Sunday, March 22, 2020


Earth's Pulse Oil on linen 80 x 200 cm 2005

As regular readers know I am very interested in ideas of existential risk, particularly posed by emerging technologies. I have attended talks and read quite a lot about existential risk generally, and pandemic is one of the risks I am somewhat acquainted with.

AND, here we are in the midst of a corona virus global pandemic.

Back in January, when I was preparing for my trip to the UK to attend the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference at the University of Sheffield, the corona virus had reared its ugly head in China. By the time I left Australia in early February I was getting worried, so I went overseas with a few masks, alcohol wipes, gloves, nasal sprays and a bar of soap in my handbag. Yes, I was that strange lady wiping her table at the hotel restaurant, opening doors with my elbow, washing my hands vigourously. My young adult children thought I was mad, but they don't now! The motto of this story is, don't dismiss someone with an imagination prone to extrapolating burgeoning negative situations into catastrophe and disaster! Remembering, too, that this someone has studied history and researched topics associated with existential risk for quite awhile.

The role played by informed imagination in times of unfolding catastrophe is an interesting one. A vivid imagination can compel action to be taken, but it can also provoke a paralysis of action. Ultimately fearful reactions to an existing situation, and subsequent imagined thoughts about the future, can be productive or non-productive.

But, what are the benefits or dangers of not having an imagination? Do our leaders need to have  imaginations that responds to data, are informed by a knowledge of history, are open to the expertise of others from across the sciences, social sciences and humanities? Surely an imagination is required to even 'see' how multiple sources of expertise can interact in meaningful ways? Surely an imagination is required to extrapolate future possible outcomes from graphs that map historic and current data? An imagination surely must help determine how intervention can arrest dire trajectories? I would say an imagination is needed in order to undertake logistical planning!

And, ultimately we need people who can imagine a life after pandemic, possibly a life vastly different from pre-pandemic life. And, a reminder, difference does not necessarily mean worse. Nor, does it necessarily mean better. But, it might mean we have a choice. Let's imagine in compassionate ways that are productive and meaningful. Let's imagine in ways that disallow the paralysis of fear. Rather, let fear contribute as a driver rather than a brake.

Compassion oil on linen 100 x 100 2010

Earth's Pulse [top]
This painting, from fifteen years ago, has a graph-like appearance. It 'maps' the pulse of the Earth. How do you think its currently performing?

I exhibited this painting in Abu Dhabi at my 2005 exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation. A Middle Eastern man dressed is swathes of white robes and a largish head-dress came to the exhibition a few times. I cannot remember which country he came from, but he had fought in Afghanistan. On one visit to the show we had a long conversation that involved discussions about a few of the paintings. When he looked at Earth's Pulse, before even knowing the title of the painting,  he said:

"This reminds me of my own mortality."

Now, I think that demonstrates an imaginative response!

As a studio-based painter I am used to working alone. With a couple of conferences cancelled I don't have much else to do, but paint...and be online! I am currently working on a painting I will call Machine Unreadable. Please check out my Instagram page for studio photo updates of work in progress. Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, I can get to exhibit some of my paintings!

In the meantime please stay safe, for yourself and others.

Showing Them Our Home Oil on linen 30 x 56 cm 2017
Me, with my three adult daughters. And, Earth, the pale blue dot.


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