Viral Atmospheres: Engaging the Atmosphere of a Pandemic

„Trinity Bellwoods Park with circles“; r/toronto
The online archive project Viral Atmospheres engages the atmospheres of the Corona pandemic to understand how the pandemic came to constitute a social crisis of planetary scale. It aims to reflect on the ways the pandemic is affecting us by exploring feelings as atmospheres. We are interested in the images, words, sounds, and materials providing a sense of the feelings, which powerfully shape our perception of the pandemic.
Viral Atmospheres builds on and connects the research of the country teams in the DRC, South Africa, South Korea, and Germany studying the regimes of (im)mobility in the pandemic. In specific our project asks how space constitutes a medium for sensing and perceiving this crisis. Public health response measures—isolation, lockdowns, social distancing—as much as places —hospital wards, homes, and public spaces—demonstrate that feelings have a distinctive spatial dimension. Viral atmospheres, in that matter, are spatially manufactured feelings that spread beyond the realm of the individual, defining new felt spaces of living and surviving during the pandemic.
We are specifically interested in the social tensions amplified by these feelings, bursting into mistrust. A broad range of commentators has been framing this mistrust as a central problem of contemporary science communication.
Viral atmospheres is a suggestion for approaching the problem of mistrust. It is a suggestion to develop new forms of expressions that engage feelings in the way they affect us and thereby inspire new forms of communication. We will experiment with practices of immersing into the atmospheres of the pandemic, staging and restaging the atmospheres of a pandemic, and reflect on words, images, and sounds that allow us to construct alternative atmospheres of openness.

Project Team

Sung Joon Park

I am an anthropologist based at the BNITM in Hamburg where I lead the research group “Medical Anthropology.” My research is interested in the co-production of societies and pandemics with a focus on Ebola epidemics and now the Corona pandemic. I have been conducting ethnographic field research in the Sierra Leone, DR Congo, and in Uganda. The research group aims to develop an anthropological perspective on epidemics and pandemics, asking how epidemics (or pandemics) become global socio-political crises? How are viruses behaving in damaged ecologies? And, looking at the formative social anthropological debates of recent years, what biosocial transformations are made visible by newly emerging infectious diseases? How do pandemics change social imaginaries of future health?

Erik Tove Zillmann

I am an anthropologist and, as a Ph.D. researcher, part of the research team "Medical Anthropology" at the BNITM in Hamburg. Focusing on collective atmospheres in public spaces, I am specifically interested in the perception and staging of atmospheres: As atmospheres evolve from multi-sensory experiences and aesthetic characteristics, I want to trace those elements on their impact on peoples' trust and understanding of public health. Drawing on theories on political aestheticization, the research on the pandemic's atmospheres and its aesthetics offers valuable insights into future social movements, shaping public space, and perspectives on public health. My study of atmospheres and aesthetics wants to contribute to the shift toward aesthetics in anthropology by showing how imaginaries of the future manifest themselves in everyday life.
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