Visuality
Maria José Canelo

The confluence of vision and knowledge established ocularcentrism as one of the most solid foundations of modern culture. The forms of production of visual representations, the objects represented, the meanings associated with them and their impact on beliefs and social practices are naturally situated in specific contexts and we can speak of visuality to refer to the constellation of discursive practices that attribute meanings to the dominant visual imaginary.

The current public health crisis has been complemented by a visuality of its own, the images and meanings that explain what the pandemic is: images of hospitals overflowing with a common humanity displaying despair, disease and death, in contrast with others, of deserted streets, which we associate with discouragement and fear. These real images are accompanied by symbolic images of disease codification in numbers, usually assisted by another common image, the visual representation of the virus. The latter allows the eye to exercise the power of capture that appropriates the represented, which reduces the discomfort and fear of what escapes vision and knowledge, because it stabilises the virus: it gives it shape, colour and even texture – we have seen that it is a spongy sphere, fluffy and grey, sprinkled with small thorns whose end assumes a shape similar to a crown. This photograph uses artificial colours: from the grey nucleus, the sphere itself, to the extensions, coloured red. Even without exact correspondence to the microscopy of the virus, the image has become iconic and pedagogical by visualising this entity, actually invisible to the naked eye. As to the conversion of numbers into graphs, tables and maps, it proposes another type of visual epistemology, by processing and translating data into schemes that produce constantly updated interactive information, suggesting that we are watching live the spreading of the pandemic. The numbers arranged according to regions and age groups and the layout of contact networks propose the readability of the pandemic, suggesting control, responsible decision-making, trust and safety. But identifying is not understanding. Images are part of an immediate logic that shows but does not explain; it offers but does not fill up, in a consumption nexus that satisfies the eye alone.

It is certain that, in the development of ocularcentric culture, the subjects’ relationship with images has not been accompanied by instruments of critical analysis or by a visual literacy that allows first of all the selection of significant images from those that only pacify the gaze and momentary restlessness. Observation must be attentive and responsible, it must require context and compare images; it must be persistent, searching for the genealogy of the pandemic: the links to history, to the economy, to politics, to culture, to other catastrophes; searching for natural and human causes and also the reflections of the future that the image projects. This critical eye knows how to avoid obfuscation, is suspicious of excessive visibility or focus, is interested in perspective, and also looks for that which is not visible. We can call all this interpretation; without it, the image never says enough.



How to cite:
Canelo, Maria José (2020), "Visuality", Words beyond the pandemic: a hundred-sided crisis. Consulted at 13.04.2021, in https://ces.uc.pt/publicacoes/palavras-pandemia/?lang=2&id=30197. ISBN: 978-989-8847-28-7