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Essential Humanity

As the frame for our lives has become forcibly smaller, we’ve encountered a strange paradox. Lockdown life has led to intensive focus on the ‘real’ self – the fleshy bits, but also the inner self – the bit that rests underneath our usual distractions and shared rituals. At the same time, our digital lives have become more vital – web interfaces are the only way for us to be together. They have necessarily replaced our real life interactions.

Magda Tritto questions the value of our new online niceties – in her Is language a virus?, now familiar email platitudes are contrasted with the grim emptiness of the physical world. Danyang Liu takes the precedence of our online selves to its logical conclusion: in Mailbox, our digital ‘soul’ lives on in cyberspace after death, without the need for our bodily existence. Artificial intelligence removes us even further, and is the subject of Emotional Dialogue, in which Zhiqiang Li prods and highlights the gaps in the logic and reason of AI assistants – it seems humans are still needed after all.

Ping Mu presents a primal response to confinement in her C.301 Cyberspace Odyssey: an intricate though claustrophobic domestic environment is the setting for an exploration of the human psyche via an ape-like avatar. In Cheong A Kang’s The One for The Whole, The Whole for The One, glimmers of individual deviance from societal norms can be seen by those who are looking closely. A deeply personal perception is also revealed by Ruo Hsin Wu in The Sound of Memory. Minute details of daily life become dreamlike ruminations on dementia and essential humanity.

Olivia Ahmad

Olivia Ahmad

Olivia Ahmad is a UK-based curator and editor specialising in graphic arts and design. She trained as a curator of craft and design on the Museums Association’s Diversify programme.

From 2010-2014 she was exhibition curator at the Northern Design Festival. Since 2014, she has been a curator at House of Illustration in London, where her recent work has included exhibitions on socialist graphic design from Soviet Russia, Cuba and the DPRK, London’s first exhibition of work by queer icon Tom of Finland and developing the UK’s only dedicated residency for illustrators.

In 2018 Olivia took up the editorship of Varoom, the UK-based contemporary illustration magazine published by the AOI. Her recent books include New York: Lucinda Rogers Drawings 1988-2018 (ed., West Street Press) and 100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake (Tate Publishing).

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