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AGENDA | Landscapes of Quarantine

March 8, 2010

From Chernobyl’s Zone of Exclusion to the artificial quarantine islands of the New York archipelago, and from camps set up to house HIV+ Haitian refugees at Guantánamo Bay to the modified Airstream trailer within which returning Apollo astronauts once waved at President Nixon, the landscapes of quarantine are as varied as they are unexpected. About all of these is the exhibition that will open tomorrow in New York at Storefront for Art and Architecture, curated by BLDGBLOG‘s Geoff Manaugh and Edible Geography‘s Nicola Twilley.

The exhibition consists of new works by a multi-disciplinary group of eighteen artists, designers, and architects, each of whom was inspired by one or more of the physical, biological, ethical, architectural, social, political, temporal, and even astronomical dimensions of quarantine.

According to Nicola Twilley, the exhibition’s co-curator, “Typically, quarantine is thought of in the context of disease control. It is used to isolate people who have been exposed to a contagious virus or bacteria and, as a result, may (or may not) be carrying the infection themselves. But quarantine does not apply only to people and animals. Its boundaries can be set up for as long as needed, creating spatial separation between clean and dirty, safe and dangerous, healthy and sick, foreign and native— however those labels are defined.”

“As a result,” adds Geoff Manaugh, co-curator, “the practice of quarantine extends far beyond questions of epidemic control and pest-containment strategies to touch on issues of urban planning,
geopolitics, international trade, ethics, immigration, and more. And although the practice dates back at least to the arrival of the Black Death in medieval Venice, if not to Christ’s 40 days in the desert, quarantine has re-emerged as an issue of urgency and importance in today’s era of globalization, antibiotic resistance, emerging diseases, pandemic flu, and bio-terrorism.”

Caption: Geoff Manaugh Discusses Brian Slocum’s Quarantine Model, November 2009

Caption: From Katie Holten’s trip to the abandoned quarantine station on North Brother Island, NYC, November 2009

For most people, the word “quarantine” evokes fear. Artist Daniel Perlin’s installation recreates the discomfort of health screening at international borders as a kind of quarantine theater. Meanwhile, set designer Mimi Lien and graphic designer Amanda Spielman, working in collaboration with her brother, Jordan Spielman, have created works that play on the surreal banality of the quarantine experience, with (respectively) evocative, depopulated dioramas of unexpected quarantine locations, and a tonguein- cheek public health campaign filled with helpful tips on making the most of your time in quarantine.

Caption: Spielman NYCQ “Keep Active” Poster

Any exploration of quarantine, however, inevitably touches on serious constitutional and ethical issues associated with involuntary medical isolation, as well as questions of governmental authority, regional

jurisdiction, and the limits of civic responsibility. Game designer Kevin Slavin and comics artist Joe Alterio have both produced projects that investigate the challenge of shared responsibility and
individual decision-making in the face of a deadly disease. The extraordinary engineering and logistical challenges of designing for spatial separation inspired artists Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth of Smudge Studio, who focus their attention on what they have termed the “limit-case” of quarantine: plans for the million-year containment of nuclear waste in geological repositories around the world.

Caption: Discussing the Ideal Geological Repository, “Landscapes of Quarantine,” November 2009

As a project of spatial control, the implications of quarantine ripple outward to affect the layouts of buildings, the shapes of cities, the borders of nations, and sometimes even the clothes we wear. Architects Yen Ha and Michi Yanagishita of Front Studio present an investigation of the implications of inserting quarantine spaces into the fabric of the city, raising thought-provoking questions about quarantine’s economic impact and unacknowledged discrimination. Meanwhile, architect Brian Slocum mounts a physical intervention onto Storefront’s iconic façade, in order to examine the way quarantine spaces shift and blur the border, sometimes moving it into a bubble inside a country or home, and sometimes externalizing it back to the country or place of origin.

Caption: Landscapes of Quarantine installation by Brian Slocum

Other works on display include a short story exploring the fictional potential of quarantine by Pushcart Prize-winning author Scott Geiger and an analysis of the infrastructural requirements of quarantine as it applies to both orchids and the President of the United States by architect Thomas Pollman, of the NYC Office of Emergency Management. Photographer Richard Mosse traveled to Malaysia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of his filmic exploration of vampires, the limits of documentary photography, and the devastation wrought by the Nipah and Ebola viruses. Remaining within New York City, artist Katie Holten presents field notes from her visit to North Brother Island, the final home of Typhoid Mary. Finally, architect David Garcia offers inspiration to visitors in the form of an illustrated guide to the spatial possibilities of quarantine, complete with his own proposals for a Quarantine Library and a Zoo of Infectious Species.

Caption: MAP 002 QUARANTINE by David Garcia Studio

Entrance to the exhibition is free; the launch event on March 9 is open to the public and will showcase a one-night-only, inflatable quarantine prosthesis attached to Storefront’s façade, designed by architects Jeffrey Inaba and Joseph Grima.


Landscapes of Quarantine
Mar 10 2010 – Apr 17 2010
Opening reception: Tuesday, March 9, 7pm

More info, at Storefront for Art and Architecture, Edible Geography and BLDGBLOG

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