Capsids are the protein shells of a virus, which act to protect, cloak and deliver the virus to its host. They may not be the most obvious choice of subject for an exhibition, but the complexities of virology and the spread of deadly infection are what British artist John Walter tackles in his latest show.
Compelling, inventive and surreal, CAPSID is the result of collaboration between Walter and molecular virologist Professor Greg Towers of University College London.
A multimedia installation occupying the entire gallery space at HOME, Manchester, following its stint at CPG, London, CAPSID is Walter’s largest solo show to date. Using collage, colour field painting, pattern-making and an abundance of other media, along with references from popular culture – from Adventure Time to Vegas hotel carpet design – the show presents a new way of viewing and understanding viruses such as HIV based on the best current scientific knowledge.
Perceiving the virus as a ‘sneak’ – a coercive and Machiavellian agent that tricks the host to undertake its malign bidding – Walter unpacks how the process of infection can address the spread of ideas between groups and systems.
Central to the exhibition is HOME Artist Film commission, A Virus Walks Into A Bar (2018), combining Walter’s fascination with soap opera and surrealism. Set in a classic pub, the film illustrates the journey of an anthropomorphised capsid as it discloses its lethal effects. Performers embody different characters in dual roles, such as the capsid/villain, cell nucleus/barmaid and the cytoplasm/pub regulars. Walter made over 30 costumes for this film, which will be exhibited for the first time at HOME. Each is customised using embroidery, patches and pom-poms.
The exhibition builds on the central themes of Walter’s practice, which include biology, hospitality and aesthetics, and follows his 2015 exhibition Alien Sex Club, exploring the relationship between visual culture and HIV.
CAPSID is on display at HOME in Manchester from 10 November 2018 to 6 January 2019.