V&A Launches 'Pandemic Objects'

John Hill
5. May 2020
Sign on pavement in Brisbane, Australia, photographed on April 6, 2020 (Photo: Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons)

The Victoria & Albert Museum has launched Pandemic Objects, "an editorial project that compiles and reflects on objects that have taken on new meaning and purpose during the coronavirus outbreak."

Pandemic Objects is an editorial project that compiles and reflects on objects that have taken on new meaning and purpose during the coronavirus outbreak. During times of pandemic, a host of everyday often-overlooked ‘objects’ (in the widest possible sense of the term) are suddenly charged with new urgency. Toilet paper becomes a symbol of public panic, a forehead thermometer a tool for social control, convention centres become hospitals, while parks become contested public commodities. By compiling these objects and reflecting on their changing purpose and meaning, this space aims to paint a unique picture of the pandemic and the pivotal role objects play within it.

Pandemic Objects launched yesterday with a post on homemade signs, particularly the ones hung in the windows of small shops and restaurants around the world announcing their closure. The phrase "Due to Covid-19," Brendam Cormier writes, has become "the standard introduction to shopfront notice signs across the English-speaking world" as well as "an essential system for organizing new social cues and protocols to deal with the current crisis."

Much like the proliferation of handwritten notes in New York City following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Cormier sees — both first-hand in London, where he lives, and in cities around the world — a re-emergence of homemade signs after many years of being supplanted by digital communication. "[I]mbued with the sadness and tragedy of this current crisis," the notes have sparked "a tinge of excitement – a reminder that cities and public spaces can and should be physical expressions of the communities that inhabit them."

Future posts, per the Guardian, will look at "how the pandemic has changed perceptions of certain kitchen-cupboard staples," as baking has become a popular stay-at-home activity; Google Street View, which has become a substitute for traveling during our inability to do so (and led artist Jon Rafman to revive his 9 eyes project); as well as toilet paper, streaming services, cardboard packaging, balconies, sewing machines, and more.

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