Have you walked out of a pandemic movie lately with the hair raised on the back of your neck? Not because of the throes of flesh eating zombies, but because the person who sat beside you was coughing the whole time? We are surrounded by microbes, composed of microbes and terrified of them. We live in a porous world in porous bodies. The possibility of being breached, infected and losing body integrity is always present. I Caught It at The Movies is a mixed media installation of digital images, painting and live bacteria that blurs the boundaries between what is real and what is manufactured, what is animate and what is inanimate. It brings together painted visualizations of ‘real’ microbes and diseases, and digital photo stills of terrified individuals as found in the disease and pandemic movies of Contagion, 28 Days Later, Outbreak, Resident Evil, Andromeda Strain, Infection and others. These are overlaid with live cultured halobacteria that has crystallized. This installation asks viewers to aesthetically explore their own reactions and prejudices with regard to living in a world that is shared with microbes. Ultimately, the images aim to challenge viewers’ perceptions about their bodies as a site that has become trespassed, tainted, and contaminated by a popular culture that escalates social anxiety and terror of microbes by artificially creating a sense of bioparanoia.
Elaine Whittaker is a Canadian visual artist that considers biology as contemporary art practice. Situated in the realm of bioart, her work explores the forces and materials that make us human, from the foundational processes needed to form an organism, to the microscopic world of cellular ecologies. Viewed through the lens of disaster, and the psychology of trepidation, it is an aesthetic in which art, science and fragile ecologies intersect. Her artworks have been shown in group and solo exhibits, nationally and internationally. These include, among others, Ontario Science Centre (Toronto), Science Gallery (Dublin, Ireland), Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art (Winnipeg), Red Head Gallery (Toronto), Yukon Arts Centre Gallery (Whitehorse), McMaster Museum of Art (Hamilton), Kunsthaus Santa Fe (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico), Il Gabbiano (La Spezia, Italy), and the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (Michigan, USA). She has been an invited participant in residencies, workshops and festivals on science and art, and her work has been featured in literary, academic, medical, and scientific periodicals, websites and blogs. She is a recipient of grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council, and holds a BFA (York University, Toronto), a Fine Arts diploma (Toronto School of Art), and a BA (Carleton University, Ottawa).
*Halobacterium sp. NRC-1 is an ancient bacterium that lives in many high salt environments such as the Dead Sea, the Bahamas, the Great Salt Lake. It is non-pathogenic.