Artist and philosopher Koert van Mensvoort has never shied away from the big questions. As creative director of the Next Nature Network, his designs and fictions always hit right to the core of what it means to be human in a time of profound technological and ecological change. What impact has COVID-19 had on his ideas? 

‘We live in turbulent times. Thanks to science and technology, we are able to perceive our environment down to the atomic level. We can read DNA, manipulate cells, cut and paste viruses. Humanity is a powerful and dominant species on the planet. It is tempting to think that we are becoming gods: Homo Deus. But this is a mistake. Every now and then, a microscopic organism talks back. It tells us: Stop, slow down, reflect, here I am.

What is the first thing every living being knows? It is part of an environment. Every living being relates to other living beings. Not only next to you, but also above, below and within you. That is, wherever you are and whoever you are; you are in the middle. The Earth contains billions of people. Our body is made up of billions of cells. Life consists of life. And you are connected.

Do you love nature? Good. But can you also love a virus? Not a viral video that spreads on the internet, but a tiny piece of molecule that creeps into your cells with a desire to survive and spread itself. A piece of life that replicates and infects our human body.

What is a pandemic for us, is a victory for the virus. And it seeks nothing less than total world domination.

We don’t have to love viruses and parasites. These are evolutionary phenomena that show no empathy and do not deserve it. Nature can be sublime and beautiful, but also cruel and amoral. A virus is the most primitive form of life. It does not recognize us as human beings. It only sees as a colony of cells it can spread itself within and conquer. Different perspective. What is a pandemic for us, is a victory for the virus. And it seeks nothing less than total world domination.

Are you already infected? You may think you’re clear, but think again. Are you still shaking hands? Where an outstretched hand used to be a sign of openness and contact, it has now become an act of aggression or at least a clumsy insensitivity. Even if you are healthy yourself and do not belong to the risk group, you can infect another, who then may infect a vulnerable person, with fatal consequences.

The virus is an infectious information pattern that affects not only our human cells. It made the crossover from gene to meme long ago. It mutates social relationships, disrupts the economy, and even infects our psychology. Similar to the rabies virus that makes an infected dog more aggressive so that it will bite and spread the virus further, viral fear may cause irrational human behavior – like the massive stocking of toilet paper – that stresses infrastructure that wasn’t under direct attack by the virus.

Our position as the dominant species on the planet is being challenged.

The virus teaches us a lesson in modesty. Our position as the dominant species on the planet is being challenged. Not by artificial intelligence or an attack from Mars, but by a microscopic entity. Certainly, we are not gods. We are as vulnerable as ever. Despite our dominant position on Earth, humanity is just one of many lifeforms on the planet, with one perspective: the human perspective.

The virus makes us aware of other lifeforms with other perspectives, desires and needs. It also teaches us that we are one humanity. These viral invaders don’t discriminate on the basis of nationality, race, income, social status, political or sexual preference. We are together and must work together to overcome. Stay safe.’

Grab your notes and join us on May 8, 2020 (16:00 CET) as we talk all this and more, as part of our ongoing series of live talks on Instagram. See you there!

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