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 (University of 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.
Elaine Whittaker considers biology as contemporary art practice. Intersecting art, science, and medicine, she focuses on how culture develops and expresses its fear of non-human life. She is particularly interested in the growing possibility of pandemics and the re-emerging of infectious diseases as our environment becomes even more fragile from globalization and climate change – this unsettling time of contagions and epidemics. Whittaker’s art practice is principally based in installation, and includes sculpture, painting, drawing, and digital imagery, incorporating a range of materials: from the traditional - paint, pigment and wax, to the unconventional - mosquitoes, salt crystals, cells and live microorganisms. She has exhibited nationally and internationally in art and science galleries and centres in Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. Her artwork has also been featured in on-line galleries and in literary, academic, and medical periodicals, and in William Myers' book BioArt: Altered Realities. She is a recipient of grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council, and holds a BFA in Visual Art from York University, Toronto, an Art Diploma from Toronto School of Art, and BA in Anthropology from Carleton University, Ottawa.