The New Miasma, or what to do with all this bad air?
Miasma theory, prominent from The Black Death of the 14th century to the cholera outbreaks of the early 19th, purported epidemics surface from foul or malignant air hovering in squalid city neighbourhoods leaving behind death and disease. The miasma, or “bad air,” took on an almost mystical quality and was blamed for mass destruction and loss of life—but it was really only a side effect of poor urban planning, a lack of sanitary infrastructures, and extreme disparities in wealth. In its most basic terms, the current climate crisis can be attributed to the bad air of greenhouse gases and pollution, with many of the same underlying problems from the Middle Ages exacerbated by a globalized economy that intensifies disparities and polarization through cloud-based communications technologies and social media networks. The trouble with bad air is its diffuseness. Never quite apprehended, it is beyond accountability. In this course we’ve spoken a lot about accountability, how we’re meant to feel responsible as individuals for the climate crisis, when this focus on the individual prevents us from taking collective action to upend the systems of neoliberal capital that continue to exploit humans and our earthly kin.
The works in this exhibition consider the climate crisis through the lens of our current global pandemic, attempting to grasp and grapple with all this bad air. Learning how to breathe in this 21st century miasma requires focus, conviction, and an ability to discern truths behind the fog. The diversity of material and conceptual approaches presented here reflect the diversity of this course: many of us are currently practicing from different parts of the world and from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds. What we share is concern about our collective well-being and futures.
In our networked togetherness, we have tried to think dialectically between our hyper localized isolation, and the inconceivable globality of the pandemic. The Covid-19 crisis has reminded us of the porosity of our systems and our own bodies—a transmissibility that can only be visualized “in times like these.” How might this manifestation of our immanent interconnectedness (in spite of social isolation) help us to reconsider the collective crises we find ourselves in? When the ethereal mist of the miasma dissipates, what will remain, what will we hold on to, what will be forgotten?
Mertz, Leslie. "Miasma." In Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, edited by Gale. Gale, 2013. http://ocadu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galegph/miasma/0?institutionId=4079
Katrina Belen Alcantara, Uzo Alexander, Julia Both Marchizio, Gustav Bulzgis, Alexandra Calder Karagianis, Olivia Cerda, Lauren D'Ambrosio, Sean Davidson, Geann Gabrielle Gamboa, Violet Haase, Alex La Grotta, Jenn Lanoue, Francine Larsen, Katie Lin, Keigo Maekawa, Victor Hugo Marin, Emma Martin, Mya Nunnaro, Olivia Pare, Kennedy Parham, Aoife Ryan, Martin So, Sar Wagman, Emily Withers, River Woelfle, Erica Young
Tutorial Lead/Curator: Emily Cadotte
Undergraduate Research Assistant: Angie Ma
Web Designer: Marta Chudolinska
A special thank you to Dr. Pam Patterson for her guidance, dedication and vision which shaped Materials and The Anthropocene and our online exhibition.
Thank you, intrepid students, for your work: for your adaptability, empathy, creativity, and willingness to engage with course materials through our online community.
A big thank you to Angie Ma for hosting Angie’s Open Studio — an online space to meet, share, and create community.
Thank you, Daniel Payne, for your valuable contributions to our synchronous meetings through your always insightful research and references.
A sincere thank you to the following people for your meaningful contributions to our class and digital community:
Penelope Smart & Becky Forsythe