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Susceptible, Infectious, Recovering:

Tracing responses to the novel coronavirus in the city

Creative Informatics researcher Pip Thornton recently contributed to a Design Informatics seminar led by Chancellor’s Fellow and Director of Data Civics at Edinburgh University Dr. Liz McFall.

The seminar, which also featured brand new work from Edinburgh sociology PhD students Kath Bassett, Idil Galip and Addie McGowan was divided into two complimentary sections, each addressing different angles for tracing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Edinburgh. Among the many dimensions of the pandemic is the way novel human, civic and community responses highlight patterns of social persistence even in extreme situations. Tracing and remembering these patterns and responses should be a crucial first step in recovery if the social and political consequences of the pandemic are to be grasped.

The seminar formed the first in a series of events and projects which will focus on presenting responses to the pandemic in Edinburgh through its empty premises, the language inscribed in streets, walls and windows, the altered premises of Instagram and #zoomlife (cover photo: Union Path, taken by Idil on May 29th 2020).



First up were Kath, Idil and Addie, presenting their ethnographic work: A sociological observatory of pandemic in Edinburgh: #zoomlife and empty premises. This was followed by Liz McFall and Pip Thornton who presented a film collaboration addressing the themes of Premises and Absences in the COVID city. The whole seminar can be viewed here.


The work of the Covid city in the age of digital reproducibility

Creative Informatics researchers have had to think hard about the implications of the sudden ‘pivot’ from physical to virtual spaces of engagement, and how the pandemic and its legacy of social distancing will affect physical spaces such as the festivals – for audiences and artists alike.

Pip Thornton: present/absent 2020

This has involved thinking critically about presence and absence in both on and offline spaces, especially as these spaces have changed so much due to the pandemic. People have had to adapt to being constantly ‘on camera’ in conference calls and working out how to manage the excess ‘noise’ of lockdown life, but have also been able to explore undiscovered and empty streets.

As part of her research, Pip Thornton is interested in finding ways to continue to contribute to debates and discussions which are now necessarily conducted on digital platforms such as Zoom, while also striving to give as little monetisable data to those platforms as possible. The coronavirus pandemic has gifted digital platforms with a vastly increased amount of data (facial and voice data, as well as written chat data), but as video-conferencing becomes the norm, Pip and Liz decided to explore ways of being present AND absent in the COVID city, by playing with shadows and narrative interventions in the city space.


The work of the Covid city in the age of digital reproducibility – their film contribution to the seminar – can be viewed below. The film draws on Pip’s digital artwork and previous critique of the empty spaces of lockdown, as well as ‘Closes & Opens: a history of Edinburgh’s Futures’, a film produced, written and narrated by Liz McFall about the pasts and futures of the new Edinburgh Futures Institute.

McFall & Thornton: The work of the Covid city in the age of digital reproducibility