Exhibition Review: CAPSID

Need an injection of colour on this grey December day? HOME Digital Reporter Elizabeth Gibson reviews our CAPSID exhibition from John Walter…

I had caught glimpses of CAPSID through the HOME gallery windows before it officially opened, and was intrigued by the colours and patterns. The first link in my mind, incidentally, was to the traditional Aboriginal artwork I studied at school, with some symbols reoccurring (I would be interested to know whether this was one of Walter’s influences). When I discovered that the exhibition was based around virus behaviour, with pieces focussed on HIV, my interest was further piqued. There is still such misinformation and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, and education is key.

Somewhat understandably, due to the destruction and misery the virus has caused, artistic responses to HIV lean, in my experience, towards being angry or sombre. CAPSID, however, is colourful and bright, and the gallery set-up is airy and spacious. It is a pleasant place to be. To reconcile this with viruses, pain and death is difficult at first, but as I explored further, I began to theorise that perhaps the point is to isolate and hone in on the virus as a biological entity, separating it from its human effects.

By highlighting the science, and lifting it from the real world into a whimsical, ethereal one, the artist and curator allow the visitor to learn the simple mechanics of how viruses work without the historical and cultural connotations that have previously come attached to them. Although there are references to books and TV shows (such as Adventure Time, Mickey Mouse, and Clever Cat from the Letterland books), their purpose appears to be purely to illustrate the science, in an abstract and quite new way, which should hopefully engage people of different ages and backgrounds.

The exhibition is full and varied: it includes animations, a live-action short film, paintings, 3D works and costumes. There is also art on the floor that you can walk or sit on, and overall, it is just a great, immersive space to spend time, watching, thinking or wandering. I also heard that a Baby Rave had been held there, with children exploring and dancing in the space. CAPSID feels very accessible and inclusive – my one issue would be that for me, the flashing and strobing effects in a couple of the video pieces were difficult to look at for long, which meant that I did miss some parts of the work.

On the whole, CAPSID is an exhibition that feels important, and especially relevant now, at a time when huge advances are being made in managing HIV – so that living a full and active life with it is very possible – and in preventing its transmission. Hopefully CAPSID will play a part in educating visitors and challenging perceptions: when something is understood, it is usually less feared. By knowing the science, we can see beyond the stigma and hopefully continue making progress in fighting HIV and other harmful viruses, and art that helps us learn the science in a totally new way is something very exciting.

CAPSID continues in our main gallery until Sun 6 January. Find out more here.