists and writers based in half a dozen countries severely affected by the virus reflected on what was going on around them in a series of public letters posted to e-flux conversations. We learned about how the lockdown has increased the burden of care work for women in Mexico City, and the appetite for socialism in London. We read skeptical takes on Korea’s return to “normalcy” and Italy’s rejection of risk. Writers in Beijing and rural Russia offered moving accounts of the importance of patience in the face of profound isolation and uncertainty.   

While several of the contributors continue to post, we have now organized a second round of letters from other cities. In Guangzhou, curator Nikita Yingqian Cai reflects on the closing of borders during the pandemic, and the corresponding loss of cultural exchange and cosmopolitan camaraderie. In Tashkent, writer Furqat Palvan-Zade uses the opportunity of self-isolation to look at Uzbekistan, where he has not lived in a long time, with fresh eyes, including his neighborhood and the interior of his parents’ house. In Moscow, art theorist and philosopher Keti Chukhrov interrogates the “Five Inexplicabilities of the Pandemic,” while sociologist and art historian Pelin Tan, trapped at a residency at Bard College and writing from “an island,” tells an allegorical story about the pitfalls of connection. 

These writers will continue to post new letters regularly over the coming weeks. May they help us all feel a little less alone in our shared isolation.


Furqat Palvan-Zade in Tashkent
“Today I had a bad dream—something about the pandemic and my parents’ health. I don’t know if it’s common in many cultures but in my country they say that you should never describe a bad dream to someone and should instead tell the story to a source of running water.”

Keti Chukhrov in Moscow
“The politics for which it sufficed to draw attention to moderate daily problems remains in the past. We seem to have shifted to a special kind of time: the Time of Time, an eschatological time in which the mundane dissolves.”

Pelin Tan on an Island
“Humans often think each island in an archipelago resembles the others. It is not true. Although each island forms part of a terrestrial totality, they are not all the same.”

Nikita Yingqian Cai in Guangzhou
“We embark on journeys to refresh our personal identity and ideological backdrop, to get lost on the ground, to be confronted by others and relate to one another in an imagined community. Am I ready to tell our new curatorial intern that such prospects won’t be promised for their generation that emerges after the end of the current crisis?”

Liu Ding, Liu Qingshuo, and Carol Yinghua Lu as a family in Beijing
“When you’re about to break out of emergency mode, there is almost a hesitation to return to the way things were, for so many different reasons.”

Claire Fontaine in Italy
“It’s important, but not easy, to stay out of depression and be angry, because we are paying the price of austerity: we can’t be cured, can’t afford to be sick, therefore we can’t afford to live.”

Bahar Noorizadeh in London
“The unsettling revelation of urban life these days has been the full subjugation of the social under the category of work—revelation as in revealing the obvious. Socializing in the 21st century is the other name for interacting with customers, coworkers, supervisors, employers, etc.”

Irmgard Emmelhainz in Mexico City
“The immediate official response in Mexico to the crisis has been privatization, shifting responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis away from the state and toward family structures (as if families, especially women, have not been shouldering the burden already).”

Hanmin Kim in Seoul
“When I see headlines like ‘Korea shows that democracies can succeed against the coronavirus’ (Washington Post), I can’t help but be skeptical. It wasn’t actually democracy that defeated the virus, nor was it a success story. Rather, it was fear and hatred that was successfully instilled and amplified.”

Oxana Timofeeva in rural Russia
“Putin claims that COVID-19 is the people. There is a huge grain of truth in this animist statement. I could not formulate it better: COVID-19 is ‘the people,’ like us. Yes, it is nonhuman, but still, the people. It is, to borrow Timothy Morton’s term, the nonhuman people.”

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