Signs of the times – collecting biological traces and memories (2024)

Karolina Żyniewicz in collaboration with Dmitry Morozov

Photo: Adam Bogdan

The research starting point is the concept of storied matter by Oppermann and Iovino: ‘Storied Matter’ is one of the conceptual tools of material ecocriticism, which underlines the idea that matter is not only lively, agentic, and generative, as it is theorized in the new materialist paradigm (Barad 2007; Bennett 2010; Coole& Frost 2010; Abram 2010), but also densely storied (2018: 411). The existence of matter means automatically plotting stories. I want to examine this concept through practice by noting, articulating, or translating stories plotted by material traces of the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, namely medical masks.

Masks (medical/textile) became symbols of these challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic, confinement, uncertainty and fear. Pictures of people wearing masks will be historical documents of this period. With time, they will take on different meanings. Masks are dedicated to protecting us from the virus, but used for too long they can also pose a health risk, accumulating everything coming from our nose and mouth while we breathe and talk. After a few hours of wearing, they are soaked with bodily secretions and individual microflora. Besides masks being worn, there are also masks lying in the streets. After usage, they become trash — biohazardous trash. They are then anonymous; we can’t know who was wearing them. Maybe it was a coronavirus carrier or a sick person with various illnesses. What is the story of the person behind the mask?

This project is thought of as a long performative process divided into a number of stages:

Stage I: Collecting anonymous biological traces (done)
Stage II: Collecting individual biological traces and memories (in progress)
Stage III: Biological traces examination (in progress)
Stage IV: Performative installation (to be constructed during EMAP residency)