Perennial optimists beware: Elaine Whittaker’s newest multimedia solo exhibition Shiver explores how contagions and viruses can significantly alter human’s biological framework with the potential to destroy hordes of vulnerable targets without warning. With the onslaught of global health epidemics of the last decade, from SARS to the more recent calamities of the Ebola virus, Whittaker reveals how these microscopic pathogens pose a much larger threat to the well being of societies worldwide.
A recurring leitmotif throughout her exhibition is the appearance of a petri dish, a reminder of the sheer invisibility of these often deadly and silently invasive biohazards. Whether hung en masse in a chandelier-like installation piece, or accenting the artist’s photographic visualizations of separate historically catastrophic epidemics, these petri dishes emphasize the artist’s scientific preoccupations. Furthermore, the seamless white walls within the gallery space have an antiseptic appearance that recalls the interiors of research laboratories.
In contrast to the more scientific subject matter, Whittaker takes an artistic approach to visualizing and presenting the information dispersed throughout the exhibition. A series of images depicting genetic mutations that are painted onto surgical masks are illustrated in a painterly style with a complimentary colour palette. Statistical charts showcasing the increasing monthly death toll of countries affected with Ebola are handcrafted with wire and other craft-like materials, giving the data a less clinical appearance. It is as though Whittaker uses her artistic capabilities to speak to an audience who may be less interested in scientific discourse and the harrowing truths of global health crises.
*Exhibition information: April 1 – 25, 2015, The Red Head Gallery, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat, 12 – 5 p.m.