domes, she started imagining viruses as structures
or shelters at a human scale, turning the relationship between virus and human inside out. Diagnosed
with hepatitis C herself, she decided to make an
artwork that addresses both the formal aspects of
the virus and its often devastating consequences
in people. She looked online for information about
the structure of the virus, but found little about it.
After consulting with a biologist, Berrigan decided
to use the dengue virus, a close cousin of hepatitis
C, instead. She was able to get structural information about dengue from the online RSBC Protein
Data Bank, but it was in a format that wasn’t easily
imported into the commercial 3D applications she
used. Finally, after a convoluted series of translations and interpretations, she ended up with a 3D
model of the virus that she could send to a rapid
The nature of studio hoarding changes when
all the information you need is “out there” for the
taking, 24/7. That one iconic image on your wall
takes on a different meaning when it’s surrounded
by thumbnails of other images that a search engine
has decided are similar.
She printed out a large-scale replica, and then used
traditional mold-making techniques to create food-grade silicone molds, which she used to cast edible
chocolate copies of the virus. She now hosts tea parties where guests are invited to “befriend the virus” by
consuming the chocolate truffles and talking with the
artist about the issues surrounding hepatitis C.
Photography courtesy of Caitlin Berrigan and Christopher Russell
It’s a bit startling to realize that the first glimpse
of the New World that most Europeans got was via
landscapes painted in the Americas and shipped
back to Europe with round trip times of months
or even years. Now, images from Mars arrive daily,
and an artist who wants a better look at the rings
of Saturn need only point her browser at the NASA
website. What does access to all that data, all those
images and sounds and 3D models, not to mention
live webcams, tactile feedback devices, and perhaps
soon, online smell-o-vision, mean for artists?
There’s only one way to find out.
Christopher Russell: russellproject.com
PalDat palynological database: www.paldat.org
Caitlin Berrigan: membrana.us
Research Collaboratory for Structural
Bioinformatics (RCSB) Protein Databank: pdb.org
Douglas Irving Repetto is an artist and teacher involved in a
number of art/community groups including Dorkbot, ArtBots,
Organizm, and Music-dsp.
TOP: Caitlin Berrigan’s 3D virus model, which she
used to make the molds for her edible chocolate
hepatitis C viruses, pictured here (middle) in their
original packaging. BOTTOM: Christopher Russell’s
glazed white earthenware pollen grains are about
4" in diameter. They’re sculpted by hand using
traditional ceramics techniques.