Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.IN.11.2.1 | PDF


Introduction

Natal­ie Love­less

This issue of Imag­i­na­tions was orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled to launch Sep­tem­ber 2020, in con­junc­tion with the first Cana­di­an exhi­bi­tion of <Immune Nations> at the McMas­ter Muse­um of Art in Hamil­ton, Ontario, Cana­da. As I final­ize these intro­duc­to­ry words in April 2020, the exhi­bi­tion we had planned to accom­pa­ny this vol­ume is like­ly post­poned in light of the phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing mea­sures required by COVID-19: a virus—a pandemic—for which there is not yet a vac­cine.1 Uni­ver­si­ties, schools, parks, com­mu­ni­ty cen­tres, places of wor­ship, muse­ums, and all busi­ness­es deemed “non-essen­tial” are closed or have been put online. Pre­dic­tions for when restric­tions will ease and pub­lic spaces re-open range from two to six to 18 months.

We, in Cana­da, are most­ly stay­ing put in our homes, recon­fig­ur­ing the pat­terns of life that we were liv­ing only six weeks ago into new shapes that feel sus­tain­able for the long haul—or at least the medi­um haul, depend­ing on which pre­dic­tive mod­els are being con­sult­ed. For those of us with chil­dren at home, this involves “cri­sis schooling”—navigating online teach­ing mod­ules, hasti­ly but earnest­ly put togeth­er by our children’s ele­men­tary, mid­dle, and high school teachers—while jug­gling entire­ly recon­fig­ured pro­fes­sion­al oblig­a­tions (for those of us lucky enough to still have jobs).

The back­drop to all of this is The News. Anx­i­ety over viral con­t­a­m­i­na­tion dom­i­nates the air­waves. Death rates rise expo­nen­tial­ly. We watch local num­bers and wor­ry about our loved ones; we fol­low sta­tis­tics that present a dif­fer­en­tial threat to the entire pop­u­la­tion. The stres­sors we do know are numer­ous and the stress of the unknown—the unchart­ed that awaits us indi­vid­u­al­ly and on a glob­al scale—is often greater still.

Exac­er­bat­ing all of this are the many dif­fer­ent sto­ries being cir­cu­lat­ed via Face­book and Twit­ter that are often at cross pur­pos­es when it comes to cor­rect action at this time. Charis­mat­ic mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns abound and range from COVID-19 being a hoax (“Goop-Approved Shrink Says There’s No Such Thing as Coro­n­avirus”) to a bio­log­i­cal weapon (“The Wuhan Dis­ease Lab Is the Focus of Sus­pi­cion and Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ries about COVID-19’s Ori­gins”). There are even claims that US-based soft­ware devel­op­er and phil­an­thropist Bill Gates is only fund­ing COVID-19 vac­cine research in order to microchip and track the entire pop­u­la­tion (“Here’s what Bill Gates has to say about those COVID-19 vac­cine con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries he’s pegged to”). While con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists the world over cry wolf, the major­i­ty of us are sim­ply wait­ing for a vac­cine, the only real way out of this pan­dem­ic. A vac­cine for COVID-19 is our top med­ical pri­or­i­ty, peri­od.

<Immune Nations> Origins

The dis­cov­ery of mul­ti­ple vaccines—pertussis (1914), diph­the­ria (1926), tetanus (1938), polio (1955), measles (1963), mumps (1967) and rubel­la (1969), and the quick­ly chang­ing sea­son­al flu vaccines—have pre­vent­ed hun­dreds of mil­lions of deaths. Yet many cit­i­zens with access to exist­ing vac­cines still choose not to inoc­u­late them­selves or their chil­dren, as evi­denced by the com­plete­ly avoid­able 2019 measles out­breaks in the Unit­ed States and Britain (“Measles Cas­es and Out­breaks”).

Ini­ti­at­ed in 2014, <Immune Nations> brought togeth­er sci­en­tists, pol­i­cy experts, aca­d­e­m­ic schol­ars, and artists to work on an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and col­lab­o­ra­tive research-cre­ation project tack­ling com­plex issues relat­ed to the use and dis­tri­b­u­tion of vac­cines in the world today.2 The project—led by Steven J. Hoff­man, then at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ottawa and now the direc­tor of the Glob­al Strat­e­gy Lab at York Uni­ver­si­ty and a sci­en­tif­ic direc­tor of the Cana­di­an Insti­tutes of Health Research; Sean Caulfield, mas­ter print­mak­er and Cen­ten­ni­al Pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta; and myself, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Con­tem­po­rary Art and The­o­ry and direc­tor of the Research-Cre­ation and Social Jus­tice CoLAB­o­ra­to­ry, also at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alberta—aimed to address a gap between knowl­edge about vac­cines and how they work, and vac­cine recep­tion in the pub­lic imag­i­nary, includ­ing fears and mis­in­for­ma­tion. Gen­er­ous­ly fund­ed by the Research Coun­cil of Nor­way, with addi­tion­al finan­cial sup­port from the Cana­di­an Insti­tutes of Health Research, Kil­lam Research Fund, and the Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil of Cana­da, <Immune Nations> began with a work­ing ses­sion held at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ottawa in August 2015, dur­ing which research col­lab­o­ra­tors got to know each oth­er and share sci­en­tif­ic and cre­ative research exper­tise, goals, aims, and ini­tial per­spec­tives and provo­ca­tions emerg­ing from our dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pli­nary loca­tions. Our project then con­tin­ued with a sec­ond work­ing ses­sion in Gene­va in August 2016. The aim of this sec­ond meet­ing was to share the col­lab­o­ra­tive research-cre­ation projects devel­oped between the first two work­ing ses­sions, and to make adjust­ments to these in light of the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary insights of the team. Our final work­ing ses­sion was held in March 2017 in Trond­heim, Nor­way, at the Trond­heim Acad­e­my of Fine Art, where we launched the first “pro­to” ver­sion of the exhi­bi­tion as the open­ing event for the 10th Inter­na­tion­al Con­fer­ence on Glob­al Health and Vac­ci­na­tion Research (GLOBVAC) while also pre­sent­ing at the con­fer­ence itself.

The works we exhib­it­ed address a range of issues, includ­ing vac­cine hes­i­tan­cy and denial­ism, herd immu­ni­ty, vac­cine access chains in the Glob­al South (the “cold chain”), and the his­to­ry of vac­cine sci­ence. They do so through par­tic­i­pa­to­ry instal­la­tion, video, the pro­duc­tion of zines, and a series of prints and pho­tographs, all designed to engage view­er-par­tic­i­pants in a com­plex, mul­ti­va­lent con­ver­sa­tion about pub­lic per­cep­tion, indi­vid­ual and group action, and glob­al health pol­i­tics sur­round­ing vac­cines today. Fol­low­ing the exhi­bi­tion in Nor­way, each of the col­lab­o­ra­tive, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research-cre­ation works was refined, adapt­ed, and rein­stalled at the Joint Unit­ed Nations Pro­gramme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) head­quar­ters build­ing in Gene­va, Switzer­land, fea­tured as part of the 2017 World Health Assem­bly. Opened on May 23, 2017 by the First Lady of Namib­ia, Mon­i­ca Gein­gos, and with for­mal address­es giv­en by inter­na­tion­al dig­ni­taries includ­ing the Hon­ourable Jane Philpott, then Canada’s min­is­ter of health; Michel Sidibé, then-exec­u­tive direc­tor of UNAIDS and now min­is­ter of health and social affairs of Mali; Mar­tin How­ell Friede, coor­di­na­tor of the Ini­tia­tive for Vac­cine Research at the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion; and Anu­rad­ha Gup­ta, deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vac­cine Alliance, this was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the fore­most glob­al health pol­i­cy experts in the world to engage with the exhi­bi­tion and think togeth­er with the artists, who were also in atten­dance.

<Immune Nations> Project Method

From its mod­est first work­ing ses­sion through to this final exhi­bi­tion, <Immune Nations> worked to com­pose new visions for inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and col­lab­o­ra­tive research across art, sci­ence, and glob­al health pol­i­cy. Bring­ing sci­en­tists togeth­er with artists, and both togeth­er with schol­ars inter­est­ed in pub­lic pol­i­cy and gov­er­nance, soci­ol­o­gy, art his­to­ry, and law, this project worked not only to dis­sem­i­nate knowl­edge sur­round­ing vac­cines but to offer itself as a method­olog­i­cal exam­ple for research-cre­ation­al ways of work­ing in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Over the course of the three years, we fol­lowed the basic work­ing method of (1) meet­ing for a four-day work­ing ses­sion once a year; (2) allow­ing group­ings between par­tic­i­pants to occur organ­i­cal­ly; and (3) facil­i­tat­ing online exchanges of text (con­ver­sa­tion, read­ings, data), images (draw­ings, rough designs, found images, videos), and any oth­er mate­r­i­al that might help inspire inter­dis­ci­pli­nary knowl­edge and col­lab­o­ra­tion. These exchanges high­light­ed the dif­fi­cul­ties that come from bring­ing togeth­er dis­ci­pli­nary meth­ods and insights that are, at first blush, incompatible—as in, for exam­ple, the con­trast between the open-end­ed­ness of artis­tic social com­men­tary and the deter­mi­nate nature of pol­i­cy.

Indeed, we had many dif­fi­cult moments along the way, includ­ing moments when artists felt instru­men­tal­ized by pol­i­cy experts, and when sci­en­tists felt mis­un­der­stood by artists. Togeth­er, we worked to cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty and cul­ture of respect for each oth­er and to under­stand the dis­ci­pli­nary com­pe­ten­cies of—and dif­fer­ences between—artistic prac­tice, pol­i­cy devel­op­ment, the human­i­ties and social sci­ences, and med­ical sci­ence. That we, to a great degree, achieved this com­mu­ni­ty, cul­ture and under­stand­ing is evi­dent in inter­view-response state­ments made by par­tic­i­pants. As one artist par­tic­i­pant wrote:

My expe­ri­ence of col­lab­o­ra­tion in the past more sig­nif­i­cant­ly involved oth­er artists. In this case, the ‘exper­tise’ regard­ing the project is shared among indi­vid­u­als from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and plat­forms. Bal­anc­ing the engage­ment of the var­i­ous par­tic­i­pants in order not to lim­it the ‘cre­ative’ work to the artist(s) and the ‘infor­ma­tion gen­er­a­tion’ to oth­er indi­vid­u­als is impor­tant and has been tricky. The het­ero­gene­ity of the sit­u­a­tion means there is a greater and deep­er pool of mate­r­i­al [and] pos­si­bil­i­ty to draw from. Some­times when work­ing with oth­er artists, the objec­tive is, ‘de fac­to,’ to gen­er­ate some ‘art,’ rather than to see where the col­lab­o­ra­tion takes things. This project was dif­fer­ent.”

A pub­lic pol­i­cy expert wrote sim­i­lar­ly about the gen­er­a­tive process of our method, speak­ing specif­i­cal­ly to the chal­lenge of hav­ing to explore one’s own dis­ci­pli­nary givens through the eyes of col­lab­o­ra­tors from oth­er dis­ci­plines:

One chal­leng­ing aspect of the col­lab­o­ra­tion is the fact that we do not share a com­mon vocab­u­lary much less epis­te­mol­o­gy. So terms like ‘art’ and ‘pol­i­cy’ and even ‘vac­ci­na­tion’ car­ry dif­fer­ent mean­ings for the dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants. [Giv­en this,] one of the most excit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties is the poten­tial that the col­lab­o­ra­tion forces new per­spec­tives on what were thought to be set­tled issues or forces a con­sid­er­a­tion of phe­nom­e­na that might oth­er­wise go unno­ticed. In this case, the very premise that ‘art’ might influ­ence pol­i­cy mak­ers is, as far as I can tell, some­thing that has not been seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered before. This is excit­ing.”

Through­out <Immune Nations> we worked to devel­op a height­ened aware­ness of the ways that art is too-often used as a tool mere­ly to instru­men­tal­ize or illus­trate social prob­lems rather than to also help solve them. We were also vig­i­lant about the ways that sci­ence is too-often used as decon­tex­tu­al­ized data or fod­der for artis­tic expres­sion that fails to retain any sci­en­tif­ic use-val­ue, and the ways that pol­i­cy process­es can be over­ly sim­pli­fied or vil­i­fied into mean­ing­less car­i­ca­tures. On inter­dis­ci­pli­nary projects such as ours, which bring art and sci­ence and pol­i­cy experts togeth­er, such mis­un­der­stand­ings are com­mon and under­score the need for more robust inter­dis­ci­pli­nary lit­era­cies and lan­guages that push us all out of our com­fort zones and encour­age greater capac­i­ties to speak across and with dif­fer­ence.

Anoth­er insight that emerged from the project was that sophis­ti­cat­ed inter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion takes time. It takes time to cul­ti­vate robust rela­tion­ships, espe­cial­ly when we are all com­ing at a prob­lem equipped with dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pli­nary under­stand­ings. With <Immune Nations> we had, effec­tive­ly, two full years as a team—between the first and third work­ing sessions—to learn each-oth­ers’ approach­es, pri­or­i­ties, per­spec­tives, val­ues, and needs. Every­one agreed that this was just not enough. Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and col­lab­o­ra­tive research is dif­fi­cult and time-con­sum­ing. It demands that we all take risks, step­ping into are­nas where we are less knowl­edge­able. This process can be anx­i­ety-pro­vok­ing, leav­ing researchers feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble to being exposed as incom­pe­tent when the skills of our dis­ci­pline prove insuf­fi­cient in anoth­er. It can also be frus­trat­ing, when what is plain in one dis­ci­pli­nary idiom is incom­pre­hen­si­ble or, worse, anath­e­ma to the oth­er.

True inter- and trans­dis­ci­pli­nary research requires a mode of tem­po­ral and mate­r­i­al attune­ment that the con­tem­po­rary academy—indeed, the con­tem­po­rary world—is often hos­tile to. It requires slow­ing down, tak­ing risks, ask­ing our ques­tions dif­fer­ent­ly, and trust­ing each oth­er. It requires being atten­tive to each oth­ers’ dif­fer­ences as care­ful­ly as to our sim­i­lar­i­ties. And let­ting those dif­fer­ences teach us.

On This Journal Issue

What fol­lows mir­rors the dia­log­ic struc­ture of our work­ing ses­sions, pre­sent­ing arti­cles in mul­ti­ple for­mats that open­ly dis­cuss the project’s his­to­ry and eval­u­ate the role that col­lab­o­ra­tive, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, research-cre­ation can serve in bridg­ing gaps between evi­dence, pol­i­cy, and pub­lic opin­ion. While some of the con­tri­bu­tions were able to address the coro­n­avirus in the final stages of edit­ing, this issue was writ­ten and large­ly com­plet­ed pri­or to COVID-19. Nonethe­less, we hope that the dis­cus­sion in these pages might con­tribute to future projects that address COVID-19 direct­ly.

The first sec­tion, Reports and Dia­logues, is made up of short descrip­tions of each project fol­lowed by a dia­log­ic reflec­tion on the process of pro­duc­tion. This sec­tion address­es themes rang­ing from art-as-ped­a­gogy to the lim­its of con­ven­tion­al health com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies in reach­ing the vac­cine-hes­i­tant and -resis­tant. The sec­ond sec­tion, Reflec­tions and Essays, gives con­text regard­ing glob­al vac­ci­na­tion and health pol­i­cy, the role of art in knowl­edge dis­sem­i­na­tion and polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy, and offers indi­vid­ual reflec­tion on some of the projects fea­tured in the exhi­bi­tion. These lat­ter reflec­tions are writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of artist-researchers in ways that fur­ther elab­o­rate process and method.

This issue of Imag­i­na­tions: Jour­nal of Cross-Cul­tur­al Image Stud­ies is an invi­ta­tion to take a look at insid­er insights into what it can be like, at least in our shared expe­ri­ence on <Immune Nations>, to work togeth­er on inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, col­lab­o­ra­tive research-cre­ation projects that strad­dle artis­tic com­mit­ments and com­mit­ments to sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge pro­duc­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion, and that work to bring new per­spec­tives to glob­al health pol­i­cy and advo­ca­cy. The voic­es gath­ered togeth­er in this vol­ume argue for the val­ue of cre­ative, inno­v­a­tive, col­lab­o­ra­tive, and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary exper­i­men­ta­tions that take the affec­tive aspects of sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge pro­duc­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion seri­ous­ly. They argue for the need for new (artis­tic, ped­a­gog­i­cal, and insti­tu­tion­al) strate­gies that force us to ask new, more cre­ative, ques­tions and devel­op new kinds of rela­tion­ships across the academy’s inher­it­ed silos. When it comes to press­ing glob­al issues, such as those we are fac­ing with COVID-19, we need to mobi­lize the arts, human­i­ties, social sci­ences, and sci­ences as equal part­ners, and be will­ing to learn from and with each oth­er with respect, patience and curios­i­ty. Indeed, it is pre­cise­ly this kind of think­ing and action that is required of us in the academy—and the world—today. Insights and exper­tise from across the dis­ci­plines are nec­es­sary if we hope to pro­duce robust respons­es to wicked prob­lems and to answer the most press­ing ques­tions of our time.

Acknowledgements

It takes a huge amount of invis­i­ble labour to com­plete a project of this kind. In par­tic­u­lar, Natal­ie Love­less, on behalf of her­self and project leads Steven J. Hoff­man and Sean Caulfield, would like to acknowl­edge our intre­pid Grad­u­ate Research Assis­tant for <Immune Nations>, Vic­ki S. Kwon. Vic­ki reg­u­lar­ly went above and beyond in not only con­tribut­ing to the project but sup­port­ing its orga­ni­za­tion and exe­cu­tion, with pas­sion, ded­i­ca­tion, and skill. Thank you Vic­ki!

Works Cited

Black­well, Tom. “The Wuhan Dis­ease Lab Is the Focus of Sus­pi­cion and Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ries about COVID-19’s Ori­gins.” Nation­al Post, 16 Apr. 2020, https://​nation​al​post​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​i​t​s​-​p​o​s​s​i​b​l​e​-​a​-​w​u​h​a​n​-​d​i​s​e​a​s​e​-​l​a​b​-​i​s​-​t​h​e​-​f​o​c​u​s​-​o​f​-​s​u​s​p​i​c​i​o​n​-​a​n​d​-​c​o​n​s​p​i​r​a​c​y​-​t​h​e​o​r​i​e​s​-​a​b​o​u​t​-​c​o​v​i​d​-​1​9​s​-​o​r​i​g​ins

Hud­dle­ston Jr., Tom. “Here’s what Bill Gates has to say about those Covid-19 vac­cine con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries he’s pegged to.” CNBS, 5 June. 2020, https://​www​.wash​ing​tonex​am​in​er​.com/​o​p​i​n​i​o​n​/​f​l​o​a​t​i​n​g​-​c​o​n​s​p​i​r​a​c​y​-​t​h​e​o​r​i​e​s​-​a​b​o​u​t​-​c​o​r​o​n​a​v​i​r​u​s​-​d​a​t​a​-​m​o​d​e​l​s​-​i​s​-​d​a​n​g​e​r​ous

Love­less, Natal­ie. How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Man­i­festo for Research-Cre­ation. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019.

Love­less, Natal­ie. Know­ings and Knots: Method­olo­gies and Ecolo­gies in Research-Cre­ation. Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta Press, 2019.

Measles Cas­es and Out­breaks.” Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, 3 Feb. 2020, www​.cdc​.gov/​m​e​a​s​l​e​s​/​c​a​s​e​s​-​o​u​t​b​r​e​a​k​s​.​h​tml.

Mala­mut, Melis­sa. “Goop-Approved Shrink Says There’s No Such Thing as Coro­n­avirus.” New York Post, 24 March, 2020, https://​nypost​.com/​2​0​2​0​/​0​3​/​2​4​/​g​o​o​p​-​a​p​p​r​o​v​e​d​-​s​h​r​i​n​k​-​s​a​y​s​-​t​h​e​r​e​s​-​n​o​-​s​u​c​h​-​t​h​i​n​g​-​a​s​-​c​o​r​o​n​a​v​i​r​us/

Notes

  1. As we were final­iz­ing the proofs for this issue, it was con­firmed that the exhi­bi­tion is post­poned to Sep­tem­ber 2021.

  2. Research-Cre­ation is a Cana­di­an term for what, else­where, is called artis­tic research, prac­tice-led research, or research-led prac­tice. On research cre­ation, see: Love­less 2019a and Love­less 2019b.

Jane Philpott, for­mer Min­is­ter of Health Cana­da, and Car­o­line Pit­field, for­mer Direc­tor of Pol­i­cy in the Office of the Min­is­ter of Health, in con­ver­sa­tion with Sean Caulfield and Patrick Mahon at the open­ing Recep­tion, Immune Nations, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Still image from video by Julien Duret.
Mon­i­ca Geignos First Lady of Namib­ia, Michel Sidibé, for­mer Direc­tor of UNAIDS, and Susan Rogers Van Katwyk, for­mer research coor­di­na­tor of the Glob­al Strat­e­gy Lab and UNAIDS intern, at open­ing recep­tion, Immune Nations, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Roman Levchenko.
Anu­rad­ha Gup­ta, Deputy Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer of Gavi, the Vac­cine Alliance, giv­ing remarks at open­ing recep­tion, Immune Nations, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Roman Levchenko.
Immune Nations Team, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Roman Levchenko.
Flo­ri­an Schnei­der, Direc­tor of Trond­heim Acad­e­my of Fine Art, speak­ing at the joint open­ing recep­tion of Immune Nations and the GLOVAC 2017 Con­fer­ence, Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, 2017. Pho­to by Yanir Shani.
The NTNU Rec­tor Gun­nar Bovim speak­ing at the joint open­ing recep­tion of Immune Nations and the GLOVAC 2017 Con­fer­ence, Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, 2017. Pho­to by Yanir Shani.
Guests at the joint open­ing recep­tion of <Immune Nations> and the GLOVAC 2017 Con­fer­ence, Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, 2017. Pho­to by Yanir Shani.
Immune Nations Team, Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, 2017. Pho­to by Yanir Shani.