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Count Dengue

Your love hurts down to my bones

This project is about the creation and negotiation of different forms of knowledge. I am studying how anthropology, in collaboration with ideas and practices drawn from science and art, can be used to explore public understandings of dengue in Medellín, Colombia.

I intend to show that there is a lack of understanding and connection between health authorities, the scientific production of knowledge and the cultural beliefs attached to dengue fever. This is because they all operate on the basis of different ontologies and different epistemic models. For example, a biologist who studies the virus in cell cultures has different interests and ways of working than an epidemiologist or leader of a public health institute, who are focused on stopping disease outbreaks. Even though all of these other ontologies exist, public health campaigns are poorly designed and they generally emphasize sanitation and hygiene rather than considering other ways to understand the disease.

My project is an attempt to address these problems by re-working the scientific method as an ethnographic experiment in relational art. This process implies thinking about ‘conceptual art’ as an ethnographic research method –ethnographic conceptualism (Ssorin-Chaikov, 2013).

To do so, I used the ideas of participation, appropriation and relationality to generate dialogues between my participants. We then collaboratively created elements that reflect the ideas of how dengue fever is understood in various different contexts. There were four outcomes of this process: Vampires, the mosquito-kite project, Serotype, and Count Dengue.

Following George Marcus (2013-2014), this ethnography by design provided a different field for the negotiation of public understanding of dengue.

Comments made by the participants of my fieldwork

“Dengue is like being forced to listen to a buzzing sound inside your head all day.”

“I don’t even remember that mosquitoes suck my blood. What really bothers me is that they don’t let me sleep.”

“I associate dengue fever vectors with those ‘zancudos’ (it is a popular way in Colombia for naming mosquitoes.) with big legs because the people involved in the last health campaign told me that.”

“I don’t recall anything ever bending me like dengue...”

“Listen brother –I am paying attention to a person mimicking a conversation with a mosquito–...

you can do with me what you want, you can suck all the blood that my body has if you want,

but just let me sleep in peace.”

“I associate the word ‘zancudo’ with the idea of movement. We have been told we should kill mosquitoes,

so we always try to catch them.”

“—Should mosquitoes live? —I asked Aurora.

—Well, if God puts them into the world is because they should live, right? There are many people that don’t like to kill

animals, even those that are harmful. They should live, right, but can someone teach them not to be

too harmful? —Aurora replies.”