The act of containing is always an act of restraining—holding something or someone in place. Keeping proper control. Limiting expansion. Preventing advancement. When an infectious disease presents itself, we act to contain it. An act that can be both liberating and traumatic. Contained is an installation that encompasses both these possibilities.

Contained is inspired by the artist’s mother’s experience of contracting Tuberculosis (the White Plague) in 1944 at the age of twenty. She was sent to a sanatorium in Mont Jolie, Quebec for two years of treatments. There she endured rest therapy (constant bed rest, healthy diet, fresh air) and pneumothorax (collapsing the lung so that it can repair itself by cutting off the oxygen supply to the tuberculosis bacteria). Lying in bed day in day out, she wondered if she would survive while many around her died. She often imagined escaping, flying past the surrounding farmlands, over the grand forests, and into the hopeful sky.

Whittaker abstracts and transforms her mother’s sanatorium experience to weave an atmosphere that is both clinical and fantastical. Drawing on her artist residency at the Pelling Laboratory for Augmented Biology (Ottawa), she combines medical tools and scientific processes into a series of installations and sculptures encapsulating biomaterial, feathers, salt crystals, avian lungs and plant fibre containing human lung cells.

Contained is an exhibit that finds hope when faced with a life curtailed by disease. With its blend of current scientific processes and past medical practices, it becomes, ultimately, a contemplation on past histories and possible futures.

Developed as Artist-in-Residence, in conjunction with Andrew Pelling and Ryan Hickey, at the Pelling Laboratory for Augmented Biology, University of Ottawa.