Shiver Response Two, Spayne

Shiver 2015 by Mary Spayne
The sodium chloride crystals at the heart of Whittaker’s Shiver form patterns in dozens of individual petri dishes inoculated with a concentrated salt solution and left to dry. Each petri dish represents a human cell, and interwoven into random cells is a bunched red thread, or “mutation.” In the Ebola Graph series, Whittaker’s crystals cluster on thin wire threads, forming a crystalline grid on which is represented the tragic burden of cases and deaths in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Just as Whittaker’s progress was disrupted in the making of Shiver – she lost a quarter of her petri dishes after a test installation and had to begin again – the exhibition hints at the disruption which can occur at the intersection of health and the human environment.

On the surgical masks of the Screened For series the faces of twelve separate pathogens are delicately rendered in gouache, juxtaposed over the mouths of potential human hosts. While in reality infectious agents invade the body through several channels, such as a mosquito vector or a bodily fluid, and while there often exist robust public health measures to prevent or intervene in their transmission, the perception of their threat is palpable in this work. Who is the protagonist? Has she been exposed? Is her mask protective, and what constitutes true protection?

Each work reflects the duality of everyday life. The artist’s salt “mutations” portend disease, and yet salt as a substance has many curative and life-giving properties; aren’t salt solutions used to irrigate wounds and restore fluid balance? The exhibit Shiver can be interpreted as ominous in nature, and yet, is not the act of shivering the body’s own attempt at homeostasis?



Mary Spayne is an Epidemiologist and Writer, living in Toronto.