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365-day Audio Project by Jordan Baseman Marks the Centenary of Spanish Flu

Starting on 1 November, an ambitious 365-day audio work by Jordan Baseman, RCA Reader in Time-based Media and Senior Tutor/Pathway Leader Moving Image, will mark the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic – known colloquially as Spanish Flu. Commissioned by Wellcome Trust, Radio Influenza will explore and interpret how news, rumour and health information and dis-information were shared and experienced through newspaper accounts at the time.

Over the course of a year, a daily audio piece will be released every morning on capturing the everyday lived experience of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide. Listeners will be able to follow the reports through this dedicated website, podcast, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. 

‘With Radio Influenza, I’m aiming to create what a soundtrack that is made from news reports mirroring 100 years previously, to the day,’ explained Baseman. ‘There will be simultaneous viewpoints; it will often feel contradictory – stories will lie, information and misinformation will overlap.’

The 1918 influenza pandemic was one of the most significant and wide-reaching international health crises of the twentieth century. The exact origins of the flu are unknown, but the major troop staging and hospital camp in Étaples, France, has been identified as central to the outbreak. The close proximity and massive troop movements of the First World War hastened the pandemic, possibly both increasing transmission and augmenting mutation.

Baseman has developed Radio Influenza through in-depth archival research using original source materials from 1918–19. The broadcasts will follow the patterns and rhythms of everyday life over the course of a year. From individual, local stories to national and international responses, the project will represent the devastation of the epidemic through the everyday, exploring how information about it filtered into every aspect of life.

The pandemic was shocking because of its severity but also because it predominantly killed previously healthy young adults, whereas most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill young, elderly or already weak patients. Due to war-time censorship, reporting of the severity of the illness was restricted in the UK, France, Germany and the United States. However, in neutral Spain there were no restrictions, creating the impression that the illness was worse there, hence the moniker Spanish Flu. Using contemporary reporting from the British Newspaper Archive held by the British Library, Radio Influenza will track reporting of scientific developments and failures, the public’s hopes and fears, and governments’ action and inaction.

Discussing the project Danny Birchall, Creative Projects Manager, Wellcome, said: ‘Radio Influenza will raise interesting questions around how we collectively remember the history of illness, and what the real impact of the 1918 pandemic was on ordinary lives. It will also ask us to think about how we consume information during global health emergencies and why, one hundred years on, we can still learn from the experience of the Spanish flu and its effects.’

Jordan Baseman is a visual artist and filmmaker. He uses recorded interviews, recorded observation processes and archival sources as raw material for the production of narrative-based, creative non-fiction, single screen films, sound works and moving-image based installations and artworks. The editing, re-interpretation and re-positioning of speculative ideas, opinions, beliefs and anecdotes towards the production of new narratives is central to his practice.

Baseman has a long history of executing projects in collaboration with public institutions. These have included residencies and commissions for Papworth Hospital (Heart and Lung Transplant Unit), Cambridge; the British School at Rome, Rome; Science Museum, London; Grizedale Arts, Cumbria; Photographers' Gallery, London; Cove Park, Scotland; Monash University, Melbourne, Australia; University of Tasmania, Australia; St. Johns College, University of Oxford, Oxford; and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Radio Influenza is commissioned by Wellcome and produced by Matt’s Gallery, London. Wellcome is an organisation that connects and drives progress across research, innovation, policy and society to transform how we prepare for, and respond to epidemics. This year Wellcome is marking the centenary by funding a wealth of projects exploring local, national and international responses to the reality and devastation of the Spanish Flu.

Matt’s Gallery is a contemporary not-for-profit art gallery, established in 1979 by Robin Klassnik OBE as an alternative space in East London. For over 38 years, Matt’s Gallery has been an independent and influential force in the visual arts sector, both nationally and internationally, championing the careers of artists such as Benedict Drew, Willie Doherty, Jimmie Durham, Susan Hiller, Nathaniel Mellors, Mike Nelson, Lindsay Seers, Imogen Stidworthy and Richard Wilson.

Daily updates are released every morning on
Follow on social media: @radioinfluenza on twitter and on Instagram and Radio Influenza on Facebook.
You can also follow Radio Influenza as a podcast, using your favourite listening app.

Find out more about the Moving Image pathway in MA Contemporary Art Practice, and how to apply.