| by Kenneth Chase | 1 comment

Blast Theory: artists-in-residence at World Health Organization | Contagious Cities

MATT: There’s an element of
detective story work in epidemiology. It is going back to
the scene of an event and trying to understand
what happened there. And we thought that to try and
pick a very particular example of how that work is done, might give a vivid illustration of
the sophistication of the work and a mysterious and
intriguing experience for someone experiencing
the work we’re making. NICK: Earlier this year we had a residency
at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva and we made three trips there. And in that time we attended the
daily meetings in the SHOC room, which is where they do
all of their daily briefings about signals for contagious
disease around the globe. JU: The SHOC room is the
Strategic Health Operations Centre and everyday at 9 o’clock,
for half an hour, the senior members of the team meet to go through a very tight agenda
of what is considered in that day the most important to deal with
and to tackle at a senior level. MATT: We were amazed by the volume
of signals that the WHO were checking for – half a million signals a month
come in to the WHO for assessment. The process of sorting through all
of those different pieces of information and trying to extract from that
what is meaningful, where the risks lie, where contagious diseases
are starting to spring from in their earlier stages was incredible. They’re operating in an environment
where they must act quickly and yet they always have
incomplete information, but waiting is not an option. MATT: We had access that many
people would dream of having. We were also really conscious of trying to
make good use of that privileged position, to try and really bring something out of that
residency that would have a wider interest. NICK: We had conversations with
at least a dozen members of staff from Heads of Department for ageing and flu, through to people who have historically been
involved in the Ebola outbreak and in SARS. MATT: When we were researching at
the World Health Organization in Geneva, we came across an amazing diagram
that showed one floor of a hotel and who was staying in
each room on that floor. As we looked into it further, we realised
that it’s the night of 21st February 2003. SARS was spreading for the first time
from the Chinese mainland into Hong Kong, and then from there,
out across the world. What happened was, a doctor who
had been treating patients with SARS, traveled to visit his family in Hong Kong. He checked-in to the 9th floor
of the Metropole hotel, unaware that he himself
had contracted SARS. He was ill that night and by the time he realised
what had happened the following morning, a number of people on the
same floor were infected. And the next day, those people then flew on
to countries like Canada, Singapore and Vietnam, taking the illness with them. NICK: We often hear about
contagious disease in the context of remote parts of the world,
say in Africa with Ebola. Whereas, in the instance of SARS in 2003,
in the Metropole hotel in Hong Kong, it could easily be any one of us
who has that lifestyle. where you check-in to boring hotels;
you go on business trips – that seemed like a very familiar thing and a familiar way to introduce people
to the idea of contagious disease. MATT: This hotel room is an example of
what level of work needs to be done, to understand how diseases spread
and to respond in real-time. The level of detail went as far
as to do testing of the direction of the air
in the corridors of that hotel. Smoke tests were done to determine
which way the air was travelling and how that might’ve then affected
who contracted the disease. NICK: Millimetre is a company we’ve
been working with for the last few years. For this project, they’re specifically
looking at developing a smoke system that allows us to simulate some of the epidemiological
work that was done at the Metropole hotel and fabricating a model out of milled aluminium. MATT: We were fascinated by smoke as
a metaphor for ignorance and uncertainty and so that is what has led
us to look at making a model that will simulate the
smoke tests that were done. So the visitors who come to see the work
will experience an exact scale model of the hotel. MATT: People have different ideas about what an
artwork might do in terms of transmission of information. Our job is to try and bring a fresh
insight into the work of the WHO – not to proselytise for the organisation – we’re trying to ask questions
of the work that they do.

1 Comment

Hassan AL Zubi

Apr 4, 2019, 5:37 pm Reply


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