CoVid-19: Critical/Creative Studies in Music, Image, and Text

Updated: May 11, 2020

Principle Co-Investigators: Tamar Kharatishvili (Northwestern University) & Jacob Henry Leveton (Art Institute of Chicago/Northwestern University)


Project advisory committee: Kathleen Bickford Berzock (Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University), Zachary Cahill (Richard and Mary L Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, University of Chicago), and Penelope Papailias (Laboratory of Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly).

Begun in the spring of 2020, CoVid-19: Critical/Creative Studies in Music, Image, and Text constitutes a new, multi-institutional, and grant-funded digital-medical humanities initiative that seeks to interrogate what creative forms might emerge as vehicles of social solidarity for our shared moment of global public health precarity. Broadly, the collaborative project responds to two conditions. First, that the current novel coronavirus pandemic poses a particular global public health crisis and planetary predicament at the nexus of biological, mental, and social health. Second, that the arts carry a particular responsibility to respond.


In the midst of tragic and ongoing events, we believe one critical charge we have is to rethink how creative forms—socially "curative” in the sense the literary theorist Kenneth Burke imagined a generation ago—might emerge in conversation with the fields of epidemiology and medical anthropology. With this in mind, the project aims to begin answering questions like: What are the bioethics of musical forms that might represent medical technologies such as ventilators, in reference to new critical theory work like Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s Breathing: Chaos and Poetry (2019)? With regards to visual culture, how might artists' work like that of the indigenous cyberfeminist artist Tiara Roxanne forge a performance art capable of critically grappling with algorithmically-driven health surveillance? Of course, the long history of such bio-political practices shows that they are as likely to consolidate power against indigenous and minoritized communities as to promote health and security. Last, drawing on Nan Z. Da’s theory of the intransitive encounter, what political forms in the literary arts might arise to resist the perfidious forms of Sinophobia spreading alongside CoVid-19? Ultimately, we wonder if there is a new dispensation emerging that intensifies with difference what Anna Kornbluh has called for with respect to a new political formalism.

As presently configured, the project will proceed by beginning with a series of virtual meetings that will bring invited artists and theorists into dialogue, leading to a series of remotely-delivered concerts, studio visits, talks, and readings open to the general public via IGTV on the Instagram platform, Twitch, and YouTube Live at the end of the summer. Meetings are organized according to media-specific ‘domains’ corresponding to music, visual culture, and literature and consist of 5 weekly sessions. The schedule creates intended zones of overlap. Participants interested in becoming fully immersed in the interdisciplinary-creative arc of the project would be able to generate new, and likely unanticipated, connections across media forms encountered and interrogated.

The project will culminate in a live and virtually-disseminated concert and gallery opening in Athens, Greece in late-Summer 2021. There, creative forms incubated as part of the initiative will be presented for a global audience as part of the 4th Pelion Summer Lab for Cultural Theory and Experimental Humanities and symposium "The Forensic, the Spectral and the Body Public" in Makrinitsa and Agria.

If you are interested in becoming involved in the initiative, please write to us at:

This project is made possible thanks to the generosity of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and additional institutional partners to be announced soon