Elaine Whittaker DREADFUL VISITATIONS

A series of mixed media installations with sculptures & wax paintings.

Dreadful Visitations  (2006)

In his remarkable book, A Journal of the Plague Year, written in 1722, Daniel Defoe mixes historical records and his own personal experiences to recount the “dreadful visitation” of the bubonic plague as it swept across London in the year 1665. Such dreadful visitations of microbial plagues are hardly a thing of the past. Leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis, the plague, and others, still haunt the world. Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, protists and fungi are behind these plagues. Microbes are also the earliest forms of life on earth, and they continue to evolve. Lynn Margulis states in Symbiotic Planet (1998): “All life, we now know, evolved from the smallest life-forms of all, bacteria.” Microbes rely on a symbiotic relationship for their existence, having co-evolved with all known species of animals, plants and humans -- their ‘host’. We are all individually --and socially living -- ecologies, a thriving community of organisms.

Through a series of installations, Dreadful Visitations is an exhibit that explores sites of microbial visitations. The Swarm: even encased in wax mosquitoes unsettling ability to carry multiple viruses is eerily projected. Zoonosis: amassed chicken bones shaped into a series of mutating DNA strands proclaim the possibility of an avian flu disturbingly transferred onto humans. Microbial Passage: known for transporting major diseases in the past, the ship is itself a living organism, bearing microbes in its very own aesthetically fabricated and unique cellular makeup. Miasma: are the very masks we wear to protect ourselves from disease acting as a vector for contagious microbes? 

Dreadful Visitations challenges us to confront both our personal and societal fragility against microbial scourges. Ultimately, the exhibit asks us to accept that microbes are not merely visitations, and we are not merely hosts. We are intertwined symbiotic organisms. From SARS in Toronto to AIDS in Africa, there is also a social question raised by the exhibit that cannot be avoided. It is the most fragile of us, linked and marginalized by globalization, that are the most vulnerable to ‘visits’ from contemporary plagues.                                                                   

ASSOCIATED TEXTS
DREADFUL VISITATIONS 2006 by Suzanne Robertson