Project Description

Elaine Whittaker – Microbial Gestures

The pandemic has made us aware that, more than ever, all of us are touched by microbes.
Microbes are the oldest forms of life on earth. They are a fundamental part of the world we live in, and they terrify us: an invisible inhabitant with the possibility of contaminating our cellular lives. Most microbes are harmless, coexisting on us, around us, and within us – making up our personal microbiome. They are smaller than a human cell, and we can only see them through the microscope, and on our skin, they form an invisible ecosystem working to keep it, and us, healthy.

Consider your hands.

The microbes on your hands are part of your individual microbiome.
They colonize and comingle on your fingers, your palm, between your fingers, the back of your hand.
The skin of your hand is teeming with life.
It is a living part of you, vital with microbes, and most of these are harmless.

Imagine your microbes.
We are now washing our hands more than ever before.
We are hyper-aware of everything we touch outside our households.
We dread knowing that they could be a conduit for transporting outside microbes.
So we anxiously wash again, and again, and yet again.

During this pandemic year we have been exposed to the many colourful images of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Scientists and illustrators have introduced us to this virus, comparing it to other viruses and microbes.
Microbes of all shapes and sizes populate news casts and social media almost daily.
They linger in our imaginations, individually and in clusters — spherical beads, spikey balls, sausage-like rods.

Make your microbes visible.
Turn your hands into a canvas of life.
Bring out your markers, your paint, your pens.
Draw your microbes on one hand, and then the other.
Mark your skin with microbes.
Visualize the microbes that live on your hands.
Make them visible.
Reveal this hidden world — with colour, with form, with shape, with joy.
They are ubiquitous.
A carnival.
A festival.
An explosion of comingling life.
Celebrate your wondrous microbial community.
You are them.
They are you.

Elaine Whittaker
Toronto, Canada

9 March 2021