COVID Compositions

In summer 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sophia continued to experiment with data-bending as a narrative tool. For this project, Sophia solicited selfies and personal statements from people in various locations around the United States and the world. In their statement, participants were prompted to discuss their experience coping with quarantine, the pandemic, and the general state of politics. Sophia then altered the submitted photos’ encoding to be interpreted as text files. Using Python’s file manipulation abilities, Sophia wrote an algorithm to insert each character of a participant’s written statement into a random location within the photos (as pseudo-text files). After re-exporting the altered photo text files back into images, they became glitched, revealing the inner struggles not normally visible within a selfie.

Polina Khabdaeva- Moscow, Russia

“At first, the quarantine seemed like a good thing: you could stay at home and not go to school, who doesn’t like it? But later after all the news and statistics, I felt a little uneasy. But the worst part is the feeling of uncertainty: you don’t know if it’s really as bad as you think. What if you’re exaggerating and panicking for no
reason? Maybe your friend who doesn’t believe in anything is right. But for the life of yourself and your loved ones, it’s still scary. After two months of sitting at home for me, the second stage of quarantine has begun- depression. I don’t know if you can call it that, but at that moment I felt terrible: I gained weight, stopped looking after myself; I looked in the mirror and felt sick, it was difficult for me to communicate with my friends, I just didn’t know what to say, except for the coronavirus, which I didn’t want to discuss. To somehow improve the weight situation, I started to starve, but it didn’t help
much, after all, I hardly moved. I’m stuck in a cycle of self-loathing.”

Sara Thermer- Atlanta, GA

“What the actual fuck. I’ve been working from home since August of 2018 so I guess I’m used to the social isolation. Moving online hasn’t been a challenge, especially academically. This is my profession, I was made for this kind of challenge. But I’ve also put on an additional 20 pounds, have neglected my garden, and have been dissociating from this period of my life a lot. How do you confront racism and economic inequality when you are one person with limited resources? How do you make strategic decisions about your future when you aren’t sure if those options will even be available? How do you care for your friends and family when they are hundreds of miles away? I’m tired. Existentially tired. And I’m in such a better place than so many right now, how can I complain? I’d like a vacation. But you can’t break from the brink of financial collapse. You can’t break from a pandemic. You can’t break from the fight against racism and inequality.”

Hadas Warshawsky- Jerusalem, Israel

“When asked to do this project, I almost refused because I’m tired of talking about coronavirus. I think it’s important to hear people from Israel, so I decided to participate. For some months, everything was calm, and everyone quarantined as requested. Israel was a model country! When restrictions started to be lifted, a spike definitely happened. Critics say Prime Minister Netanyahu opened things too early, but he really had no choice. There are a lot of ultra-orthodox communities around, and they will always gather for the holidays no matter what. You can’t really convince them otherwise. Just recently, schools reopened and I had to start attending again. It’s frustrating and I don’t want it to be true, but I know numbers are rising because of school openings.”

George Lutz- West Lawn, PA

“My view on the pandemic is that it is an unwanted analog of several of America’s afflictions. The pandemic, like police brutality, racial inequality, wealth disparity, environmental recklessness, and the country’s broken political discourse, affects the poor and people of color disproportionately. As both unemployment and the stock market soar, the havenots are left behind. It’s almost as if the current administration wanted to botch its response to the virus. (But that couldn’t possibly be true…could it?) Personally, the pandemic has been a depressing revelation of the feckless nature of our political and economic systems. The country that won two World Wars, defeated Nazism, won the Cold War, and is responsible for more technological advances than the rest of civilization combined, can’t save the weakest among us from the economic devastation and death visited upon them by a virus. That realization is very depressing. I wonder what it would be like to live in New Zealand…?”

Brittany Deweese- Los Angeles, California

“It was hard being a dancer/artist in quarantine. I went from dancing every day to not dancing at all and that made me feel like I was losing part of my identity. I used this time to pursue other interests and hobbies. I enjoyed doing new things, but I didn’t feel like myself. I realized how much of my identity was all wrapped up into one defining trait… dancer. I had to unravel that and find new ways to define myself. Maybe chef, YouTuber, director, actor… alcoholic! I felt lost but I have really enjoyed having the time to discover new directions. My body won’t be able to dance forever and this has helped me to find new ways to define myself once I can’t dance anymore.”