Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.IN.11.2.3 | PDF

VacZi­ne­Na­tions! Knowles et al

VacZineNations!, a Critical Dialogue

Rachelle Viad­er Knowles, Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, Patrick Mahon, John Ham­mer­s­ley, and Lisa Webb

VacZi­ne­Na­tions! is a col­lab­o­ra­tive art­work led by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles and Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, pro­duced by artists, stu­dents, and design­ers in the UK, Cana­da, Chi­na, and Arme­nia, and exhib­it­ed as part of <Immune Nations> at Gal­leri KiT in Trond­heim, Nor­way, and UNAIDS in Gene­va, Switzer­land, in 2017. This crit­i­cal dia­logue text gives insight into the nec­es­sar­i­ly messy approach used to devel­op a project with over one hun­dred par­tic­i­pants, work­ing from mul­ti­ple dis­ci­pli­nary and geo­graph­ic per­spec­tives. This text is accom­pa­nied by a sec­ond essay that posi­tions the art­work with­in the con­text of prac­tice-led research (see Knowles, “VacZi­ne­Na­tions! as Prac­tice-Led Research” in this volume).

VacZi­ne­Na­tions! est une œuvre d’art col­lab­o­ra­tive dirigée par Rachelle Viad­er Knowles et Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, pro­duite par des artistes, des étu­di­ants, et des design­ers au Roy­aume-Uni, au Cana­da, en Chine et en Arménie, et exposée dans le cadre de <Immune Nations> au Gal­leri KiT à Trond­heim, en Norvège, et à l’ONUSIDA à Genève, Suisse, en 2017. Ce texte de dia­logue cri­tique donne un aperçu de l’approche néces­saire­ment désor­don­née util­isée pour dévelop­per un pro­jet avec plus d’une cen­taine de par­tic­i­pants, tra­vail­lant à par­tir de mul­ti­ples per­spec­tives dis­ci­plinaires et géo­graphiques. Ce texte est accom­pa­g­né d’un deux­ième essai qui place l’œuvre d’art dans le con­texte de la recherche dirigée par la pra­tique (voir Knowles, «VacZi­ne­Na­tions! As Prac­tice-Led Research» dans ce volume).

Fig­ure 1: VacZi­ne­Na­tions! poster instal­la­tion at Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, Nor­way, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Overview and Description

How does the social crux of the vac­ci­na­tion issue—public good ver­sus indi­vid­ual choice—vary between dif­fer­ent coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties? How can we posi­tion and com­mu­ni­cate local expe­ri­ence in glob­al con­texts? These ques­tions were the start­ing point for a project with many par­tic­i­pants, VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, devised by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles and Mkr­tich Tonoy­an as an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary plat­form bring­ing stu­dents and artists togeth­er. Draw­ing sub­mis­sions from Cana­da, the UK, Chi­na, and Arme­nia in print­mak­ing, visu­al arts, graph­ic design, jour­nal­ism, and cre­ative writ­ing, the project mir­rored the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach of <Immune Nations> as a whole, and asked par­tic­i­pants to con­sid­er how they might employ strate­gies of col­lab­o­ra­tion and nexus think­ing in rela­tion to the top­ic of vaccinations.

The three works that formed VacZi­ne­Na­tions! can loose­ly be described as Big Zine, small zine, and Win­dow Graph­ics. In scope, VacZi­ne­Na­tions! was “messy,” with these three cat­e­gories of works devised by the project ini­tia­tors, Knowles and Tonoy­an, to engage a broad range of ideas, cre­ative approach­es, and geo­graph­ic and dis­ci­pli­nary per­spec­tives. The project was designed to evolve and change in response to the con­texts of dis­play and the input of par­tic­i­pants. VacZi­ne­Na­tions! was, to var­ied degrees, graph­ic design, sci­ence jour­nal­ism, health pol­i­cy, edu­ca­tion, and con­tem­po­rary art, under­tak­en through dia­logue-based meth­ods that embraced mul­ti­lin­gual­ism, cul­tur­al exchange, col­lab­o­ra­tion, mul­ti­ple author­ship, teach­ing and learning.

One hun­dred and one peo­ple con­tributed to this project. Of this group, the major­i­ty were stu­dents from Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty in the UK, Cen­tral South Uni­ver­si­ty (CSU) in Chang­sha, Chi­na, as well as West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta in Cana­da, with addi­tion­al con­tri­bu­tions from Arme­nia. But while this list locates coun­tries of res­i­dence, the list of nation­al­i­ties was far greater, as the Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty group alone includ­ed a high pro­por­tion of inter­na­tion­al stu­dents from coun­tries as diverse as India, Bul­gar­ia, Thai­land, and Nigeria.

Big Zine began as a series of graph­ic posters and print works, shown as a wall instal­la­tion at Gal­leri KiT in Trond­heim and in its final fin­ished form as an over­sized zine pub­li­ca­tion for the exhi­bi­tion at UNAIDS in Gene­va. The con­tribut­ing works were drawn from an assign­ment that posed the same chal­lenge to stu­dents as the par­tic­i­pants of the broad­er <Immune Nations> project—namely, to con­sid­er how cre­ative means could chal­lenge the prob­lem of vac­cine hesitancy.

Fig­ures 2 and 3: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Big Zine at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­tos by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Stu­dents worked togeth­er on research for the project through online tools, then through two face-to-face work­shops in Coven­try and Chang­sha as part of an exchange pro­gram. The works from the Coventry–Changsha exchange pro­gram were also col­lat­ed into a small zine. The small zine project was a series of lim­it­ed edi­tion hand­made pub­li­ca­tions, dis­trib­uted for free at each of the exhi­bi­tion venues. The con­tribut­ing works were pri­mar­i­ly devel­oped through an assign­ment set to master’s-level graph­ic design stu­dents at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty, with input from under­grad­u­ate stu­dents on the Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty jour­nal­ism course. The zines made by stu­dents were accom­pa­nied by two oth­er zines made by artists John Ham­mer­s­ley (UK) and Alex Gub­bins (USA/Armenia).

Fig­ures 4 and 5: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the small zines at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­tos by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

As a site-spe­cif­ic response to the archi­tec­ture of the UNAIDS build­ing in Gene­va, a fur­ther assign­ment was set to graph­ic design stu­dents in Coven­try and the exchange stu­dents from Cen­tral South to design images that could be pro­duced in vinyl as Win­dow Graph­ics. All of the sub­mis­sions were includ­ed in the Coventry–Central South small zine, a selec­tion was dis­played in poster form in Trond­heim, and works by Lu Song, Cui Yix­u­an, Ziyan Peng, and Clau­dia Pop­py were pro­duced as win­dow graph­ics for the exhi­bi­tion in Geneva.

VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Win­dow Graph­ics (Fig­ures 6 and 7: left: Lu Song / right: Ziyan Peng and Cui Yix­u­an) at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­tos by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

With such a wide-rang­ing set of col­lab­o­ra­tions, it was decid­ed that three sep­a­rate face-to-face dia­logues would be under­tak­en. The first dia­logue was in Gene­va, dur­ing the instal­la­tion of the sec­ond <Immune Nations> exhi­bi­tion at UNAIDS in May 2017, between the project ini­tia­tors Knowles and Tonoy­an and Patrick Mahon, one of the oth­er artists involved in <Immune Nations>, who also brought his stu­dents from West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in Cana­da into the project; the sec­ond was in August 2017 between Knowles and Lisa Webb, course direc­tor for the MA Graph­ic Design course at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty; and the third was in August 2017, between Knowles and John Ham­mer­s­ley, a lec­tur­er in graph­ic design at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty, and one of the artist par­tic­i­pants who con­tributed a small zine to the project.

The texts that fol­low weave these three dia­logues into one.

The Dialogues

Mkr­tich Tonoy­an: Were you skep­ti­cal about the <Immune Nations> project at the start?

Rachelle Viad­er Knowles: Yes, I was skep­ti­cal about how a group of science/immunology peo­ple, pub­lic health peo­ple, [and] art peo­ple would find a path­way togeth­er towards some­thing inter­est­ing in a very short time frame—how this was all going to turn into coher­ent exhi­bi­tion projects. It all seemed a bit daunting.

Tonoy­an: So you had the same con­cerns I had.

Knowles: Yes! But think­ing back, the con­cerns shift­ed when we start­ed think­ing about mech­a­nisms for get­ting stu­dents involved. Patrick, you brought your group of print­mak­ing stu­dents from West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty into the VacZi­ne­Na­tions! project. With­out putting words in their mouths, what sorts of things did your visu­al arts stu­dents get out of this, in terms of the broad­er res­o­nance and the­mat­ics of the project? How much fil­tered through?

Patrick Mahon: I would say quite a lot. They were interested—more inter­est­ed than I expect­ed them to be—in the sub­ject of vac­cines, and there was a group of Chi­nese stu­dents who had strong nar­ra­tives around how vac­cines are thought about and used in Chi­na. Also, some of the Cana­di­an-born stu­dents talked about it gen­er­a­tional­ly, that they expe­ri­enced their par­ents as more vac­cine skep­ti­cal than they are. There was a con­sid­er­able amount of inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion and I was quite sur­prised at how intent­ly my stu­dents engaged with the sub­ject itself. I would say that the most trans­for­ma­tive dimen­sion of the project was that they end­ed up feel­ing that their work as artists could engage deeply in real-world sub­jects, and be inter­est­ing not only to them but also to oth­er peo­ple. It was a huge learn­ing moment for them. In art schools in Cana­da, there’s still a pret­ty strong bent towards art as an autonomous activity—art for the art world and all that sort of thing—so I was ner­vous that they were going to roll their eyes and only engage with this in so far as I had assigned it. But it felt like it didn’t take that long before they were actu­al­ly tak­ing own­er­ship of their involve­ment in the project.

Knowles: It’s inter­est­ing that your con­cerns about the stu­dents being skep­ti­cal of tak­ing part in such an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary “issues-based” project per­haps matched ours as the artists involved in <Immune Nations>. I remem­ber being anx­ious at the start of this project about my abil­i­ty to “learn immunology.”

Mahon: I think that we quick­ly real­ized, as artists, what it is that we do: we try and com­mu­ni­cate in ways that are cre­ative and expan­sive, we try and draw atten­tion to things that maybe the aver­age per­son in their dai­ly life won’t take notice of, and we have cer­tain method­olo­gies and exper­tise that we use to do this. I think that’s the chal­lenge: not to get so anx­ious about what we don’t know that then we are not trust­ing our own instincts as artists.

Knowles: The inter­dis­ci­pli­nary “ten­sion” you are get­ting at here is cer­tain­ly some­thing we want­ed to build into the stu­dents’ expe­ri­ence of the VacZi­ne­Na­tions! project. We invit­ed our jour­nal­ism course at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty to get involved with the graph­ic design stu­dents, but in the end only four jour­nal­ism stu­dents chose to par­tic­i­pate. It was extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to entice col­lab­o­ra­tion between the cours­es (graph­ic design and jour­nal­ism), so in the end, it fell rather flat.

Tonoy­an: I also tried to bring jour­nal­ism stu­dents into the project with the idea that they could gath­er data and media analy­sis on the top­ic of vac­ci­na­tion from the Cau­ca­sus region (Arme­nia); that would have been very inter­est­ing to share with the stu­dents in Cana­da and the UK. But I also could not make it hap­pen. From my point of view, our cur­ricu­lum is too rigid to accom­mo­date exper­i­men­tal projects like this one and stu­dents didn’t want to do this work “extra to load.”

Mahon: I sense a theme! I also had prob­lems get­ting jour­nal­ism stu­dents involved at West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. It is real­ly appar­ent that if a project is not for marks, or they don’t know how they are cred­it­ed for this work, stu­dents are ret­i­cent. My visu­al arts stu­dents’ work was embed­ded into the course/module, so that helped. But if there is not a cul­ture of see­ing beyond the defined bor­ders of your field in terms of out­puts, a project like this may just seem weird and remote. Those who par­tic­i­pat­ed real­ly enjoyed it though—particularly when we did the live Skype tour for them from the exhi­bi­tion at Gal­leri KiT in Nor­way and they saw their works on the wall. It was a perk that their work was hav­ing a life in the world. It wasn’t just an exper­i­men­tal col­lab­o­ra­tive thing, but it was going to have results that they could be proud of. That in itself was a big deal.

Knowles: Lisa, unlike the visu­al arts stu­dents that Patrick works with, your MA Graph­ic Design stu­dents at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty are per­haps more used to respond­ing to “issues-based projects” and what gets called a “live brief” in design sub­jects. Can I ask about your moti­va­tions for includ­ing your MA Graph­ic Design stu­dents in VacZi­ne­Na­tions!?

Lisa Webb: Our stu­dents at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty are a diverse inter­na­tion­al group and I could see very quick­ly that the top­ic of vac­cines, as seen from inter­na­tion­al per­spec­tives, would be a very inter­est­ing live brief for this group of stu­dents to work through. I was also drawn to the zine as a hands-on for­mat few of them had encoun­tered. So on both counts it pre­sent­ed a con­cise “design think­ing” project oppor­tu­ni­ty. As a teach­ing team, we thought this would both broad­en and enrich the stu­dents’ expe­ri­ence in terms of col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly work­ing in groups and across cul­tur­al and dis­ci­pli­nary bor­ders. We start­ed a Face­book group as the locus for shar­ing infor­ma­tion and arti­cles gath­ered from mul­ti­ple sources.

Knowles: You also went on to bring your under­grad­u­ate stu­dents into the project in a much more ambi­tious way. Can you describe how the project opened up to include a lot more people?

Webb: Once we had the MA group work­ing on this, we saw the oppor­tu­ni­ty to extend par­tic­i­pa­tion to a group of under­grads involved with an inter­na­tion­al exchange pro­gram we run each year with Cen­tral South Uni­ver­si­ty in Chang­sha, Chi­na. That group worked in the for­mat of posters, which we showed first on the Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus, then at the exhi­bi­tion in Trond­heim, and then the works came togeth­er in their own dis­crete small zine for Gene­va. Some of the posters were also select­ed for the Big Zine project. We ran the exchange with CSU as a COIL (col­lab­o­ra­tive online inter­na­tion­al learn­ing) project, which meant that stu­dents worked togeth­er online. But in this project, there was also the face-to-face exchange aspect of the Chi­nese stu­dents com­ing to Coven­try and vice ver­sa. This again allowed the top­ic to be dis­cussed broad­ly and for research mate­ri­als to be shared through online systems—at least that was the plan. The Coven­try under­grad stu­dents joined the Face­book group, but of course for the stu­dents in Chi­na that wasn’t pos­si­ble. So to over­come this (as we have done in pre­vi­ous years), we devel­oped an online blog where our stu­dents trans­ferred mate­ri­als from the Face­book group onto Tum­blr. But when we went to Chi­na as part of the exchange trip, we dis­cov­ered that Tum­blr too has fall­en out of favour in Chi­na. So it became dif­fi­cult to sus­tain a good lev­el of com­mu­ni­ca­tion through those sys­tems, and the face-to-face dis­cus­sion in the class­room became cen­tral. Some of that was real­ized with more mature solu­tions, and the stu­dents were encour­aged in the class­room ses­sions to con­sid­er how their design work “speaks” in inter­na­tion­al con­texts, which real­ly enabled the stu­dents to “own” their inter­cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cies by the end of the exchange pro­gram. They were forced to ask them­selves if their designs “work” in dif­fer­ent con­texts, lead­ing to a much greater aware­ness of the design­ers’ respon­si­bil­i­ties, the design­ers’ voice, and the cul­tur­al influ­ence that design can have.

Knowles: When I came back from Gene­va, we did a fol­low-up ses­sion with the Coven­try MA Graph­ic Design group. We looked at images of the exhi­bi­tion and they were able to see the con­text in which their work met an audience—not a con­text many of them were used to work­ing in. We also asked them to respond in writ­ing to six questions:

1. What did you learn/get from the project that you expect­ed to learn?

2. What did you learn/get from the project that you didn’t expect to learn?

3. What would you do dif­fer­ent­ly if you were to do a sim­i­lar project in future?

4. What did you find most chal­leng­ing about the project?

5. Is there any­thing that you would wish to learn more about as a result of this project? (skills/understanding), and

6. What, if any­thing, did you learn about vaccines?

Webb: Yes! That was very inter­est­ing. Main­ly, the stu­dent respons­es cen­tred around four key things: the details they learned about the spe­cif­ic sci­en­tif­ic or social themes they focused on in their research; the prac­ti­cal skills they devel­oped in mak­ing the zines; the chal­lenge most of them found in col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing in groups; and reflec­tion on how they might have approached the project dif­fer­ent­ly. Sur­pris­ing­ly, many of these stu­dents had nev­er had to col­lab­o­rate before, so learn­ing the art of nego­ti­at­ing a solu­tion to a design prob­lem as a group was a dif­fi­cult thing for many of them. One stu­dent respond­ed that “the project fur­ther proved to me how pas­sion­ate I can get about social issues and increased my inter­est in social impact design.” That was real­ly excit­ing to hear, and a cou­ple of oth­er stu­dents also demon­strat­ed their grow­ing aware­ness of the impact their design work could have.

Knowles: Do you have the impres­sion that the stu­dents did indeed learn more about vac­ci­na­tion and vac­ci­na­tion pol­i­cy than they had expect­ed to?

Webb: Yes. This was evi­denced in inter­est­ing ways in a cou­ple of the stu­dent respons­es, such as, “I hadn’t expect­ed to learn as much as I did about HPV and just how many peo­ple it affects,” and most poignant­ly by a stu­dent from Nige­ria, “some of my assump­tions about the polio virus were proved incor­rect. I had assumed that the polio virus was com­plete­ly erad­i­cat­ed from Nige­ria, but research showed that I was wrong.” The cross-cul­tur­al make­up of the group meant that we were real­ly able to look at the top­ic from mul­ti­ple cul­tur­al per­spec­tives and stu­dents start­ed to think about vac­ci­na­tion from the posi­tion of their own bod­ies. One stu­dent respond­ed by say­ing that she “always knew vac­cines were impor­tant because back in India we take vac­cines pret­ty seri­ous­ly and it’s a must that we take all the vac­cines that are avail­able.” Over­all how­ev­er, the chal­lenge was to encour­age the stu­dents to real­ly dig into the sub­ject mat­ter, and some stu­dents cer­tain­ly achieved that bet­ter than oth­ers. One stu­dent not­ed that “vac­cine knowl­edge is spe­cial­ized and hard to under­stand” and the respons­es from a num­ber of stu­dents revealed use­ful reflec­tion on the vital role design plays in com­mu­ni­cat­ing health advice and pol­i­cy to a non-spe­cial­ist audience.

Knowles: It was inter­est­ing for me that for most of these stu­dents it was the first time they had par­tic­i­pat­ed in an exhi­bi­tion. It had not occurred to me until we had the post-show chat that for graph­ic design stu­dents this was a new expe­ri­ence that also crossed a dis­ci­pli­nary bound­ary. I described to them some of the moments I wit­nessed in Gene­va of peo­ple inter­act­ing with their works, par­tic­u­lar­ly see­ing sci­en­tists get­ting so excit­ed to see work made by an art and design stu­dent on the sub­ject they have spent their careers work­ing on.

Webb: I was real­ly struck that peo­ple were excit­ed by the exhi­bi­tion. In terms of the sub­ject of com­bin­ing art with advo­ca­cy for impor­tant top­ics, I think that was per­haps a real­ly impor­tant bit of feed­back for me as an edu­ca­tor, and would encour­age me to par­tic­i­pate in such a project again.

Knowles: One of the aspects of the project I have found very inter­est­ing was work­ing with stu­dents between the bound­aries of “art” and “design” and the con­ven­tions that come with each dis­ci­pli­nary realm. John, you inter­sect­ed with VacZi­ne­Na­tions! as both a design tutor at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty and as a par­tic­i­pat­ing artist, con­tribut­ing a small zine art­work that moves beyond those two cat­e­gories into what you have called a research aes­thet­ic. Can you tell me about your involve­ment in VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, what you made and how your con­tri­bu­tion devel­oped as a piece of artis­tic research?

John Ham­mer­s­ley: I got involved part­ly because I teach part-time on the MA Graph­ic Design course at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty, but also because I am inter­est­ed as an artist-researcher in how art-as-research can estab­lish what Simon Pope has described to me as con­tem­po­rary art’s research aes­thet­ic (per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, May 2018). As I under­stand his notion, how con­tem­po­rary art com­mu­ni­cates or per­forms its knowl­edge is increas­ing­ly informed by research and every­day prac­tices beyond the tra­di­tion­al dis­ci­pline con­cerns of art and design, but also con­tem­po­rary art weaves togeth­er these dif­fer­ent modes of knowl­edge in inter­est­ing or unex­pect­ed ways. The rich mix of dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants in this project seemed like an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn for myself and to sup­port the stu­dents. On a straight­for­ward sub­ject-mat­ter lev­el, I was able to address my rather embar­rass­ing igno­rance about vac­ci­na­tions, and at the lev­el of artis­tic out­put I was able to see how such a com­plex lay­er­ing of dif­fer­ent modes of knowl­edge might be pre­sent­ed as a project and exhi­bi­tion. On a sim­pler prac­ti­cal lev­el, how­ev­er, I saw a chance to return to a mode of mak­ing works that I had steered away from some­what in my prac­tice-led research but which seemed to be increas­ing­ly some­thing of a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion: writ­ten and designed dia­logues that func­tion as works of art-as-edu­ca­tion. This project seemed like an oppor­tu­ni­ty to work on a brief along­side the stu­dents as part of my design teach­ing prac­tice in a way that demon­strates the artist-lec­tur­er as co-learn­er. I learned some things from the stu­dents about their per­cep­tions of vac­ci­na­tions, but, also, I learned from my col­lab­o­ra­tion with a doc­tor who lives in my town, Dr. Clare Littlejohn.

The work I made is a small zine called A dia­logue on vac­ci­na­tion. I start­ed by con­sid­er­ing what the “career” or life sto­ry of such an object—a vaccine—might be, and wrote out a pro­to­col for a semi-struc­tured inter­view. I was think­ing of doing it as a per­for­mance inter­view, although I know all inter­views are a per­for­mance of sorts. But a friend of mine put me in touch with Dr. Lit­tle­john, who had had some expe­ri­ence work­ing with vac­cine pro­grams but weird­ly also had an inter­est in some­thing I had nev­er heard about before called “lit­er­a­ture in medicine”—an exam­ple would be W.H. Auden’s poem Let­ter to a Wound. So Dr. Lit­tle­john agreed to take part. I explained to her I was going to ask a series of ques­tions, and would she be will­ing to try and answer as if she were a syringe intend­ed for vac­cines? The con­ver­sa­tion revealed lots to me about the pro­duc­tion, the jour­ney or dis­tri­b­u­tion, [and] the lifes­pan (as in the sin­gle-use: its life’s pur­pose is for one use only in the case of vac­cine use) of vaccines.

Knowles: Did any­thing unex­pect­ed arise from your inter­view with the doctor?

Ham­mer­s­ley: It made me real­ize how lit­tle thought I had actu­al­ly giv­en to the impor­tance of vac­ci­na­tions for pub­lic health, basi­cal­ly how lit­tle I knew about vac­ci­na­tion. I was sur­prised to learn how in the UK par­ents maybe take it for grant­ed or per­haps even have an odd skep­ti­cal or fear­ful rela­tion­ship to vac­ci­na­tions, but clear­ly that’s not the case every­where in the world where in many places there seems to be a much more pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship. I was sur­prised that my dia­logue with the doc­tor touched upon themes that led me to fol­low up and learn about some more uncom­fort­able UK-based issues such as the measles, mumps, rubel­la (MMR) scan­dal and the dam­age that one dis­cred­it­ed piece of fake research did to the pub­lic health of the UK for a while. The extent of that dam­age was a shock to me. Even more uncom­fort­ably, the oth­er thing I was sur­prised to read about was the con­tin­u­ing skep­ti­cism or even hos­til­i­ty towards immu­niza­tion pro­grams over­seas in coun­tries which have an Islamist dimen­sion. And more sur­pris­ing was the dis­cov­ery that some doc­tors in the UK still ques­tion the sci­ence behind vaccinations.

Knowles: Final ques­tion, John, was there any impact on your teaching?

Ham­mer­s­ley: Work­ing on this project, I became aware just how many news arti­cles about vac­ci­na­tions were appear­ing in the nation­al press quite by chance dur­ing its time span. Feed­ing them back into the Face­book group with the stu­dents helped me to real­ize the val­ue of social media as a real-time “live” group learn­ing tool. I think stu­dents of all cre­ative dis­ci­plines now have to be net­worked and glob­al in how they approach projects, and the mul­ti­ple dimen­sions, dis­cur­sive plat­forms, or spaces of VacZi­ne­Na­tions! was a great exam­ple for all who were involved.

Knowles: Agreed. VacZi­ne­Na­tions! crossed assumed hier­ar­chies between stu­dent and pro­fes­sion­al work, edu­ca­tion and art, and mul­ti­ple dis­ci­pli­nary lines between art, design, jour­nal­ism, and health pol­i­cy. Research-based dia­log­i­cal art projects such as this become a means of teach­ing art and design stu­dents the crit­i­cal rewards of par­tic­i­pat­ing in glob­al con­ver­sa­tions that address the chal­lenges that affect us all. We set out to devel­op an alter­na­tive edu­ca­tion­al mod­el and a crit­i­cal method­ol­o­gy for artists wish­ing to address press­ing polit­i­cal and social chal­lenges in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and col­lab­o­ra­tive ways. This hap­pened for stu­dents involved with the project, but also at the exhi­bi­tion sites. I wit­nessed audi­ence mem­bers attend­ing the GLOBVAC con­fer­ence and the World Health Assem­bly engage with the VacZi­ne­Na­tions! projects with enthu­si­asm, excite­ment, and curios­i­ty, work­ing togeth­er to turn the pages of the Big Zine, exam­in­ing the small zines, and encoun­ter­ing the Win­dow Graph­ics in sur­prise. This audi­ence did not seem to regard these works as specif­i­cal­ly aes­thet­ic artis­tic objects for con­tem­pla­tion, but rather as cre­ative cat­a­lysts for action and dia­logue, pro­voked by the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary engage­ment with their own areas of high­ly spe­cial­ized exper­tise. As Lisa indi­cates, con­vey­ing this engaged audi­ence reac­tion back to the MA Graph­ic Design stu­dents in Coven­try as part of a dis­cus­sion on the exhi­bi­tion was a crit­i­cal moment in the stu­dents’ under­stand­ing of the impact their design work can have in broad­er dis­course. Patrick makes a sim­i­lar point in rela­tion to his Skype tour of the Trond­heim exhi­bi­tion for his visu­al art stu­dents at West­ern. He points out that the occa­sion when stu­dents saw their work at the exhi­bi­tion was a key trans­for­ma­tive moment of feed­back. It seems to me that the out­comes (and the art­work) of VacZi­ne­Na­tions! are not only the phys­i­cal objects and inter­ven­tions in the exhi­bi­tion spaces: per­haps more sig­nif­i­cant­ly, they are the dia­logues and trans­for­ma­tion­al exchanges that occurred after­wards, as a result of the project’s mul­ti­lay­ered conversations.

Fig­ure 8: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Win­dow Graph­ics (Bun­ny by Clau­dia Pop­py) at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.
Fig­ures 9 and 10: Yao Bu, Vac­cine Rev­o­lu­tion, screen­print, 2017 (left), and Shel­by Hay­ward, Unti­tled, screen­print, 2017 (right). Images cour­tesy of the artists.

Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: VacZi­ne­Na­tions! poster instal­la­tion at Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, Nor­way, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 2: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Big Zine at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 3: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Big Zine at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 4: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the small zines at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 5: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the small zines at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 6: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Win­dow Graph­ics (by Lu Song) at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 7: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Win­dow Graph­ics (by Ziyan Peng and Cui Yix­u­an) at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 8: VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, the Win­dow Graph­ics (Bun­ny by Clau­dia Pop­py) at UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Rachelle Viad­er Knowles.

Fig­ure 9: Yao Bu, Vac­cine Rev­o­lu­tion, screen­print, 2017. Image cour­tesy of the artist.

Fig­ure 10: Shel­by Hay­ward, Unti­tled, screen­print, 2017. Image cour­tesy of the artist.

VacZineNations! participant list:

Western University, Canada. Project lead - Patrick Mahon

T.C. Ling, Yuchen Cai, Xing Qian, J. Booke Hunter, Yao Bu, Lisa Zhang, Kim­ber­lyn Hawkins, Dawne John­son, Anna Mil­tenburg, Zoe Abbott, Shel­by Hay­ward, Anne Sporcis, Alisha Ansems, Ethan Wong, Kath­leen Reynolds, Shuyi Zhou, Katie Pick­ell-Kara­gia­n­is, Bren­da Fuhrman

University of Alberta, Canada. Project leads - Jill Ho-you, Sean Caulfield

Chelsey Camp­bell, Ardo Ahmed, Vivian Trinh, Max Hov­ed­sk­ou Keene, Mitchell Chal­i­foux, Ryan Andrade, Devon Roch, Abi­gail Nyman, Stephanie Hay­ward, Christophe Duch­esne, Bre­an­na Berring­ton, Michael McInnis

Coventry University, UK. Project leads - Lisa Webb, Rachel Matthews, Andrew Beck

Arlin­da Dhimerti­ka, Lay­la Adam, Oluwadamilo­la Akin­bote, Xuan Ye, Ziwei Zhu, Lu Song, Han­shuang Zou, Chen Li, Pirachkarn Young­mev­id­hya, Lei Pan, Ziyan Peng, Xiao Hu, Clau­dia Pop­py, Jor­dan Spencer, Xian­mei He, Imran Daar, Yiru Wang, Suruchi Suree, Tay­lan Gerem, Jen Brad­bury, Xinyi Hu, Xingyu Zhu, Qian­qian Sun, Erin Wat­son, Pierce Vic­tor, Agniesz­ka Chromik, Geor­giana-Iri­na Catana, Mar­ta Bog­da­nis, Oke Jonathan, Jat­ta Hongis­to, Racheal Aina-Shodipe, Ste­fan Timms, Daniela Mihaylo­va, Angeli­na Yane­va, Bahar Hus­sein, Alexan­der Mar­nelakis, Ana Mar­tinez Madar­nas, Irene Reta, Ellen Smith

Central South University, China. Project lead - Sun Xiangming

Shenyuan Miao, Mengna Yi, Yiga Liu, Qian Feng, Chun­yi Lei, Yajing Wen, Yian Gu, Yifu Liu, Yix­u­an Cui, Ling Lu, Yingx­i­ao Li, Ke Tu, Juan Liu, Yan­jun Zhou, Yifeng Xu, Qin Liu, Siqiao Dong

Armenia: Project lead - Mkrtich Tonoyan

Mikayel Yalanuzyan, Alex Var­tan Gub­bins, Vahagn Hamalbashyan


John Ham­mer­s­ley

Rachelle Viad­er Knowles and Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, Gal­leri KiT, Trond­heim, 2017. Small zines instal­la­tion. Pho­to by Natal­ie Loveless.
Instal­la­tion of the large zine with artists Rachelle Viad­er Knowles and Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Pho­to by Roman Levchenko.
Rachelle Viad­er Knowles and Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Large zine instal­la­tion and win­dow ele­ments. Pho­to by Mkr­tich Tonoyan.
Rachelle Viad­er Knowles and Mkr­tich Tonoy­an, VacZi­ne­Na­tions!, UNAIDS, Gene­va, 2017. Large zine instal­la­tion and win­dow ele­ments. Still image from video by Julien Duret.