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Elia Vargas with Mwesigwa Daniel, Forrest McGarvey, Dorothy Santos, Gavin Gamboa, Rose Linke, Maya Weeks, Agustina Woodgate, Surabhi Saraf, Valerie Imus, Ian Alan Paul, Andrea Steves, Thomas Blank, Helen Tseng, Tessa Siddle, Natalie Sims, Anna Friz, Amy Franceschini, Cassie Thornton, Andy Puls, Carrie Hott, Laurie Palmer, Tiare Ribeaux, Kara Stone, Johnna Arnold, Keanu Ramos, Shimeko Franklin, Margaretha Haughwout, Maggie Wander, Brian Merchant, Alex Cruse, Andrew Maguire, Blen Mandefro, Kate Polakiewicz, Amy Hicks, James Lee, Justin Carder, Mailee Hung, Isalina Chow, Sierra Vargas, Jason Huff, Celeste Neuhaus

Hi empyre,

Thank you to Dan for organizing this group of artists around what has become such a crucial and taxing theme in these times. As is so often the case, I find myself sharing the company of artists with whom I have been in dialogue in the past in varied capacities. And isn't that the tender, fragile, point of this temporary accumulation? As a media artist, curator, and scholar, who is deeply invested in place and community, but has been globally nomadic for the past couple of years, I've spent much of the pandemic months reflecting on how thinking concepts that perform change can happen together, apart. How can they? This project, Atmosphere, was completed earlier this year and already that feels reflected in a certain datedness of shared catastrophe. Since that time, my parents, friends, colleagues, and students were evacuated due to fires in California, while my spouse and I were simultaneously awaiting orders to evacuate entirely different fires from our pandemic-influenced abode. It is December, and apparently, it is fire season again. Certain ideas about collective imagining that I had back in 2018—when I emerged from a San Francisco BART station, wearing a gas mask to avoid a toxic smoke atmosphere, to get into a self-driving tesla to speak with the fine folks of Radioee about petroleum mysticism during a 24-hour mobile radio broadcast—have been actualized more rapidly, and more urgently than expected. So, I leave you with the introduction to Atmosphere: a speculative fiction exquisite corpse made under shelter in place:

On March 16, 2020, at the beginning stages of global social distancing, I initiated an experiment in thinking together from afar with friends, artists, writers, and educators across five continents: a speculative fiction exquisite corpse. Beginning with my own entry—the middle—two participants extended the writing chronologically before and after. Continuing in this way, 42 people from across the planet participated, with one person simultaneously adding to before as another added to after. I spend my time thinking about the way the world is conceptualized, whether that be speculative fabulations, science-fiction, speculative feminism, afrofuturism, energy, science, film, art, music, or Star Trek... I’m interested in concepts that perform change. I’ve been living nomadically, throughout West and East Africa, in varied and at times isolated circumstances. Currently, I’m in remote northern California, and suddenly, there is a shared experience of social distancing. In 2018, the toxic smoke of California fires changed collective habits and now the coronavirus pandemic is transforming how we do our most basic things. Collective narratives of ecological crises and post-apocalyptic fictions are no longer far off on the horizon; they are not relegated to books or screen time. They are part of daily life and impose on some of us an awareness of the way that many cultures have already been in crisis. If shared investments and stewardship of this earth is made in part by our capacity to imagine a future, a community, a home, that provides mutual support and the possibility to prosper for all species-beings, then we must imagine new concepts, for the future, but really, for the present.

— elia vargas