Monday, November 15, 2021

Shadowpox Links for Immune Nations Panel

I thought I'd share some links for anyone interested in following up on some of my references in the <Immune Nations> panel discussion, "Ensuring Equitable Access: ​Life-Saving Vaccines during COVID-19 and Beyond." 

Update: A recording of the panel has just been released by the McMaster Museum of Art. The short sections where I speak about Shadowpox and the role of art in changing perspectives are cued up below.

Citizen science fiction, Captain America, and the X-Men:

"Who is my neighbour?" – The teaching stories of Spider-Man and Black Panther:

Monday, October 11, 2021

Panel: Ensuring Equitable Access: ​Life-Saving Vaccines during COVID-19 and Beyond

This week I'll be joining a fabulous group of speakers on the first of a series of free, virtual panel discussions this fall, as part of the <Immune Nations> exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art. Please join us!

Ensuring Equitable Access: ​Life-Saving Vaccines during COVID-19 and Beyond 

​A panel exploring the global deployment and lack of access to life-saving vaccines.

Thursday, October 14, 2021
12:00—1:30pm ET 

Webinar registration (Free)

Steven Hoffman, Director, Global Strategy Lab, York University 

Annemarie Hou, Executive Director, UN Office for Partnerships
Alison Humphrey, Vanier Scholar, York University
Lauren Paremoer, Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town
John-Arne Røttingen, Norway’s Ambassador for Global Health

Please see the webinar registration page for full bios, and check out what's coming up next in the series

November 25 – Research-Creation and Global Crisis: Interdisciplinarity, Creativity, and Collaboration

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Tour the New Immune Nations Exhibition

The McMaster Museum of Art has posted a virtual walkthrough of the new <Immune Nations> exhibition, on now through December 12th. Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic features in the final segment!

Monday, August 2, 2021

Immune Nations at the McMaster Museum of Art

I'm thrilled to announce that <Immune Nations> will finally have its North American premiere this fall! 
Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic (2017) will be installed for an in-person experience in the gallery, while Shadowpox: #StayHome Edition (2020) is our online adaptation of the game, created in the first months of the pandemic. See the Shadowpox page on the <Immune Nations> site for our reflections on remounting the exhibition in the era of Covid-19. 
I'll also be joining one of the virtual panel discussions during the run of the show – details to be shared soon.

Please see the McMaster Museum of Art for the full announcement:
<Immune Nations>, an evidence-based exhibition about the constructive role that art can play in public discourse around life-saving vaccines, will open at the McMaster Museum of Art on September 2!
As the M(M)A prepares for a fall re-opening, details will be released shortly about visiting the exhibition in person.
<Immune Nations>
September 2 – December 11, 2021
Curated by Natalie Loveless, Associate Professor, Contemporary Art History and Theory, University of Alberta
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised urgent questions related to effective use of vaccines and has led to polarized global debates on vaccine equity.
<Immune Nations> is the first multi-year research-based exhibition to specifically address the issue of vaccination from a collaborative, interdisciplinary perspective, attentive to the arts and its many roles for advocacy and political intervention. The outcome of a multi-year project that was developed prior to the pandemic (2014-2017), the exhibition explores complex issues related to the use and distribution of vaccines in the world today and the capacity of artistic research to solicit complex forms of affective engagement when dealing with difficult and divisive social and political topics such as vaccination.
For the McMaster Museum of Art, the exhibition presents original work alongside new work produced in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Featuring collaborative art and research projects by Jesper Alvær, Sean Caulfield, Timothy Caulfield, Patrick Fafard, Caitlin Fisher, Steven J. Hoffman, Johan Holst, Annemarie Hou, Alison Humphrey, Rachelle Viader Knowles, Kaisu Koski, Vicki S. Kwon, Patrick Mahon, Lathika Sritharan, and Mkrtich Tonoyan.
For more information, visit the Immune Nations website.
Save the date! Virtual panel discussions will take place the last Thursday of each month from September – November.
Details on participants and registration will be shared shortly.
Vaccine Confidence, Fear, and Misinformation in an Age of COVID: Thursday, September 30, 2021, 12-1:30pm EST
Canada and the World: Global Deployment and Lack of Access to Life-Saving Vaccines: Thursday, October 28, 2021, 12-1:30pm EST
Research-Creation and Global Crisis: Interdisciplinarity, Creativity, and Collaboration: Thursday, November 25, 2021, 12-1:30pm EST

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Shadowpox: Citizen Science Fiction at ISEA 2020

The artist's capsule "Shadowpox: Citizen Science Fiction" will be part of the exhibition “Life, A Sensorium,” presented by Sensorium: Centre for Digital Art and Technology as part of the International Symposium of Electronic Art, (e)Montreal, October 13-18, 2020.  

I'll be presenting Shadowpox alongside the lovely and talented David Han (Friend Generator) and Michaela Pnacekova (Symphony of Noise VR), in Life: A Sensorium – Artists' Talk on Art & Video Games on October 13th. Please join us!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Imagining Co-Immunity in Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic

I'm thrilled to announce the publication of the special issue of the journal Imaginations: <Immune Nations> Research-Creation at the Intersection of Vaccine Science and Global Health Policy.

Guest editor and research-creation trailblazer Natalie Loveless introduces the project, which I had the good fortune to join just before starting my doctorate, thus:

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. 

The project… aimed to address a gap between knowledge about vaccines and how they work, and vaccine reception in the public imaginary, including fears and misinformation.

All the contributions to the <Immune Nations> special issue are worth a read, but I'm going to link here to the two I wrote or co-authored:

"Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic - Thoughts and Reflections" with Caitlin Fisher and Steven Hoffman


"Imagining Co-Immunity in Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic," a deeper dive on the development and theory behind the video game installation.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Shadowpox in the Time of Coronavirus

Three years ago, the full-body videogame Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic debuted as part of the exhibition <Immune Nations>, opening at the 2017 Conference on Global Health and Vaccination Research in Trondheim, Norway, then touring to Geneva, Switzerland during the 70th Assembly of the World Health Organization. (We came full circle submitting the Covid-19 reboot, Shadowpox: #StayHome Edition, to the WHO's Global Call Out To Creatives last week.)

Here's a video from the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Canada, where the game was part of Public Notice, a prescient 2018 exhibition looking at the ways "fear and disease go hand in hand." (Click here to watch the video in full resolution on Facebook.)

The Shadowpox game was created with a simple goal: to help players imagine the effects their seemingly private vaccination choices had on the friends, family, strangers, colleagues and neighbours around them. 

Actually, that wasn't originally the goal. It was only in the process of developing the game that I realized my design mindset was blind to one of the major reasons vaccines work: herd immunity, a concept that has jumped to the forefront of debates about public health policy responses to Covid-19. 

The middle section of this 2018 talk (from 4:55 to 12:10) explains how the game's design evolved as my understanding did:


I'm half design geek, half drama nerd, so it was even more exciting when the storyworld expanded into its second, participatory-storytelling phase.

This 2019 video from York University's Office for Research and Innovation sets the game in the context of the wider research-creation project:
"In a world plagued by a deadly new disease composed of viral shadows, young, healthy volunteers across the globe step forward to test a breakthrough vaccine.  
"Shadowpox is an immersive science-fiction storyworld that imagines community immunity both as a public health phenomenon, and as a metaphor for any voluntary collective effort."

As the coronavirus pandemic turns all eyes to the development and testing of new vaccines, the third and final phase of the Shadowpox project will be an unusual new undergraduate course I'm developing to teach at York's School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design in the 2020-21 academic year.

Science & Fiction (FILM 3841, Digital Culture) takes a mixed-reality approach to experiential education, blending academic study with dramatic composition and digital production.

In addition to more traditional ways of learning about the biology and sociology of immunization, students will create videos in which they play volunteers in the Phase I trial of a vaccine against the shadowpox virus.

Designing a networked sci-fi narrative to build scientific, civic and media literacy, Shadowpox invites participants to grapple with one of the thorniest political dilemmas of public health: voluntary participation in the collective good.

Shadowpox workshops at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (photo: LaLaine Ulit-Destajo), Debajehmujig Storytellers (photo: Lynda Trudeau), and the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre (photo: Jenn Warren)
In the spirit of international collaboration that marks the Covid-19 research effort (as well as Shadowpox research-creation in the UKCanada and South Africa), I'm working with York's Immersive Storytelling Lab on an online complement to the course – one that will invite teachers and learners to explore the concepts and conflicts around vaccination through this co-created work of “citizen science fiction.”

It's hard right now to visualize what our world will look like by the end of the year, but I also can't picture anything I'd rather be doing than collaborating with young people to imagine and build a future of co-immunity.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Six O'Clock Shadowpox

CTV News Toronto catches Shadowpox! (If you can't see the video below, try this link.)

To play the game, visit:

Big thanks to CTV health reporter Pauline Chan, and to Anjum Nayyar in York's media relations office, for making this piece possible.

Kudos too to Shadowpox technical director Lalaine Ulit-Destajo for pulling together the behind-the-scenes footage in record time!

Update, April 25:

My York colleague Justin Baillargeon gave Shadowpox: #StayHome Edition a shout-out en français on Radio-Canada this weekend.

He mentions us at the 6-minute mark, alongside Assassin's Creed: Origins, in a discussion of ways to learn through video games:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Shadowpox: #StayHome Edition

Our new online game is live!

Play Shadowpox: #StayHome Edition here:

Check out the announcement from York University, "Online video game brings to life the impact of staying home during COVID-19 pandemic."

And let the team know what you think!

(April 18th Update: Check out CTV and Radio-Canada's coverage of the game!)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Sensorium Seminar

Bring your lunch to the Loft! I'll be talking about my research-creation project, Shadowpox, this Wednesday at Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology at York University. Here's the flyer:

Winter Lunchtime Seminar Series

Wednesday, February 26, 2020
The Sensorium Research Loft
4th Floor CFA, Room M333
RSVP to 

Please join us for our next Winter Lunchtime Seminar Series featuring Cinema and Media Arts PhD Candidate and Sensorium Graduate Research Associate, Alison Humphrey!

Alison Humphrey plays with story across drama, digital media, and education. As a Vanier Scholar in Cinema and Media Arts at York University, her research-creation doctoral dissertation explores how a participatory science fiction storyworld, Shadowpox, can help young people build scientific, civic and media literacy by exploring immunization and vaccine hesitancy through a superhero metaphor.

The project’s first phase, full-body videogame, debuted during the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, where The Lancet called it “one of the most powerful and playful ways to illustrate both the individual and population-level implications of community immunity.” The second phase is a networked superhero narrative, The Cytokine Storm, co-created with young artists on three continents.

Lazola Nkelenjane (left) and Zanele Melapi experiment with solar-powered visual effects in a 2019 Shadowpox workshop at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre, Masiphumelele, South Africa.

The third phase adapts this narrative into a Scalar-based online platform for a “courseplay”, a hybrid undergraduate seminar that weaves academic study with dramatic composition and digital production. Science & Fiction: Imagining Immunity in an Immersive Storyworld (which will be offered in York's department of Cinema and Media Arts in the coming academic year) takes a new approach to the concept of experiential education: action refraction, where students use metaphoric world-building and digitally augmented role-play to explore one of the thorniest political dilemmas of public health: voluntary participation in the collective good.

For more, please see and

Sunday, September 15, 2019

How "Citizen Science Fiction" Can Boost Immunity

Life Sciences Building, York University (NXL Architects) 
I'll be presenting a talk on Shadowpox as part of the York Circle Lecture and Lunch on Saturday, September 28 in the Life Sciences Building on York University's Keele Campus. The event is free – you can RSVP on the York Circle website.

Here's the précis:
Shadowpox: How "Citizen Science Fiction" Can Boost Immunity
Alison Humphrey will discuss how her research-creation project, Shadowpox, a participatory storyworld exploring immunization through a superhero metaphor, can help young people build scientific, civic and media literacy. A full-body Shadowpox videogame debuted during the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, where The Lancet called it “one of the most powerful and playful ways to illustrate both the individual and population-level implications of community immunity."
The other three presentations sound fascinating:
Your Brain in Action
Denise Henriques - Professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science 
Humans surpass all other animals and robots when it comes to the diversity and malleability of movements produced — we are the world’s most versatile movers. Dr. Denise Henriques explains how the brain’s remarkable control systems make this possible. 
Transgender Studies: What You Should Know & Why It Matters
Sheila L. Cavanagh - Associate Professor of Sociology 
This presentation will introduce you to the burgeoning field of transgender studies. Transgender studies is based on the experiences of those who identify as transgender. Transgender is an umbrella term that includes everyone who is, in some way, gender diverse or gender non-conforming including, but not limited to, transsexuals, bi-genders, non-genders, Two-Spirits, etc. Transgender studies is not only concerned with the study of transphobia (discrimination against people who are differently gendered), but with questions relating to sex and gender embodiment. 
And this one is especially timely the morning after Toronto's #FridaysForFuture Climate Strike. I only wish I weren't speaking at the same time!
Is a 100% Renewable Energy Future Possible? Advances for Community Participation in a Low-Carbon Energy Transition
Dr. Christina Hoicka - Assistant Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies 
Over 80 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are energy related and Canadians are among the highest per capita energy users and GHG emitters. Under the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming by 2°C, Canada committed to a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels of GHG emissions by 2030. However, scientists now caution there are clear benefits to keeping warming to 1.5°C, requiring an acceleration of carbon mitigation activities. This talk discusses the important factors to acceleration of a low-carbon energy transition, such as the innovation-diffusion of low-carbon energy innovations for communities, made up of individuals, households and organizations, to adopt, as well as diversity and inclusion in the energy and innovation sectors.