In a time where we are being told to stay 2 metres apart, physical distance is growing. But the world is beginning to become closer, by joining together through common ambition to keep each other safe. Although we may share this collective consciousness, are we learning more about one another and bridging gaps between cultures, languages, religions and generations, or are we isolating ourselves further through this separation?
Technology has meant that we are able to connect with one another. Faces can be seen, and voices heard. But physical contact is still an important part of relationships, so what will the future be like post-covid, and how may we connect in the real world.
Why Should We Stay 2 Metres Apart?
We have now been told to stay 2 metres apart for a number of months. The reasoning behind this is to protect ourselves and others. The coronavirus is spread from person to person through droplets. These droplets come from things such as coughs and sneezes, they then could land on faces, which may go into mouths, or eyes, if touched. Therefore those close to you are a risk. As this is a new version of the virus there is lack of evidence to show how far these droplets can travel. Research does not always translate to the real world. As these tests are usually conducted in labs there are little variables such as number of infectious particles; their airborne survival; humidity; and speed. But it is common knowledge that the influenza virus is spread similarly and those within 1.8 meters could be at risk of infection, hence the 2 metre rule.
The safest thing to do is to stay home as much as possible. Not only does this reduce your risk of catching the virus, it also can protect others. Even if you feel well you may well be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, or have yet to get sympostoms of the virus.
Going outside can feel a little scary at the moment. As we keep our distance we become much more conscious of those who are around us and the space in between us and them. Enni-Kukka Tuomala is a Finnish empathy artist and designer working through her practice ‘akin.kollektiv’. Here she focuses on transforming empathy from an individual feeling into a collective and radical power to create positive social change. Her work ranges from public artworks, interventions, experiments and communications. At a time where physical contact is at a minimum her work is now more poignant than ever as she has explored the physical space between people when interacting, and has studied gestures as a way of communication. In 2017 Enni created a series of models of the negative spaces between 3 immigrants in New York who come from China, India and Mexico. These spaces were taken from handshakes, high fives and fist pumps to hugs, namaste and a kiss on the cheek. These pieces highlighted human interactions through a physical record of the moment or connection.
To explore human interactions Enni of course works with people. The last piece she worked on focused on a physical artwork which was staged in public, called EMPATHY ECHO CHAMBER. This inflatable shared space challenges our personal echo chambers. As we are used to being inside our own bubble, where we have our own views and options, this space breaks down our own loops by allowing you to share an intimate moment with a stranger. Instead of reflecting yourself you begin to reflect each other and share the same experience. You will breathe the same air; view, hear and smell the same thing.
While we stay away from people it is important not to disconnect and feel prejudice towards others.
What the Future May Look Like
We have already seen people adapting to the current situation. From using household items as face protection, to the German cafe which gave pool noodle hats to its customers so they can keep to social distance measures through spatial cues. Designers have now focused their work on creating objects for life after Covid-19 lockdown. The UN also created an open competition, which called for designs that could help flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic.
Italian costume designer and milliner Veronica Toppino has looked at historic examples of social distancing in fashion design. Her ‘Structure’ hats explore people’s personal space by creating a shield. The aluminium structures show how fashion could play an important role in social distancing from now on. As we have seen face masks become a fashion accessory by fashion designers, how will people and fashion companies create trends from the pandemic based on user habits, wants and needs. Toppino looks at fashion as a form of protection, which was one of the principle functions of dress historically. These distances were between genders, classes, and races. Although society has moved on since then, for the better. Times like these may make us go back to our historical ways of dress. Looking at fashion accessories and clothing as a signal could also change the way we dress. Having a statement piece which creates a barrier could tell others to ‘stay away’.
Well-Distance-Being, designed by research and design platform Livable, is a rattan frame that encompasses the body. It comes as a response from the need for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. This project also takes cues from historical wear. The hourglass structure mimics the stiff skirt called a crinoline, which were used to maintain distance between people in crowded public.
Open-source designs allow others to replicate pieces themselves. Berlin-based art collective Plastique Fantastique has created a retro-futuristic face shield. It is shaped like a fish bowl and looks like a space helmet. The two hollow hemispheres are secured together with a hole for users to place the piece on their shoulders. These helmets are made from plastic, due to it’s transparent nature. But what if other materials were used, or if we were able to use household items to make open-source designs.
These designs range from attainable and practical, to those within the critical and speculative design realm. Their aim is to question and create conversation, by looking at current human nature. So although they may seem silly or impractical they may also help spark ideas in others and act as prototypes to our unprecedented future.
During this pandemic different waste streams have become apparent. Single use medical items such as masks and gloves have meant a large amount have gone into landfill, or have been disposed of improperly. But as we are told to keep our distance it has meant we have reflected on our own user habits, and what our impact is on the environment. Doing fewer shops and focusing on essential items has meant we understand more about what we need to survive. While going out less has seen reductions in pollution. We must remember that we are a unison and need to stay safe, to do this keep your distance and be considerate. Although this may change the way we are used to living, we will be together again soon.