Rowena Harris research residency at SPACE Ilford
SPACE Ilford

Re-thinking care with long-Covid knowledges

Rowena Harris is using her research residency at SPACE to explore the coalescing of the term ‘care’ in contemporary art discussions alongside the use of virtual platforms like Zoom. This is after their rapid up-take through the pandemic thus far, and in the context that working from home due to health concerns – whether that be a societal pandemic, or an individual illness/disability – fundamentally appears to be about accessibility at different scales.

Rowena will be drawing on her own ongoing experiences of long Covid, as well as ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) prior to Covid-19 which, like others, made her susceptible to long Covid. Her experience of both conditions is defined by a lack of care. Although not the same, they are nonetheless intertwined experiences: her prior experience and diagnosis of ME/CFS informed her long Covid experience, both in how she would be treated, as well as her understanding of the socio-politics as this new embodied condition took hold. Knowledge, understanding, authority, power, belief and disbelief appear as components of whether care can emerge medically and socially. Rather than as a given or innate, Rowena will be exploring care as something that arises depending on certain factors that come before it, as something generated both deeply personally and deeply socio-politically.

The residency begins in ‘crip time’, where crip time can be understood as living in a wildly new configuration of time and space which arrives from, for example, energy becoming something you have to measure, conserve, manage and ration, and then apply to movements, actions, or distances that used to be inconsequential. Working from home, this virtual residency will explore what a residency in crip time can be, including virtual outputs, discussions, and engagements. 

Health and the medical is not an individual but a collective societal matter as well as a political terrain on which social power relations play out. The lack of scientific understanding of long Covid that we see today is inherited from the societal prejudices of conditions like ME/CFS. Given by the patriarchal heritage of the medical system, and a predominance in women, these conditions were previously claimed as psychological – specifically hysteria – rather than in their biological terms. This rhetoric has impeded research into biological factors that would have been useful to long Covid. And, though terminology may have now changed, in medical practice it is still typical to experience medical gaslighting, and be told your symptoms are psychological, and where this shapes the care made available, as well as dialogue with friends, family and peers. 

Like the rest of the pandemic, long Covid amplifies existing inequalities that span race, gender, class, disability, as well as in relation to technology. During her residency, Rowena will be exploring where and how different kinds of inequality and marginalisation intersect, through feminist disability studies literature, together with methodologies, theories and dialogue and conversation with SPACE to explore how to expand what we mean by care in contemporary art, with a particular focus on long Covid and ME/CFS.

This residency is a break from Rowena’s PhD at Goldsmiths College to work with SPACE and explore new ideas, and is supported by the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-East England (CHASE), an AHRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership.