Patient Zer0 (In Memory Of Anyone Unknown To Me)

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Patient Zer0 was inspired by, conceived and designed in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic (click image to visit on-line installation).

* Symptoms

Despite the fact that common-sense and major health organisations recommend physical isolation and the wearing of masks, many choose not to abide, unable to realise that not only are they potentially putting themselves at risk,  but also everyone else that crosses their path, including family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours or other people who happen to share the same space. They remain convinced that “it is just a flu”, that defying sanitary rules is a sign of courage and that it helps “The Economy” – when it really is the opposite: they are neither brave enough to care for themselves nor for all those around them. And by their actions our days become darker still.

An Edelman survey found that a majority of people across several countries believed that saving lives should be prioritised, even in the USA where Trump followers protested against lockdown measures.

There are, however, those who need to go out and work, to ensure their salaries get paid, to ensure our lives go on, our internet purchases get delivered, our internet connections keep running. They take precautions and refrain from physical contact. Others yet risk their lives assisting and caring for the many victims, and often they do not even sleep at home with their own families to safeguard them. These are the brave ones.

But despite their brave actions these are dark days, as many of the victims are separated from their families and will die alone. Some died in isolation, others were left behind in homes and care centres, several were left unattended because there weren’t enough resources and eventually died of starvation. Imagine being told “you are not a priority”. Imagine your relatives being told “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do”.

This is the first (I would hope the only) pandemic that many of us are witnessing in our own lifetimes. It is changing our daily lives, our routines, our perceptions, our relationship with life and death, and our relationship with “the other”. We can choose to perceive everyone else as a potential threat or as a fellow human being sharing the same feelings, going through the same experiences, fearing as we do, loving as we do.

Reports abound of attacks perpetrated against people who were suspected to be infected. Ambulances carrying patients to improvised hospitals have been stoned and homes for the elderly graffitied. The best and the worst of human nature has risen and is unashamedly out in the open.

No economy is worth saving at the expense of humanity.
No society makes sense at the expense of Humanity.
Though physically apart, we share the same nature.
Though physically apart, we are connected in so many ways.

This pandemic has caused too many victims, attacking bodies and souls.
It is time to honour the departed, whoever they may be, wherever they were from.
Simply because they were human. Like us. Like me.

And time to thank the brave.

Click here to go to Patient Zer0

(Patient Zer0 will open in a popup window, check if your browser is not blocking it. For sound click the play/pause button at the top-left corner of the screen)

* Treatment

Patient Zer0 (slightly) remixes Elizabeth Jennings‘s most excellent poem “In Memory Of Anyone Unknown To Me”, as the original verse layout (below) is slightly adjusted for on-screen presentation. The choice was made to present key sentences and expressions at a time, rather than full verses, yet completely safeguarding the original flow of the poem.

In Memory Of Anyone Unknown To Me
By Elizabeth Jennings

At this particular time I have no one
Particular person to grieve for, though there must
Be many, many unknown ones going to dust
Slowly, not remembered for what they have done
Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve
Being impartial, unable to deceive.

How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,
And, by that fact gives my grief purity,
An important person quite apart from me
Or one obscure who drifted down alone.
Both or all I remember, have a place.
For these I never encountered face to face.

Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out
Wishing to give these classical repose,
No epitaph, no poppy and no rose
From me, and certainly no wish to learn about
The way they lived or died. In earth or fire
They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.

The audio was produced from Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s televised speech in March 2020, during which he acknowledged the arrival of the virus, criticising  lockdown mechanisms and defending the economy above personal safety, while claiming that COVID-19 will cause no harm to 90% of the population. He then proceeded to compare it to a mild flu.

Left and right audio channels were separated and one of them reversed. The whole sound file was slowed down by a factor of 8 and the pitch dropped two octaves. The resulting audio is reminiscent of a dark horror film, and therefore deemed appropriate for this piece.

Note: Due to browser privacy restrictions, audio playback upon page loading is disabled. Please use the control at the top-left to start playback.

The system is formed by two particle sets: one reserved for assembling and dismantling the solemn utterances as text-dust (Remember You are Dust and to Dust You Shall Return). The other particle set is the societal backdrop, where each larger cell (in shades of blue-cyan or red) represents an individual. The relationships among these individuals are illustrated by connecting arcs, and both individuals and arcs are animated with the natural living rhythm of breathing, through colour (both) and movement (arcs), as COVID-19 signature symptoms mostly relate to the respiratory/circulatory systems. The two particle sets (text-dust and individuals) are connected since each dust particle has its origins in one of the individuals.

All individuals remain anonymous until they are infected.

Their names, countries and age at the time of infection are displayed.

This counters the current situation where the infected with COVID-19 are “just” part of local, regional, national and international statistics. We are bombarded with numbers of “new infections” and “daily death tolls”. But behind those numbers are individuals.

Initially only one individual is infected. This is the Patient Zer0. He could be anyone of us.


Through contact with other individuals, contagion occurs (represented by the white rays) and so the spreading starts, across communities, countries and continents.


The Economy responds to the observer’s mouse: placing the cursor in close contact with each individual will cause them to break confinement and move around. As expected, the more the individuals move, the faster they all become infected.

Mouse left-clicking restarts the societal background. The poem, however, flows independently.

This project was developed in Processing.js and the particle animation used in the sentences was inspired by Jason Labbe’s code.