Category Archives: health

The Living Dead. A project to recreate what it feels like to suffer from Cotard’s syndrome

The Cotard delusion was first described by French neurologist Jules Cotard in the late 19th century. One of his patients, whom he called Mademoiselle X, believed that she had “no brain, nerves, chest or entrails, and was just skin and bone.” She was also convinced that she did not need food for “she was eternal and would live for ever.” The lady, Dr. Cotard claimed, was suffering from a neurological condition he called le délire de negation (negation delirium).

The disorder -sometimes also called ‘Walking Corpse syndrome’- is so rare that it largely remains a mystery today. People affected by the syndrome believe that they or part of their body parts are dead, dying or don’t exist at all. It is usually accompanied by severe depression and some psychotic disorders. But what intrigues neuroscientists and neurologists is not just the uncommonness of the syndrome, it is that the brain of the patients may hold the key to understanding the mysteries of human consciousness.


Research at Radboud University. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf

Marleine van der Werf, a filmmaker and visual artist whose work explores ideas about reality and the perception of reality, is currently researching how she could use immersive cinema to visualise this type (dis)embodiment.

The Living Dead will be an ‘out-of-body experience’, a multi sensory installation that allows you to feel what it is like to have Cotard’s syndrome. Using wearables, sound, smell and virtual reality, the experience is inspired by the true stories of people who suffer from the Cotard syndrome.

I discovered the project at the STRP festival in Eindhoven where Marleine van der Werf was showing the trailer of the installation she is still developing. I’m really looking forward to (hopefully) experience the work one day. In the meantime, i had a little chat with the artist about the project:


Screening of the teaser during the STRP festival. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf

Hi Marleine! What drove you to explore the Cotard syndrome. Was there any particular event, person or discovery that inspired you to develop the installation?

When I was a child I saw from up close how it is to loose your mind and I always thought that ‘owning a body’ is one of the few certainties we have as humans. But when I read The Disembodied Lady by neurologist Oliver Sacks combined with ideas about exoskeletons and uploading consciousness I started to question this. This sparked my artistic research in the domains of body ownership and the sense of our self the last few years.


Still from the teaser featuring Dr. Jesús Ramirez-Bermudez. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf

How do you gather information about what it feels to suffer from this very rare condition? By speaking with doctors? Patients?

Both. I met patients who suffer from cotard and studied different cases. I also visited physicians like Jesús Ramírez-Bermúdez, who is Head of the Neuropsychiatry Unit of the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Mexico City. He is an expert in his field and has seen the most patients who suffer from Cotard syndrome and could provide very important insights.

I obviously have no idea of what it feels to believe i am dead. Or that parts of my body are dead. Do all people who suffer from Cotard have similar experiences and ways of describing them?

It is difficult to say yes or no to this question. But what I gather from the patients experience and Dr. Ramirez-Bermudez is that there are definitely similarities. For example, that certain organs are missing or dead and that they feel detached from their environment. But of course experiences are very subjective and influenced by their background. For example, the patient I met experienced it as if she was between heaven and hell. Since she had a very religious background this seems like a logical explanation. Someone with a non-religious background could explain this feeling in a different way.


Research at We make VR. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf


Filming in hospital during surgery. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf

Will the final installation reflect what one person in particular feels or will it give a general impression of the syndromes?

To create the experience we research and collect as many different stories as we can. Since it is a rare syndrome this is a difficult task, because it has not been documented as well as other syndromes. After that process, we filter and structure it in a narrative that reflects all the stories, but is still an intimate experience.


Collage in the artist’s notebook of Manos Tsakiris and his research on the body. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf

The installation looks very ambitious. It will use wearables, sound, smell and virtual reality to immerse the public in the story of the people who experience Cotard. Apart from doctors who work with Cotard patients, are you collaborating with other scientists or research institutes?

Yes, at the moment we are in the process of forming the whole team and are talking with leading neuroscientist that research body ownership, perception and empathy. For example Professor Floris de Lange of the Predictive brain lab of the Radboud University in Nijmegen (NL) and Professor Manos Tsakiris who established the Lab of Action & Body in Royal Holloway University in London (UK). Of course tools like wearables and virtual reality can contribute to create this immersive stories, but analogue tools are very important as well. That is the reason why we not only collaborate with artists, neuroscientist and engineers, but also with dancers. They use their body as instruments to convey stories and are vital in our process of creating the installation.

What are the biggest challenges you are encountering when trying to convey this out-of-body experience?

Having Cotard syndrome is very distressing and questions the most basic assumptions we have about our self.

The fact that the syndrome, as scientist say, could give an answer to where consciousness lies intrigues me on this journey. It is my aim to create an experience that is not a horror show, but an invitation for a wide audience to think about the relation with our body and where we as a society are heading.

I only saw the trailer during STRP and now i’m intrigued about what the final installation will be like. Could you already describe what it will look and feel like?

Creating a new work and going on a quest is always an adventure. Part of that journey is that the answer might not be the one you are looking for, but the one you actually find. But when I think about the encounters I had with the patients until now, I feel that it will be a haunting experience for sure. In which you will be challenged to rediscover the relationship with your body.

Thanks Marleine!

Previously: STRP, the festival that’s not afraid of the future .

X-Ray Architecture

X-Ray Architecture, by architecture historian Beatriz Colomina.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Lars Müller writes: Modern architecture and the X-ray were born around the same time and evolved in parallel. While the X-ray exposed the inside of the body to the public eye, the modern building unveiled its interior, dramatically inverting the relationship between private and public. Architects presented their buildings as a kind of medical instrument for protecting and enhancing the body and psyche.

Beatriz Colomina traces the psychopathologies of twentieth-century architecture—from the trauma of tuberculosis to more recent disorders such as burn-out syndrome and ADHD—and the huge transformations of privacy and publicity instigated by diagnostic tools from X-Rays to MRIs and beyond. She suggests that if we want to talk about the state of architecture today, we should look to the dominant obsessions with illness and the latest techniques of imaging the body—and ask what effects they have on the way we conceive architecture.


Children during a heliotherapy session, 1937. From: Le Visage de L’enfance (Paris: Horizon, 1937), p. 201


Frits Peutz, Schunck Glass Palace, Heerlen, the Netherlands, 1935

The machine we live in is an old coach full of tuberculosis, wrote Le Corbusier in his 1923 essay Towards a New Architecture.

He and many of his fellow modern architects made it one of their missions to expel tuberculosis and other diseases from buildings. It wasn’t just the health of patients that was to be restored but everyone’s. After all, some of these architects believed, we are all sick to some varying degrees.

Beatriz Colomina (whose previous publications The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196x-197x and Domesticity at War i greatly enjoyed) unravels the links between Modern Architecture, tuberculosis and X-ray, the technology associated with it. The hypothesis that tuberculosis helped make modern architecture modern sounds like a bold one but Colomina is very convincing when she explains how architecture responded to the anxieties of a society obsessed with fresh air, sun light, the spreading of germs, physical exercise and hygiene.


Hydrotherapy at the sanatorium “Lebendige Kraft,” full body wrap by Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Brenner, Zurich, 1910. Universität Zürich, Institut für Medizingeschichte Bircher-Brenner-Archiv


Dr Jean Saidman, Revolving Sanatorium in Aix-Les-Bains, France, 1930. Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

The general consensus at the time was that a patient suffering from TB needed to live and breathe in an environment that would dry out the inside of their body. Cue to architects designing domestic gym rooms for exercising as well as roofs and balconies for sunbathing.

The real testing ground of new techniques, materials, experiments and architectural innovations however, was the sanatorium. Alvar Aalto, for example, saw patients as ‘horizontal clients’ and adapted the architecture of the medical establishment to their supine position. The Paimio Sanatorium he designed was an integral part of the medical treatment. Radiologist Jean Saidman conceived a revolving sanatorium that ensured that patients faced the sun as much as possible.

Modern architecture aspired to heal the body but also the psyche, with smooth, white and clean surfaces that would anaesthetize bodily sensations. Buildings were thus conceived as a form of medical equipment, an exercise machine but also a cocoon sheltering the fragile psyche. Richard Neutra even claimed that his works could improve the sex life of their inhabitants.


Alvar Aalto, Paimio Sanatorium, exterior view with sundeck balconies, ca. 1934. Alvar Aalto Museum Jyväskylä, Finland


Winning models Marianne Baba (L), Lois Conway (C) and Ruth Swensen standing next to plates of their x-ray during a Chiropractor Beauty contest. (Photo by Wallace Kirkland//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

X-Ray had an even more profound impact on architecture. Its dicovery refashioned the perception of space and in particular the relation between inside and outside. After x-ray, modern buildings started to look like medical imaging with transparent glass walls that revealed the inner structure. Furniture, light bulbs, pyrex cookware followed their lead. And because x-ray also changed the concept of what is visible and what is invisible, the private became the subject of public scrutiny.

Colomina adds another dimension to this architecture: the blurred vision, the glass surface of the building that catches the gaze in layers of reflections of the surrounding environment. Describing the Glass House (1949) he had built, Philip Johnson compared its glass surface to a beautiful, ever-changing wallpaper.


Passive Millimeter Imaging (PMI). Front and back X- ray views of a male subject during BodySearch surveillance. Revealed on the body are bags of cocaine (shoulder, waist); scalpel blades (chest); plastic gun (back); metal gun and file (legs)

You don’t have to be passionate about architecture to be engrossed in this book. The text is witty, clear and packed with anecdotes. The photos are plentiful and often astonishing (to me at least.) More interestingly, Colomina’s research finds many echoes in contemporary society. The impact architecture can have on our well-being is still a contemporary preoccupation, with calls to design buildings that will encourage people to move and shed weight or with the current discussions around sick building syndrome some office workers suffer from. The quest for transparency also remains very much alive. With the difference that surveillance technology has now replaced glass walls. In short, the book might be entertaining but it also does a great job at highlighting how the architectural discipline is capable of assimilating and reflecting changes in society.


Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret boxing on the beach in Piquey, 1933


Josef Maria Eder and Eduard Valenta, Photographie mittelst der Röntgen-Strahlen, 1896, cover and Chamäleon cristatus


Fluoroscopy of the chest, New York Medical Journal, February 23, 1907


Alvar Aalto, Paimio sanatorium, upper sun terrace with patients taking the fresh-air cure, 1933. Alvar Aalto Museum Jyväskylä, Finland


B. Čermák, the Viewing Glass Tower of the Chamber of Commerce Pavilion, Exhibition of Contemporary Culture in Czechoslovakia, Brno, 1928


View of SANAA’s installation in the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, 2008. Fundacio Mies van der Rohe


Maison de Verre, 31 rue St-Guillaume, Paris


Exterior view of George Keck’s Crystal House, constructed c. 1934 for Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair. This photograph was taken at night and features R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car parked within

Spreads:

Other books by Beatriz Colomina: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196x-197x and Domesticity at War.

Dry eyes? Insomnia? Poor posture? The Center for Technological Pain has the solution!

Have you ever felt that your constant use of electronic devices was causing physical pains? Maybe your eyes feel dry from too much screen time. Your elbows are strained. Or maybe you have sleep disorders. Are you worried that your fingers are being eroded by all that swiping and typing? Do you look prematurely aged because of your hunched posture?


Center for Technological Pain, Handsfree headset to liberate the users hands

Center for Technological Pain, Tranquility Cube

In these cases and many others, the Center for Technological Pain has the solution for you. Dasha Ilina, the CEO of the company, designed a series of stunning prototypes that promise to cure your tech-related ailments and even prevent them from appearing.

Instead of selling the miraculous contraptions at the high price they command, Ilina graciously offers small manuals that explain how to build them yourself using affordable materials.


Center for Technological Pain, Friction-Free Gloves leaflet


Center for Technological Pain, How To: Friction-Free Gloves

CTP even customized a series of self-defense techniques and published videos online to teach you how to help your friends and relatives battle tech addiction.

There’s obviously a lot of satire in Ilina’s work. There’s also far more sense that it might seem. After all, we’ve all seen the articles that warn us against sitting for hours in front of a laptop (some extravagantly call it “the new smoking”) or against looking down on your phone (it gives you a double chin, my dear!)

Dasha Ilina is currenty showing the CTP at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris and this Summer she will be teaching her Self-Defense Against Technology moves at NØ School Nevers, a summer school for students, artists, designers, hackers, activists, educators and anyone who wish to engage in critical research around the social and environmental impacts of information and communication technologies.

I asked her to wear her CEO suit and give us lowdown on her promising start-up:

Hi Dasha! What i like about your project is that none of the objects you made would be useful to me (i think). Yet, the Center for Technological Pain drove me to think about the topic of health problems caused by digital technologies a lot. Whereas i would normally prefer to forget about the issue. What brought you to explore the idea of designing solutions to health problems caused by digital technologies? Did you feel there was a demand that wasn’t addressed?

I first started thinking about the relationship between health and technology when I started really looking around me and paying attention to my friends behind their desks, strangers on the streets or cafés and, in addition to that, when I heard endless complaining from my friends that spend all day behind their computers about their constant neck problems, or back pain etc. It wasn’t immediately clear to me to start creating these solutions, but I made one just to try and see what people think of it or how useful they find it. I wouldn’t say that this project was created out of a demand, per say, because I wasn’t making these objects to sell them or even to help people, at first that is.

When I first started working on CTP, it was mainly to come up with efficient, yet totally absurd objects that would serve more as a commentary, rather than design objects. Though there were moments when I considered making highly useful objects, but what’s the fun in that?

Dasha Ilina, Headset to Reduce Eye Dryness

How did you decide which objects to design? Was it the result of complains by people around you? Articles in newspapers?

A lot of the objects are results of either my own tech-pain, or of those around me. For example, the Friction-Free Gloves were a result of a complaint from a friend of mine, who told me that after working on her laptop with the trackpad all day and swiping on her phone, she feels discomfort in her fingertips, as if they’re almost sanding away. This wasn’t anything I ever experienced but she had told me about it after I had committed to create as many solutions as time allowed, so I made the Friction-Free Gloves, which protect your fingertips with sponges. As a nice bonus, since sponges are conductive they can easily be used on a smartphone screen, though not all sponges work super well.

So I’d say about half of the problems came from personal contributions, however a lot of the objects as solutions to the same problem, such as cubital tunnel, came from research. After I’d used up all of my knowledge of tech-pain, I started reading a lot of medical articles. One of my favorite outcomes from one of those articles is the Headset to Reduce Eye Dryness. I was trying to figure out why my eyes were getting so dry and tired after working on my computer, and one of the reasons was that, when looking at a screen, our brains are so occupied with trying to decipher the information on the screen that they forget to send the signal to our eyes to blink as often as we need to. So I thought why not make an object that will put some eye drops in your eyes, in case your brain gets distracted.

Center for Technological Pain, Handsfree headset to liberate the users hands

Center for Technological Pain, Stylus Helmet to Liberate Fingers

The accessories you created for the Center for Technological Pain are ironic and a bit ridiculous-looking. Besides, the risks the project explore sound quite benign so why should we take them seriously?

The objects are quite ridiculous, I agree. They become all the more ridiculous when worn, but the problems the solutions bring up are very real and could potentially lead to serious health problems if not treated early on. With the example of cubital tunnel I read that if the patient has the syndrome and doesn’t do anything to stop putting pressure on the elbow or straining it in general, it could lead to the loss of feeling in the fingertips. Of course, I don’t know how bad someone’s state needs to be in order for it to come to that, however reading about that about a year ago really made me wonder for the first time, whether, if not the objects, then at least CTP shining a light on these health problems lots of people don’t think about could help someone, for example in a preventive way.


The Focus Box. Image courtesy Dasha Ilina

The CTP hosts a series of workshops aimed at empowering and educating people of all ages on the topic of technology-related pain. Do participants come with their own real or imaginary health problems and the solutions to them? Could you take us through some of the most amusing/ingenious ideas and accessories others made during these workshops?

Each session normally starts with a quick presentation of the aim of the workshop, as well as some previously made solutions, so even if the participants don’t have ideas at the beginning of the workshop they normally quite quickly come up with something. Most of the time the problems they work on are really personal, which in my opinion always makes for the most intricate solutions, because as soon as the participant realizes that they’re creating something for their own good (whether they ever use it or not), they become more engaged with the creative process, at least in my experience.

As for the most ingenious ideas there are really so many, but I will pick a few. Just a few weeks ago I hosted a workshop at the Meta Marathon in Düsseldorf, where one of the participants straight away had a very ambitious idea, but one that required him coding a software or a google chrome extension. So we took some time to think about how his idea could be translated into a physical object and eventually he decided to create this Focus Box, because he worked at a software development company where he was constantly distracted by his coworkers. When he started working on it, he told me that he had never used cardboard before and that in order to create this object he needed to first “learn the properties of the material.” He was the last participant to finish his object, but when it was done it was as well constructed as a Google Cardboard!


Belt for mobile phone. Image courtesy Dasha Ilina

Another object I’ll mention briefly was created by a younger participant (around 12 year old) during a workshop at Le Cube. He was clearly quite advanced in the topic of tech-pain, because without hesitation he chose to work on the electromagnetic waves emitted by the cellphone, which could cause damage to the brain. As a solution to this problem, he created a belt in which you would place your phone in order to keep it as far away from your head as possible. I thought it was a great idea, which is why I decided to not bring up the problems that can arise from the placement a phone next to one’s genitals.


A CTP demo. Photo credit: Julien Mouffron-Gardner

All the objects in the collections are as no-tech as can be. Only the “Eye strain reducing glasses” rely on technology. Does that mean that sometimes the only solution to a problem caused by tech is to throw more technology at it?

Maybe! Those glasses were actually the first object I created, so I’m not sure if that could be a reason why it’s the only one that involves tech. I’ve tried thinking about how the same solution, meaning something that forces the user to take a break from the screen, can be performed in a different, no-tech way. I don’t have a good idea just yet, but I think that the best way to achieve the same result would be through a self-defense move, one that would require your partner to karate chop your computer so that it closes therefore forcing you to look up from your screen.

Self Defense Techniques Against Technology

I tried some of your Self-defense moves against technology on my boyfriend. Sleep Defense is a favourite of mine. It never goes down very well though. Why did you make these moves so aggressive and unpleasant for the receiver of these tactics?

That’s great to hear, I’m glad you’re enjoying the moves! They are very aggressive and I do always try to make the point that they could hurt someone. But the reason they are that way is because I did not make them up. All of the self-defense against technology moves are based on real self-defense moves, so of course the tactics come from methods of protection and survival, they are meant to be unpleasant and in their real application they are meant to hurt the other person involved.

You grew up and studied in Russia and then in the USA and now you live in Paris. Have you observed different types of tech-related pains and solutions from country to country? Do people have different ways to misuse and harm themselves with tech in France than in Russia or the US for example?

That’s a great question, of course I wasn’t thinking about tech-pain back when I was living in Russia and the US, so to answer I will have to go off my memories. Something that becomes really problematic in Russia during the winter is the need to use your phone on the street when its -15 degrees outside mixed with the wish to look cool and not wear gloves. Of course on the other side, most of the times (at least with iPhones) when you take your phone out when it’s that cold it just refuses to turn on, so I guess Apple presented us with a solution of their own.

As for the US, the first thing that comes to mind is a very popular, yet very serious problem of texting and driving. I don’t know if percentage wise more people text and drive in the US compared to France and Russia, but the truth is that everyone drives in the US, so it does become a big problem, even if a small percentage of the population does it. When it comes to texting and driving, aside from the obvious safety problems that it causes, which could lead to car crashes, it’s also terrible for the drivers neck, as most often than not it requires constantly looking down. In addition to that, I imagine that it’s also very uncomfortable for the hand that is performing the texting, especially the thumb.


CTP, The Nose Palm move

Any upcoming event or field of research you’d like to share with us?

Yes! There is one event coming up this summer I am particularly excited about, which is NØ School Nevers. It’s an Art and Technology Summer School in Burgundy in France that is organized by one of my former teachers, Benjamin Gaulon. I will be giving a Self-Defense Against Technology class, but besides me there are 29 other artists/hackers/researchers, etc. who will be giving workshops, lectures, performances and more. And if you would believe it there are still some places available to be able to participate in this 2 week long summer program!

Thanks Dasha!

NØ School Nevers, is a unique international summer school, held in Nevers in Burgundy for students, artists, designers, makers, hackers, activists and educators who wish to further their skills and engage in critical research around the social and environmental impacts of information and communication technologies. 1-14 July in Nevers, France.
The Center for Technological Pain is also participating to the show Computer Grrrls. History, Gender, Technology, curated by Inke Arns and Marie Lechner. The exhibition remains open until at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris until 14 July 2019.

A Virus Walks into a Bar. Or how art and science can infect each other


John Walter, A Virus Walks into a Bar, 2018. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester


John Walter, Hung Drawn and Circumcised. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester

Over the course of a 3 year Wellcome funding, Walter has embedded himself inside the Towers Lab at University College London. The research center, headed by Prof Greg Towers, studies the molecular details of host virus interactions, focusing particularly on HIV-1, the cause of AIDS, and its relationship with the innate immune system.

The artist attended lab meetings, took note of the scientific jargon, asked awkward questions and learnt more about the research done at the lab. At the heart of his collaboration with the scientists is a study of the HIV capsid. The CAPSID is a protein shell that surrounds the virus (including HIV) and enables its transmission. CAPSID is a rather sneaky bastard. It protects the virus’s DNA from being seen and acts as an invisibility cloak.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

John Walter, A Virus Walks Into A Bar (trailer), 2018. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester

You can see the deftness of the virus in action in A Virus Walks into a Bar. The short film (a new HOME Artist Film commission) uses the bar motif of British soap operas to depict how the HIV virus infects human cells.

The bar is the immune system. It is guarded by bouncers who refuse to let the virus in when he turns up in his big yellow zorb ball. They know he means trouble. Other customers are not so cautious. The new guy looks so harmless and chummy they let him buy them beers. Once inside, our CAPSID character fends off more resistance from other customers (who play the role of proteins and cytoplasm) and slowly makes his way to the counter where the barmaid is standing (she personifies the nucleus of the human cell.) From there all hell breaks loose….

John Walter‘s talent in expressing complex scientific ideas in an engaging and eccentric way is on show this Winter at HOME in Manchester.

John Walter: CAPSID mixes animation, paintings, textile craft, humour, pop culture and more to investigate the complexities of virology and the spread of deadly infection but also scientific language and protocols.

The result of his research is informative without ever being didactic nor illustrative. It is relentlessly bombastic, witty, seductive. And yet, it remains anchored in rigorous science.

I was lucky enough to attend the guided tour of the show with John Walter and structural virologist Professor Greg Towers. Anyone doubting the benefits of a close art and science relationship should have seen these two explaining the exhibition. Walter spent most of his time detailing the scientific bits while Towers was busy describing his own take on the artistic merits of the works. I don’t think the role reversal had been planned but it demonstrated how much two worlds that are academically and culturally presented as separate can gain from closer connections and exchanges.

Towers described how the artist’s sometimes surprising questions have led his team to question their own lines of investigation and open up new ones. Beyond the lab, the artist also discussed with undergraduate students, got involved in the lab’s science outreach programs and challenged scientific minds to think more reflexively about their own research.

The challenging process went two ways though as Walter used scientific imagery, codes and jargon as a source material to innovate and expand his own artistic practice.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

Just like the virus contaminates the healthy cell, the world of science contaminated the world of art and vice versa. This contagion is further reflected in the whole exhibition space where prints cover the floor, stickers are glued on the windows to allow passers-by to get a sense and a curiosity for what is inside the gallery, wallpaper seems to interact with paintings and videos, etc. Immersed in this overwhelming assault on the senses, the visitor is led to question his or her own role in the exhibition.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

Walter’s inventive ability to find new ways of expressing how viruses behave is truly impressive. For example, he experimented with patterned metal screens to signify the “uncoating” moment when the CAPSID releases viral acid into its host. He also produced 5 metres wide paintings in which Jamiroquai, the AGIP logo, the La Vache Qui Rit cow and other iconic characters of pop/corporate culture evoke the co-factors (particles that facilitate the capsid’s access to the nuclear pore.) There’s so much to discover in the exhibition…


John Walter, Innate Sensing Mechanism (detail), CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, Innate Sensing Mechanism, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

I was particularly fascinated by the series of Innate Sensing Mechanism paintings.

Garish objects such as plush toys and silicon foreskin (that’s when i learnt that there’s a market for circumcised men want their foreskin back) are glued on the compositions using pink adhesive foam. They stand for the defense mechanism by which a cell can detect foreign genetic material and kill it. Walter used a silicon gun to make sure that the invasive materials could not be rejected. The strength of these paintings (and of the other works in the exhibition) is that they stand on their own two feet, you don’t need to be aware of the scientific background to enjoy these mesmerizingly outlandish collages.

John Walter: CAPSID is playful, absurd, smart, poetical and often very moving. More importantly, it reminded me of the need to constantly refresh and stimulate public conversation around HIV. AIDS is still very much a crisis in some areas of the world. According to a research by UNAIDS, 37 million people are living with HIV, the highest number ever, yet a quarter do not know that they have the virus. Last year only, almost one million people died because of it.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

And of course i need to go back to A Virus Walks Into A Bar and mention the onesies! The actors in the film are dressed in costumes hand-customised by the artist. There are 30 of them. Some directly echo Walter’s paintings. Others are covered in embroidery, patches, mini pompoms and buttons that seem to colonize and infect the garment. I loved how the silly onesies (no one will ever convince me they are not a bit silly) contrast with the white lab coats worn by scientists when they are interviewed on tv about their work.

More images from the exhibition:


John Walter, Cytoplasm. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

If you’re curious about the exhibition, i’d highly recommend this audio tour of the show with the artist.

John Walter: CAPSID is at HOME in Manchester until Sunday 6 Jan 2019.