Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Looking at SARS through art

The SARS Art Project is an Internet-based gallery that's gathered works of art inspired by SARS

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

An illustration by Kozyndan, a team of artists from Los Angeles.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SARSART.ORG

Daniel Defoe chronicled London's 1665 bubonic plague outbreak in Journal of a Plague Year, which was published in 1722, or 57 years after the epidemic. Artistic reactions to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have come much quicker.

The SARS Art Project, an Internet-based gallery that's gathered SARS inspired works from around the world, went online between mid and late-May. The project's custodian, Los Angeles-based writer Xeni Jardin, calls it a "collection of digital folk art, or these sort of funny little found images that you sort of stumble across online."

It began, she said, with images by anonymous or unknown creators that were passed around in e-mail chains, then went on to include art she commissioned from professional artists.

Now mostly complete, the online gallery displays a large assortment of images and links to sites and multimedia works, like the satirical, animated monster movie Godzilla vs. SARS (In it, Godzilla faces off with a cloud/monster-bodied SARS virus, defeating it with a breath blast fuelled by American cough syrup). There are also more introspective looks at the disease that originated in affected areas, like Beijing, Toronto, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The first image Jardin got a hold of was Outbreak Girl, a digitized t-shirt design of a raver girl wearing a surgical mask. The source was threadless.com, a Chicago-based t-shirt company.

It was a fitting beginning for what was to become a pure internet event. Jardin posted Outbreak Girl along with a few other images on boingboing.net, an interactive web journal where she's active, and asked for more submissions. It was mid-May, and although the SARS epidemic had been in Asia's headlines for weeks, for Jardin in Los Angeles felt like that was the height of the media hype in the US.

The information channel she was tapping into was that of Web journals, or blogs. The term stems from Web logs and denotes sites mostly by amateur journalists.

Jardin herself is a blogger as well as a professional journalist and in April was involved in a project that brought the two forms together, the war blog of CNN correspondent Kevin Sykes in Iraq. When interviewed by the Taipei Times, she frequently referred to the SARS Art Project as a product of the "blogosphere" and noted how it's drawn from

bloggers worldwide.

Wen Ling (溫凌), a 27-year-old blogger from Beijing with blog-world connections from Brooklyn to Tokyo, was one of the contributors. "First they made a link to my site, then later they asked me if they could use the images," he said, taking the interview over his Beijing cellphone.

Wen provided Jardin with digital photos of temperature checks in Beijing, similar to those at most building entrances in Taipei. Simply journalistic, his shots differed from the imaginative digital creations in the online gallery.

Jardin said her project aimed to transcend geography in understanding the epidemic. "Now somebody in Oklahoma or Paris or whatever can get more of a street level feel for what people were seeing and thinking [in affected areas], and that's an amazing thing."

Wen agreed the SARS Art Project was "very good" but said there were too few Beijing contributions.

In a picture of Darth Vader wearing a surgical mask from Florida and ironic illustrations from artists in LA, Washington DC and Vancouver, Wen didn't see much he could relate to. About half of the images in the SARS Art Project were made by North Americans in non-affected areas. "I think a lot of people thought the idea of wearing masks was funny and something to play with. What they didn't realize was that this disease was really terrifying," Wen said.

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