In the midst of a global pandemic, Instagram (formerly my favorite distraction) has become a site where people are earnestly thinking about what it means it be alive—in under 60 seconds. The fear of contagion has determined where we live (with luck and privilege: at home) and what activities bring meaning to our lives.1 I am particularly interested in the latter because the value placed on how we spend our time poses a problem for Blackness, which in the confines of antiblackness, is the perpetual condition of being out of time. I am wary of the invitations to synch our lives together, from celebrities who insists COVID-19 is the great equalizer to Instagram notifications about someone I follow “going live.” A reaction to an overwhelming sense of delay from the Trump administration or lagging internet speeds, liveness has been a prevailing response to this crisis. Just look at the top of your Instagram feed, it’s spreading!
Blackness is a form of asynchronicity that may be the perfect antidote to liveness. Liveness is a mediated humanism that narrowly defines life to here and now; thus, the assumed difference between live and mediated performance is the same unyielding distinction that cannot conceive of Black life. The images for this piece are from “Club Quarantine,” a 9-hour Instagram Live dance party hosted by DJ D-Nice on March 22 that maintained 100,000 viewers throughout the day. It is an example of Black art creating community in contingency and deploying asychronicity to critique liveness’s attachments to the human, its collapsed spatiotemporality, and its investment in performances of productivity. Club Quarantine used Instagram’s interface and hip-hop aesthetics to expand the notion of liveness: viewers “repping hoods” all over the world declared “we’re here!” through a constant scroll of text and animated hearts. They created asynchronous images that visualized the radically different spaces and times of #quarantinelife. The gathering shifted its center when D-Nice left the screen (to change hats) or when a celebrity arrived. The marathon remix made time for Black music and Black people, but the party exhibited its own endurance, specifically a capacity for change that made it one of the most compelling displays of life/liveness I’ve experienced in this pandemic. And just like that, in a fitting response to a crisis exacerbated by the chilling effects of market worship and an impressive display of non-attachment, it’s all gone, but not lost.2 DJ D-Nice sent partiers to Questlove’s page the next night.
1 In this discussion of “liveness” as a form of productivity, it is worth noting the increase in “Quarantine baking” has caused a yeast shortage.
2 Instagram Live videos are only available for 24 hours.