While there’s only one kind of contagion we can immediately identify in the current context, it’s not just a virus that goes viral: so do ideas, behaviour, culture, emotions — and memes.
Science Gallery Bengaluru’s latest online exhibition, Contagion, explores this phenomenon of the transmission of ideas, emotions, behaviours, and diseases, looking at various facets of what is variously called the domino effect, or the ripple effect; essentially, the ability of one event to set off a chain of others. “We see it everywhere — in the financial market, in mob behaviour, in the way certain ideas take hold at certain times, like communism or hyper-nationalism, and in everyday things, like laughter, which is highly contagious. The aim of the exhibition is to look at the phenomenon of transmission that has gone out of control, to study how and where it spread, to ask ‘could it have been controlled at some point?’,” says Jahnavi Phalkey, a historian of science and the director of Science Gallery Bengaluru. Along with Danielle Olson, international cultural producer at the UK-based Wellcome Trust, a foundation focused on health research, Phalkey is also co-curator of the exhibition.
The exhibits look at the phenomenon of contagion from various vantage points, from the medical to the digital — take British artist Robert Good’s ‘2020 Vision’, which attempts to make sense of the digital world as information multiplies exponentially. Good externalises some of this relentless information using animations of headlines to reflect a sense of anxiety as we are besieged with questions.
The exhibit ‘A Cluster of 17 cases’ provides dramatic insight into a more urgent kind of virality: it traces the initial spread of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) through the case of a doctor who checked into Room 911 of Hong Kong’s Metropole Hotel to attend a family wedding, infecting 16 people on the same floor of the hotel. In this interactive exhibit, we virtually enter the Metropole Hotel on that fateful night, and explore the events that took place in the 17 rooms where the first cluster of SARS cases were detected.
In ‘Mapping Cholera | A Tale of Two Cities’, science journalist Sonia Shah and designer Don McCarey use interactive maps to take a close look at two cholera epidemics almost two centuries apart: one in 1832 in New York and the other in 2010 in Haiti. In mapping the two cholera outbreaks, this project allows us to visualise the spread of the disease, the differences and similarities between the two epidemics, and renders visible the magnitude and scale of this disease.
Along with the exhibits, the show also has a section called ‘co-vids’ (not a reference to the disease) which is a series of recorded videos that ask medical and public health experts around the world the top three questions they have at this point. The experts include Shahid Jameel, a noted virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University; Gagandeep Kang of the Christian Medical College in Vellore, who has emerged as a leading voice on the pandemic in India; Johanna Hanefield, Associate Professor in Health Policy and Systems Research at the Robert Koch Institute; and Keiji Fukuda, Director and Clinical Professor Community Medicine and Public Health Practice at the University of Hong Kong.
“Although it may sometimes feel as if we are in the blind during this pandemic, trying to find solutions to an impossible problem, it’s not true — in this situation, knowing that we have a vast repository of human knowledge to draw from can be deeply calming. The aim here is to bring together those strands of thought. If there is one message we want to convey through this exhibition, it’s urging people to ask good questions, to seek answers and understanding,” says Phalkey.
The online-only exhibition is free, and the best way to experience it is to pre-book mediated sessions of an hour each, during which trained mediators take visitors through the exhibits. Lounge selects a few must-watch exhibits and lectures:
When the world was a laugh by Anais Tondeur
Laughter is a uniquely human and collective activity. What people find funny might vary by culture, but its contagious nature is obvious. Via this exhibit, a video installation, the artist invites us to perceive in our own body, the mechanics of laughter, its physiological components, its quality as a gesture, and its social significance.
The Glass Room: Misinformation Edition by Density Lab and Tactical Tech
Today we can access information more easily, but the veracity of this information continues to be called into question with the rise of deep fakes, algorithms, and bots. This project explores how social media and the web have changed the way we react to information. The Glass Room examines its impacts and helps visitors explore practical solutions to mitigate them. These apps were created by DensityDesign, a research lab in the design department of the Politecnico di Milano created for global NGO Tactical Tech, which engages with citizens and civil-society organisations to explore and mitigate the impacts of technology on society.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Non_Western Covid Vaccines But Were Afraid to Ask - Public lecture by Achal Prabhala | 21 May
Achal Prabhala is a writer, researcher, and thoughtful and strategic advocate for intellectual property reform and access to medicines. His fellowship idea was AccessIBSA, a tri-continental project set up to expand access and speed up the discovery of new drugs in the developing world, specifically India, Brazil and South Africa. He worked to drive change in the legal and policy frameworks that have underpinned the development and manufacture of medicines for decades.
What have we learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic? Public lecture by Sir Jeremy Farrar | 13 June 2021
Sir Jeremy James Farrar is a British medical researcher and director of the Wellcome Trust since 2013. A leading global epidimeologist, he has been a strong expert voice during the ongoing pandemic. Farrar is former Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam for 18 years. His research interests were infectious diseases and global health, with a focus on emerging infections.
Putting the ant into antibiotics by John Innes Centre
Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich, United Kingdom are turning to a range of ants in search for new antibiotics. Though humans have been using antibiotics for nearly a century, we are now facing the problem of antimicrobial resistance, where the bacteria that cause diseases in our body have become resistant to antibiotics. Ants have been using antibiotics in their fight against pathogens for a much longer time. Scientists believe that investigating the chemical ecology of the ant colonies, and the microbes produced by them can help us tackle the crisis of antimicrobial resistance.
For more information on the exhibition and to book slots, visit bengaluru.sciencegallery.com/contagion