“LANDSCAPES OF QUARANTINE” curated by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley

Landscapes of Quarantine” is an exhibition curated by Nicola Twilley, of Edible Geography and Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG; it features new works by a multi-disciplinary group of eighteen artists, designers, and architects, each of whom was inspired by one or more of the physical, biological, ethical, architectural, social, political, temporal, and even astronomical dimensions of quarantine. This exhibition was born from an independent design studio in New York City.

As described by the curators:

At its most basic, quarantine is a strategy of separation and containment—the creation of a hygienic boundary between two or more things, for the purpose of protecting one from exposure to the other. It is a spatial response to suspicion, threat, and uncertainty. From Chernobyl’s Zone of Exclusion and the artificial quarantine islands of the New York archipelago to camp beds set up to house HIV-positive Haitian refugees detained at Guantánamo and the modified Airstream trailer from within which Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins once waved at President Nixon, the landscapes of quarantine are various, mutable, and often unexpected.


Caption: Katie Holten’s trip to the abandoned quarantine station on North Brother Island, NYC, November 2009

If we look out for a definition on “quarantine” we found out that “Quarantine is voluntary or compulsory isolation, typically to contain the spread of something considered dangerous, often but not always disease. The word comes from the Italian (seventeenth century Venetian) quarantena, meaning forty day period.”

So, what is its relationship with architecture? We can talk about space and how it adaps, changes and transform itself according different situations along the Centuries. Albert Camus wrote in his novel La Peste [1947], about destiny and the human condition, but closely related with the city of Oran [space] and how the town is sealed off:

“The town gates are shut, rail travel is prohibited, and all mail service is suspended. The use of telephone lines is restricted only to “urgent” calls, leaving short telegrams as the only means of communicating with friends or family outside the town. The separation affects daily activity and depresses the spirit of the townspeople, who begin to feel isolated and introverted, and the plague begins to affect various characters.”


Caption: In this engraving from about 1660, a syphilis sufferer gets fumigated in a special oven. The caption on the oven translates as “For one pleasure a thousand pains.”

In the 14th Century, Venice established the first formal system of quarantine, requiring ships to lay at anchor for 40 days before landing. Quarantine ships were employed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases during this era.


Caption: From 1895 through 1914 the decommissioned OMAHA remained at anchor as a quarantine ship off Angel Island, California. Her masts were cropped and a large covered structure was added to her deck to house diseased immigrants and sailors. -U.S. Naval Historical Center Photo

But in the current times, plagues that required quarantines are not the only cause of isolation. In 1962, president Kennedy made a nationally televised report that he was imposing a quarantine to the U.S. Navy’s interdiction of shipping en route to Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. He used the term “quarantine” rather than blockade, because a quarantine is a legal act in peacetime, whereas a blockade is defined as an act of aggression under the U.N. Charter.


Caption: Cruiser USS Newport News (CA 148)

Today bioterrorism and newly emergent diseases like SARS threaten to resurrect the age-old custom, potentially on the scale of entire cities. All of these are the outbreaks that call for our attention in terms of space. Cities affected by a quarantine suddenly transform their urban uses and social culture. According to Nicola Twilley:

“Typically, quarantine is thought of in the context of disease control. It is used to isolate people who have been exposed to a contagious virus or bacteria and, as a result, may (or may not) be carrying the infection themselves. But quarantine does not apply only to people and animals. Its boundaries can be set up for as long as needed, creating spatial separation between clean and dirty, safe and dangerous, healthy and sick, foreign and native—however those labels are defined.”


Caption: The usually jam-packed Beijing Subway, as seen during the SARS outbreak [May 2003]. During the epidemic many chose not to take public transport.

“As a result,” adds Geoff Manaugh, “the practice of quarantine extends far beyond questions of epidemic control and pest-containment strategies to touch on issues of urban planning, geopolitics, international trade, ethics, immigration, and more. And although the practice dates back at least to the arrival of the Black Death in medieval Venice, if not to Christ’s 40 days in the desert, quarantine has re-emerged as an issue of urgency and importance in today’s era of globalization, antibiotic resistance, emerging diseases, pandemic flu, and bio-terrorism.”


Caption: MAP 002: Quarantine by David Garcia

So, if you’re around New York, don’t miss the upcoming exhibition: LANDSCAPES OF QUARANTINE at Storefront for Art and Architecture. Each of the works on display in the exhibition responds to some aspect of quarantine, from the “dark math” of triage and the ethical challenge of enforced isolation to the geological timescale of nuclear-waste sequestration. It will be the launch of the special issue of David Garcia’s Manual of Architectural Possibilities [M.A.P.]

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Recommended and related reading:
NOVA | History of Quarantine
BLDGBLOG | Landscapes of Quarantine and the Counterfeit University
Wikipedia | Quarantine
MAP | MAP 002 Quarantine

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