In today's current social media narratives, which cannot ignore art and visual culture, we often come across a mention of artists who predicted pandemics, quarantines, the collapse of Western democracy and various other dystopian narratives, which certainly raises the current symbolic and exchange value of both the artworks and the numerous philosophical discourses. In abstract paintings we recognize inconsistent charts showing the spread of the virus, in sculptures we imagine the decadence of the human race, and in video installations we seek the apotheosis of the end of the era of physical intimacy. Our experience of reality in the age of the virus is accordingly obscured by media representations of the freedom denial, the omnipresent fear of disease and death, as if humanity has never lived under the threat of the twilight of civilization before Covid-19.
Only a few theorists, before the millennial contagion, noticed a viral threat in the very way of functioning of modern society, yet not pathogenic in the medical sense of the term, but as a model by which intersubjectivity and visual culture function. For example, the American theorist W.J.T. Mitchell already in his 2005 book What do Pictures Want recognized in the images of art and popular culture a strange kind of exuberance of perverted vitality, something like a virus that accompanies the humans, defines their reactions but also crucially depends on human life energy. From lay knowledge of virology we know that a virus cannot survive outside a human host, it must bind to it and inhabit it; without humans, the virus dies (that's why viruses "like" the most resistant among us). Mitchell's notion of "living pictures" corresponds to the metaphor of images as viruses: without the beholder looking at them and breathing life into them, images and visual communication objects in general are just dead objects, like a chair or a turned off TV. It is only the contact with the human gaze that brings images to life causing them to pulsate with the energy they are otherwise deprived of.
Images are like viruses because to come alive they need a human host, but that's not their only similarity. Just like SARS-CoV-2, which conquered the world and for which we do not know why it affects some nations and areas harder and some weaker, so for images we cannot predict whether they will anchor in the imaginary of a culture or not, what symptoms they will transmit, whether they will live forever, like the artworks of old masters, or short and intense and then disappear without a trace, like screen visualisations of internet gurus and influencers. What helps us with the pictures is the cultural and historical anamnesis, but even then we cannot predict the death outcomes of pictures-viruses, as was the case, for example, in the Islamist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in 2015, when the picture-virus appeared in the form of a satirical representation of the Prophet Muhammad and killed those who nurtured it themseleves in the "body" of their own, Western culture.
The objective of this year's edition of the Slavonian Biennale entitled The image as a virus is to question the reactions of Croatian artists to a completely new situation in which the paths of invisible enemies (viruses) and hypervisible visual communications intersect and often exchange roles. We invite artists of all media to demonstrate the way they perceive artistic communication today when what we fear most is invisible. In such a fear, can the visible in art or in the media show the pathogenically invisible at all? We do not hesitate to ask the expected questions such as: what is the power of art like in times of uncertainty or what is the meaning of artistic activity in the dominant media narrative of infection? Under the title The image as a virus, we want artists to first and foremost recognize the stylistic figure of the times in which we live, the times of pandemics that have strongly shaken the foundations of democracy, the welfare society and the interpersonal relationships.