Altered Context: A New Parameters project
by Allan LEONARD
20 July 2020
New Parameters was an online engagement project, with participants creating images of their responses to the arrival and presence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland. The Nerve Centre hosted collaboration, through video calls and the online platform, Slack. The following is my submission, named “Altered Context”. I am very thankful to the project’s organisers, for facilitating a forum for visual thinking and a place to make new acquaintances and friends.
One could describe our individual and collective selves as living in an alternative reality — as a fantastic episode of the classic black-and-white television series, The Twilight Zone. Are we in another dimension of shadow and substance — where we shelter in lockdown isolation awaiting deliveries of food and parcels? When does adherence to official guidance become too much — and we rebel against the dogma of science, perhaps to our peril? Like the inhabitants of a fictional, desolate village in ‘The Old Man in the Cave’ (Series 5, Episode 7), why be enslaved to a machine that can’t feel your fears and longings? They destroy their master, rejoice, and die from ignoring all its advice.
Although the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is a single disease, the global responses, like human emotions, have been varied. Some people and governments reacted swiftly and decisively, while others persist in a state of denial. Interventions have affected people differently — across all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic inequalities.
But most work hard to persist living, by adapting and accepting the seriousness of the pandemic.
We seek a return to the familiar routines of schooling, work, shopping, and socialising. Meanwhile, we’ve become more aware of the natural world — trees and flowers still bloom and grow, our agriculture still provides nourishment, domestic and wild animals still have their needs.
Yet there is no denying an altered context. Recovery plans are allowing — encouraging — us to forge a ‘new normal’ lifestyle. We are increasingly being expected to ascertain for ourselves risk and judgement, as any free people should. But the stakes feel higher for some and less for others. The result is not easy to predict.
These images seek to portray the familiar, both old and new. Someday we may be able to do all that we did before, without regard to social distancing, face coverings, and incessant hand hygiene. Maybe not. And it’s this anxiety that threatens to paralyse us. But from its own recent history, the people of Northern Ireland know this struggle. We persisted towards a better future then and we will do so now. Resilience is in our nature.