SURVIVING NAPOLI: Befriending the Virus

Dalia Maini is a Neapolitan curator and cultural worker who was fired last week from her job in Berlin. She is 27 years old and has lived there for the past two years. The artist-owned and run foundation she was working for let go of 30 of its 80 employees within a week – all ‘employed’ on freelance contracts. Once she became jobless and was ‘alone in the city’ (her mother’s concerned code for away from family) with this burgeoning virus, she decided to return home. If only temporarily. She misses Berlin already. We talked about all of this over Skype yesterday.

 

‘Unhappy marriages so resemble one another that we do not need to know too much about the course of this one.’ – Joan Didion. Rather than the governmental details of Italian quarantines or COVID19 panics and non-panics, we spoke about a constellation of periphery topics and thoughts. The experience of being fired. What we are learning and can learn. The fun that can still be had. Dalia is now making field studies on morning walks through the city. She speaks in vivid ways. After an hour of conversation, Dalia had to go as her mother needed to use the internet.  “Internet connection is thin. As you know, here in Italy we live in the middle ages.”

Here’s Dalia.

 

 

Dalia (pictured right): This is my room when I was a kid.

Ruth L (pictured left): It’s so vibrant. I want to look at everything.

But actually, you look in a much more peaceful environment. Now I am back here, in Italy, I am a bit scared I could be the holder, the barrier, of this virus. Because I was in Germany. I was having contact with everybody. I was flying. Two weeks ago, I was throwing a party in my place.

What happened at your office, how long ago was that?

Four days ago, baby. I am unemployed since four days.

That’s not long.

No, no, it’s not. I still feel very good. *Two thumbs up*. The point is that it is already since ten days that he is firing people. Firing, firing. You started to smell and sense in the air that a lot of exhibitions were going to be cancelled, etcetera etcetera. No public programme. Nothing. No flying. So, he started to fire people, over people, over people, and I thought okay, it’s going to be my time as well. You know, because I was one of the last to arrive. So, it happened to me as well.

 

ON THE FIRING

It’s more anger in some ways. I’m fucking rageful right now. Because this is not a shitty McDonald company, this is an artist that is claiming for a ‘more equal and better future’. My problem, as I’ve written in this article, is that it is more like a defeat in values. Because we are all in a codependency as systems. We are in a microscale, the environment is the middle scale, the nanoscale… etcetera etcetera. I understand this COVIDfuckingVirus is effecting his work as well, but if you have these kinds of values that you want to transmit because of ‘your heart’ you can’t fire 25 fucking young people – that are already freelancing ­– because I was freelancing, did you know that? I was a freelancer there full time. So now I have zero, fucking zero.

I was freelancing not because I thought “yeah, I want to be much freer!” No. it’s because he was only making freelance contracts. So, he was paying 80 freelancers, but under this kind of ‘contract’. Some of us were full time, some were not. It was more like a coverage just for avoiding taxations. I was freelancing there because I was polite, and I wanted him to avoid fucking taxes. That situation has been pretty tragic. My colleague didn’t get fired in the end, they got reduced from full time to just two days per week. It’s shit. I’m not blaming him… well, yes, I am blaming him because it is his decision. He was choosing once again economic values and not feeling values, and not communism or whatever. This is just the shit we are in.

This helps to understand the scale of the economic impacts to come – this is a small-scale company. And thirty from eighty people gone, when you think of huge industries that are stopping people to work…

Now I’m much more interested in speaking with people. In interviewing people, as you are.  Talking to other people that always have these survival skills, you know? People being at the border of society. People being independent, you know? Such as yourself. You are going to be the people to take inspiration from.

I would say I’m not super sad. I’m super curious. I’m chasing dialogues such as this one we are having. It is of interest to me to have different perspectives, not on the virus itself, because honestly, I am very much a friend of this virus. This virus is just our product. It’s just our pet. It’s the pet of capitalism I would say. Because of this virus, whom was not feeling this sense of urgency now can feel it. So, in some ways I think it is the threat that finally is pushing this acceleration towards a different environment, a different future, towards different responsibilities we need to take. Of course, this is a metaphor but in general this is how we should approach it.

 

ON GOING BACK TO BERLIN

I am still hoping I can be back soon, honestly. Because I am missing the discourse that is rising there.

I was browsing a bit on German websites, German platforms, German newspapers, and it’s pretty difficult to find the numbers on deaths. Or the numbers of contaminations in Germany. This is interesting to see how the political system is trying to deal with this. they are avoiding panic of course.  Avoiding to tell people that two thousand million people are infected, of course, but they are also avoiding having proper knowledge on what is happening.

What made you want to go back to Italy now?

Actually, nothing. I just did it because basically my Mum was freaking out. That’s it. In these situations, I think you need to be a bit less selfish. Of course I would have preferred to stay in Berlin with my friends, With my books, with my stuff, with my routine in some way. With my discourse. She was already freaking out for two days, and then when I got fired she was like ‘what are you doing there? Come here! Come back to Italy.’

I’m not really scared right now. I’m not scared of dying, that half of the population will die, because I think in some way we have an understanding of the problem – “it’s bio-political, it’s like this, we know about fucking capitalism” – the point it, what is next? How this thing is affecting our mind. How this thing is affecting our body. After I’m in quarantine for twenty days, in these apartments there is always someone. Whether it’s my family or my flatmates, I’m not able to stay alone. It’s a paradox in some ways. It’s a paradox because what I’m recognizing is now everybody is constantly chatting, constantly skyping, constantly sharing… I’m doing it the same but also I am trying to regulate myself. I cannot send txts every seconds. I cannot skype with everybody every day. No, really. So I am trying to screen also this because it is not real life. And I want to be prepared when all of this will be finished. I want to have a safe relationship to the other that is not more codependency. That is deep, deep. That is there to share ideas, not to disrupt myself from the shit.

 

 

ON BEING ABSENT

It’s a bit radical way of thinking, but maybe we should take this period for just being absent. Absent from the others. Because when we understand we can be absent, we can be of value to the others. We are right now hyper-hyper-hyper connected because it is the only way we can relate to each other. But this is not helping us in understanding… it is avoiding us from giving real importance and relevance to the other because, it is taken for granted. I’m taking for granted that I can speak with you. So, technology is taken for granted. I’m taking for granted that you have the privilege of having a fucking computer. I’m not acknowledging that there are so many people in this situation that don’t have the tools to be connected.

I think this should be a time for us to retreat a bit. To just think. To indulge ourselves, in our fear, in what we want to do, in what we want to be, in thinking what we can be. And not just being bulimically in search of connection. Bulimically in search of content. It’s crazy ­­– I am being approach by google drives, from platforms that are sharing audiobooks, movies… it’s great too. I’m super happy, I will store these things, but I would need two hundred years to read all this stuff. You can fill your time with things, but perhaps we should think first. Then you can give yourself to books, to watching things. But first use this time to think.

 

ON THE GREAT ABSENCE

When you say not everybody can do what we are doing now – because they don’t have a computer, or they don’t have an internet connection – what do you think is the importance of acknowledging that and how can that be useful?

It’s important because we are finally giving a shape and a consistency to the great absence in society. In some ways we know it exists. Of course, we know these people exist but we never give a fuck. The point is this, that we should make a step forward in starting to think that probably we can be this person. That after this disaster we totally can be this person. The economy is going to be fucked up. We need to start wearing the shoes of another person for the first time.

 

ON FLASH MOBS IN ITALY AND RESPONSIBILITES

I don’t know if you read about these bullshit of flash mobs in Italy? Flash mobs from the balconies? Since two days…Actually, wait, it’s super nice, super Italian. Italian people are starting to organize, for example at 6pm, flash mobs on the balconies (since everybody is inside, having to stay home). So they are singing… it’s cute. To create this feeling of togetherness, of solidarity. It’s great because there are people who are living alone and they need it. A bit of sense of humanity. Of warmth. I was speaking with one of the starters of this movement and was starting to think of this populism and what if we started to scream at each other from the balcony about our fear, why we are scared of this – which at this point are responsibilities. Because we have a lot of responsibility in regard.

My mother, she is going to buy groceries and she is using plastic and plastic and plastic. What the fuck, don’t use plastic. Start from this, you know? That is stupid. For us (you and I) it is normal. It is a discourse that is already educated in us as ‘international kids’. But everyday my mother is buying something, and that something is in a new plastic bag. And if she is doing this, she doesn’t understand the problem. For me it is banal to say something like this. But for her not. We are very enlightened by many dynamics, but not the many not the many.

 

 

ON THOUGHTS VIA THE INVISIBLE COMMITTEE

Are you familiar with the Invisible Committee? It’s this anarchist, anonymous group from France. They are writing amazing crazy stuff. Recently I approach this book ‘To Our Friends’. It’s a massive blast of politics, love, anarchy. I will show you my notes. [holds book open up to the camera]

The problem was the idea of the ‘we’. Collectiveness. The ‘we’, and that ‘we’ do not know who we are. So that basically the powers of the world are just the 1%, and they know who they are. And they know what we want. And the other 99%, we don’t know who we are and we don’t know what we want. Maybe this can be a moment where we can know what we want.

 

 

ON DRESSING

Now is the winning of a simpler life. A nicer life. I’m super enjoying this. That every day you can just wear your bullshit clothes. Because you don’t need to appear a certain way. Dress a certain way. Appear good for society. Fuck it.

I’m also finding it fun to wear the clothes I never wear. The things that are “for special”. So I wear my best clothes now, as much as I wear my worst clothes. I dress in silk to sit home. The pleasure of having nowhere to go and no one to see.

Definitely. I’m starting with my friends a chain, a Telegram thread of ‘Outfit of the Quarantine’. So okay guys, show me your dressing. What is your outfit of the day? Keep it real. Are you wearing suede? I’m inventing a lot of bullshit right now to make it fun.

 

ON SELF IMPOSED REGIMES

 

 

 

What’s this spread sheet you showed me. Is it a prediction?

A prediction or a production?

Is it how you intend to live your days? Is it how you think you will live your days?

Actually, I am trying to follow it. in some way I am a very active person, so basically now is a problem. To just be in my room. Not moving. I have a lot of motivations to be desperate. Honestly. I have so many. And so I want to canonize this desperation into something beautiful. I want to give myself a frame. This desperation must be informing. I want to form this desperation. We can use this time to make something that is very revolutionary. My room is full of clouds right now. That are full of worlds. That are full of words. So in this sense, that spreadsheet is funny, it’s fun. I want it to be a double layer of fun (because it’s funny. Because we have to laugh, otherwise we just cry) but also like ‘hey, you can invest this time.’

 

ON FINDING OLD THINGS. AND STORMS.

I brought a lot of notebooks from Berlin, but also I’m pretty happy because I just found this old drawing in my teenage room. It’s from a long time ago. This woman is embracing a storm. This is my muse right now. So I’m looking at her. I didn’t put a date but I think I made it in 2016, which is not so long ago. But I’m so happy I found it because I really love it. I’m still positive. Let’s see in three days.

“Like a tropical storm, I, too, may one day become ‘better organized.”

― Lydia Davis, from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

 

 

ON AFFECTION AS THE BEST PROTECTION

 

I show Dalia a poster I stole, uncertain of its meaning. Dalia, what do you make of this?

Oh my god. I love it. Affection… do you mean affects?

From a standpoint of value production, but also values production… Protection is economical, basically. Maybe. If you are safe economically, you are safe. Okay…  I’m thinking about this as you know. Having just been fired and that firing was a symbol of their values, I think that right now at this point of society, in an event like this it is always solidarity that is holding you in some way. Solidarity with people. It’s holding you when you have nothing, when you are alone. It’s your comrades, your friends, who are helping you go through all the difficulties of life.  It already is a privilege, I don’t want to use this word, but being in a net of affection, of solidarity, of friends… Being in a net of solidarity, being with your friends is already a privilege.

Having friends is a privilege because it means time. It means you are investing this time. Having the money to invest this time. It’s a kind of cycle. For me right now in this economy, giving you values for a net of solidarity ­– which is a value that is not even economical, it is just fucking human. I’m thinking, for example, what if we can stop exchanging money and start exchanging hugs. Money = hugs. Economy of finance is just a loop, but it’s an invented loop. We can give an economical order to everything. Economy is a protocol. Its A set of rules. We can exchange these rules. How shaping this can become an act of autonomy, an act of anarchy, an act of resistance… essentially I would say this poster is expressing a better and different way of organizing. Who do you want to be your crew?

When you have love and you have friendship, you have everything. And you can go against the world in a way that you cannot if you do not have that. Which is a different form of safety. Because it gives you a fearlessness. It becomes ironic today because to express physical ways of affection is the worst protection against corona virus, when kissing can mean spreading or infection. So affection is the best infection now!

That’s what’s needed now. Human connections. Physical connections. Bodily connections. Which is not a bad thing because finally we will understand how much they are needed.

I’m not missing yet the ‘missing of the hang’. This statement that we can go through everything or anything because of love –how can we radicalize this now? More than something cellular, something hip, ‘women are love’…it’s always understood as a soft power but fuck it, it is not. You need to be very forceful to have love. You need to be very forceful to give love. Being empathic, to have a culture of being empathic ­– these sorts of values are always being mistreated.

 

ON BEFRIENDING THE VIRUS

We can build from this experience. Like gaining expertise. But first of all, we need to be friends with the virus.

There is so much of the discourse regarding entanglements, you know, this Donna Haraway cosmopolitics etcetera etcetera … if we really believe this we will need to be friends with the virus. We will need to cohabit this environment. Together.

A scientist friend of mine was speaking with very simple words. She told me ‘Dalia don’t worry because the virus is not stupid. It’s not going to destroy its environment.’ In the sense that the virus is not going to kill off humanity, because if it kills off humanity it will kill itself. And I was thinking ‘yeah that’s true. The only animal that is stupid enough to kill off its environment is the human.’

 

 

 

Dalia Maini is an independent researcher and liminal figure between cultural and survival production.  She is learning to see in E-v-e-r-y  r-u-p-t-u-r-e a-n o-p-e-n-n-e-s-s. She demonstrates her engagement in cultural life through an ecology of practices devoted to the undercommon or “the fantasy in the hold”.  Her researches move between the intersection of social proliferation and strategies of values creation, sensing in the making-by-thinking attitude the force of transformative imagination. She embodies her believes in affects-effects theory, radical poetry, care, endless hope, collective observation, night politics, micro/macro scale, friendship in precariousness. She studies and embodies the togetherness in-becoming, directing her interest in a speculative and active agenda for redefining interaction between human and non human agents for the future.

 

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Ruth Les

Ruth Les, fka Jess from Outsider, is an independent writer and research based in Zurich and Amsterdam. Their book Offline Matters: Radical Strategies for the Creative Worker (BIS Publishers, Amsterdam) comes out in Sept 2020.