FEATURE: Faith Weddle (Spanish Flu Now) – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In 1918 a Spanish flu pandemic infected one third of the world’s population and killed over 50 million people, disproportionately hitting young people. If the Spanish flu was to reappear in 2018, it would be a millennials’ disease; its impact would be seen in the social and cultural landscape of this generation – the web.  

Spanish Flu Now is a new project from Flying Object – creators of immersive art experience Tate Sensorium and YouTube influencer campaign #MoreThanARefugee – which uses Instagram to explore how a global pandemic would be reflected in today’s fast-moving world of youth and web culture. Spanish Flu Now runs alongside Contagion, a new dance installation from acclaimed choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh which comes to St Gabriel’s Church Hall in Sunderland on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th October.

Meticulously researched and beautifully realised, Spanish Flu Now will tell the stories of six characters caught in this new pandemic. Each story has foundations in historical truths but is reimagined and retold in the light of web culture – tapping into how Instagrammers present themselves and indulge in subcultures, how they tell narratives through selfies, memes, trends, hashtags and emojis.

The stories will play out in real time on the characters’ Instagram feeds. They might be suffering, helping others, trying to escape, or simply attempting to understand this world-changing event. They might be charting their experience, asking for help or profiteering. Would the way we communicate now contribute to the spread of a pandemic, help contain it or both?

Spanish Flu Now will also be hosted on www.spanishflunow.com

We found out more from one of the artists involved in this captivating project, Faith Weddle, who talked about what influenced the project…

I had been working as a part time gallery invigilator for Berwick Visual Arts for about three years and I first heard about Contagion by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance in March 2018. I thought that the concept sounded interesting: a dance inspired by the Spanish Influenza looking at it on a molecular level and the ways it effects the body physically.
I had never heard of the Spanish Influenza so started researching immediately whilst in the gallery.
Later, I found out that Shobana Jeyasingh Dance were interested finding a way of expressing the social history side of the story, which is how the Spanish Flu Now project came about.

I had heard of pretending to be character on Instagram, like the work of Amalia Ulman, using Instagram’s audiences to conduct social experiments for art purposes, seeing how your audience will react to certain posts (@amaliaulman) so I was intrigued, and combining the historical element to the project I was excited to give it a go when I heard about the opportunity.

Five artists were picked to portray the 6 characters in the storyline. Together we decided which characters would be best suited to our locations. I struggled a bit to work out what would best suit my skills and Berwick, I couldn’t be a bike courier because we don’t have anything like that in Berwick, it is too small, and I would have struggled to portray a pregnant mother unless I hired an actress. So that is how I got my character, Nikki, a personal trainer.
As a personal trainer, I felt like I was able to use Berwick’s surroundings to its full potential. Just because she was a personal trainer didn’t necessarily mean she was in the gym all the time. I modelled Nikki’s character on current Instagram fitness influencers, documenting their luxury holidays in yoga spas in Bali and going for runs around Hyde Park, London, so that meant that most of the pictures would be based outside. I decided early on that Nikki’s feed would be bright and bold, but I wasn’t sure how to capture this with Berwick’s natural settings, so I picked a bright pink theme to carry through the images in my clothing and to feature in her bold branding. Using the checkerboard grid made the whole Instagram seem much more orchestrated, as if it were put together by a real business to make the Instagram look authentic.

The project allowed me to take my work outdoors, visit some places around Berwick which I haven’t been to for a long time and do some things I’ve been meaning to do for a while: I got out my bike and cycled part of the coastal path, took a friend to Berwick’s lighthouse where we saw dolphins and I swam in the sea!

Spanish Flu Now runs alongside Contagion, a new dance installation from acclaimed choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh at St Gabriel’s Church Hall, Sunderland on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th October.

Images from @nikkitrains_sfn’s Instagram

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