Uncaptioned image from Radio Influenza by Jordan Baseman at Matt’s Gallery
Uncaptioned image from Radio Influenza by Jordan Baseman at Matt’s Gallery
Uncaptioned image from Radio Influenza by Jordan Baseman at Matt’s Gallery
Uncaptioned image from Radio Influenza by Jordan Baseman at Matt’s Gallery
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Jordan Baseman

Radio Influenza

1 November 2018 – 31 October 2019

Online

Starting on 1 November, an ambitious 365-day audio work by Jordan Baseman marks the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, known colloquially as 'Spanish Flu'. Commissioned by Wellcome, 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 capture 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 a dedicated website, podcast, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds.

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.

Radio Influenza is commissioned by Wellcome and produced by Matt's Gallery, London.

Matt’s Gallery is supported by Arts Council England.