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The COVID-19 epidemic emptied city places, tinned public sites and readjusted sub-levels of urban routines. Have physical distancing and social isolation already established a new mode to live together that won’t cease after the lockdown is cancelled? That is a large research and political question that each society will strive to answer months and years after the Day 0. What is immediatly visible, is how the lockdown bared deeper material infrastructure of the cities, reducing networks of usual bodily interactions but also generating new ephemeral ones. A short visual study examines signs of presence dispersed in urban spaces deserted and put under control of civic self-discipline and police surveillance.

 

Hollow sites

Urban institutions immediately “frozen” with the declared lockdown or progressively shut down in the passed weeks expose the city as if it was a set of specimen preparations. The metaphor of open-air museum gains here a full palpability. Visible through windows, fences and prohibitive ribbons, the trace of previously frenetic urban motion displays itself halted and decomposed into dormant shops and churches, cafés and construction sites, hotels and parks. A kind of perfect museum inventory charged with ethnographic and administrative value. Its historical value is still low two months after the full stop. But one may already feel a soft vibration of time machine.

Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence

 

Unintentional space marks

A paradox of anti-epidemic policy consists in streets tighter controlled for human presence, while their material maintaining is loosened. Shifts in both dimensions are not dramatic, as compared to routine urban rhythms, at least in Western Europe. Almost unapparent in hygiene, these effects are more visible in urban aesthetics. Critical issues are mostly removed leaving place to unintentional marks and temporary signs left by passengers, maintenance workers, secret inhabitants and animals. Keeping the frame structure intact, the city gets more excentric in small details.

Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence

 

New and old litter

Unintentional signs of presence concur with spontaneous litter regularly marking urban landscapes. Ancient layers are superposed and mixed with fresher ones related to the epidemic. In most downtown locations no special expertise is required to distinguish archeological origin of fragments and their approximate age. Further from main pedestrian routes and essential facilities, more intricate the constellations are.

Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence

 

Sign shifts

A layer of intentional signs fixing common use of places is augmented by epidemic ones destined to redirect the usual ways of doing things. Numerous billboards calling inhabitants for hygienic vigilance make a small faction of the semantic amendment to the city life. Turbulence of meanings is formed around the concept of closure. Closed distributions invite customers and servicemen to go another way round, locked down inhabitants cheer up neighbours and passengers with naive art, and even obscure technical and traffic instructions marked with colours and numbers mutate ostentatiously in the reacquired urban silence.

Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence

 

Wrong order

Institutions and services routinely arranging public space are not simply preventing its wear and degradation. Entire public order is founded on a proactive system of “correct” combinations of items and their usages. Shopping trolleys should not be pulled outside shops, highway indicators must hint right directions, winter clothes are better avoided in late spring, scooters are parked outside of café terraces and not inside, while city bikes are normally docked at bike stands and not at trees. The new oder adds regulated distance between bodies. All that should work under the glance of global police whose historical role is to assure a “good” order of individuals and things. Meanwhile the shifted vector of urban control pointing human absence in the streets eases “wrong” combination of things becoming more apparent.

Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence

  

Recycling spaces

Do deserted urban spaces change their function under lockdown restrictions, when parks are closed, entertainment is scarce, commercial activity is reduced and transport services are modified? For someone who lived the radical disruption of the 1990s in Eastern Europe, the current blow affecting locked capitals is mild. Two ultimate signs of deep urban dive are completely lacking from the COVID-aesthetics: temporary DIY constructions of used tyres and more durable facilities made of sheet iron. The city space is still modified when families regularly walk children outside parks, shopkeepres adapt themselves to logistic impediments, temporary road constructions become half-permanent and lonely consumers are tempted to simulate outing. Superposed with usual modes to cope with poor bike parking and some other inconveniences of large cities, reassignment of places creates a fragile code of an alternative space.

Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence
Alexander Bikbov: Paris-COVID, a study of signs of presence

 

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