Berrigan’s project Viral Confections turns our medicalized assumptions of infection on their head. By seeking to relate to a virus living in one’s own body as a guest rather than an enemy, Berrigan tries to create a kinship between her and the Hepatitis C virus who is her purported enemy. By caring for the virus, as an endosymbiont, perhaps she can befriend it, and in so doing, take care of herself as well. One component of her multilayered project are chocolates cast larger-than-life in the form of the Hepatitis C viral particle. By turning the virus into a desirable delicacy, she consumes them, and invites others to do the same in a radical gesture of intentional invitation. Symbolically, one consumes the virus that feeds off of them; the politics of aggression are replaced with an attempt of kin-making. Berrigan also held “tea parties” within dome’s built in the shape of the virus. In these spaces, people could share experiences with illness and learn about Hepatitis C, creating a strange sort or reciprocity in which one enters the virus, in contrast to the virus entering them. — AY
2006, Chocolate replicated from a cryo-electron 3D model of the hepatitis C viral protein structure
Artist Reflection —
Living with a chronic, incurable virus can lead to a certain identity crisis in which one’s occupied body is seen simultaneously as enemy and victim; friend and abuser. Where are the territories of colonizer and colonized within the blood? Who is politically in control of the body: the minority of the occupier (virus) or the majority of the territory (body)? Are these relevant terms to employ for a body in conflict? Weary of the rhetoric of war and fighting used to describe my chronic condition, I wanted to play with the idea that I could domesticate my untamed virus by offering it comfort, bread and circus. Instead of starvation, I will offer it delicacies. Instead of deprivation, I will offer it handmade garments. Instead of exile, I will offer it whimsical shelter. These domestic objects will be offered in its image, which will be formally based on the virus’s protein structure.
Viral Confections is part of a series, Sentimental Objects in Attempts to Befriend a Virus. In this piece, I intersect these spheres by combining a highly scientific imaging technique that enables visualization of a viral microbe, with the highly domestic sphere of craft and care. The conflation of these two divergent yet related modes enables me to address a terrifying and serious struggle with humor and familiarity. Perhaps the virus will be seduced by its own vanity? Or perhaps I can construct my own survival out of its image?
About Caitlin Berrigan
Caitlin Berrigan works across performance, video, sculpture, and text to engage with the intimate and embodied dimensions of power, politics, and capitalism. Her recent work, Imaginary Explosions, was part of the Berlinale Forum Expanded exhibition (2020), the subject of a solo show at Art in General, New York (2019), and an artist’s book with Broken Dimanche Press, Berlin (2018). Her work has been shown at the Whitney Museum, Poetry Project, Henry Art Gallery, Harvard Carpenter Center, Anthology Film Archives, and UnionDocs, among others. She has received grants and residencies from the Humboldt Foundation, Skowhegan, Graham Foundation, and Akademie Schloss Solitude. She holds a Master’s in visual art from MIT and a B.A. from Hampshire College. She is an artist, writer, and researcher affiliated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and NYU Technology, Culture and Society.