Infectious artwork that spreads ideas

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

“On Mosquitoes Human and Other Animals” is the work of artist Beatriz Inglessis in collaboration with three other people: philosopher Suzanne McCullagh, education specialist Renee Jackson and gallery curator Shai Ohayon. The latest show at The Container gallery in Nakameguro, it’s the result of months of correspondence and conversation between all involved, who meandered through topics as varied as education, cultural politics, disaster relief and the parasitic relationship between disparate organisms.

Inglessis, who recently completed her PhD in Printmaking at Tokyo’s Geidai University, has been interested in medicine from an early age, with her family working in the medical field in Venezuela. It is not particularly surprising then that it should impress upon her art in such a particular way. Having lived in Japan for the last seven years, her latest piece explores the wider ramifications this interest has had on her own working practice.

At the heart of “On Mosquitos, Humans and Other Animals” exists a wish to explore education and themes of knowledge, which was to be manifested in lesson plans and an instruction manual. Those, however, were eventually dropped and left unfinished, though they do partially feature in a publication accompanying the show.

The product of this searching and research led to the installation “Vector,” which is hung to dramatic effect in The Container’s compact gallery space.

Inglessis terms a mosquito as “vector” and the human body as “host” in the exploration of the carrier-host cycle of a mosquito borne disease. She developed this concept by first constructing a small two-dimensional collage made from 30 SEM (scanning electron microscope) images of a mosquito caught with its proboscis inserted in a portion of human skin.

Her installation “Vector” is a much enlarged version of that small college, made up of carefully hand-cut layers of card, the original position of the sheets re-aligned slightly differently to present an abstract cross-section of skin and the marauding mosquito digging-in.

The separately hung layers underline the abstractness of this “give and take” relationship of a host and vector, and how their roles can switch when least expected — an action that may be uneventful to some species but terrifying and disturbing to those that react violently in their new role as hosts of infection.

Inglessis’ delicate installation is suspended by color-coded thread that pulls apart the medical image originally collaged by the artist. It’s stretched three-dimensionally and viewers will find themselves within it, not as spectators but as willing participants: Think of the 1966 film “Fantastic Voyage,” where biologists are miniaturized to enter the body of an ailing scientist.

Highlighting the spread of bacteria and infection makes this installation far from simple. Some diseases’ disappear and originate without a clear understanding of how or why. Their origins are as likely man-made as they are naturally occurring and the only real defense against spread is containment.

The ideas on display at The Container, however, are evidently infectious.

“On Mosquitoes, Humans, and Other Animals” at The Container in Nakameguro runs till March 31; open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.) Free admission. Closed Tue. and the third Mon. of the month. www.the-container.com.