Sunday, April 3, 2022

Reflections on Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre

Less than a year before the pandemic, on 12 March 2019, peer health interns Zanele Melapi and Sibulele Bontshi reflected on their participation in the "citizen science fiction" workshop Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm, at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre, Masiphumelele, South Africa. 



Saturday, March 26, 2022

AMR AR Game Jam!

This week, the students of the course FILM 1123: Writing for Games and Interactive Media in York's Department of Cinema and Media Arts held a game jam to explore the concept of procedural rhetoric by brainstorming augmented reality (AR) games that could spread the word about the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The event was kicked off by special guest Dr. Steven J. Hoffman, Director of the Global Strategy Lab, Professor of Global Health, Law, and Political Science at York University, and Scientific Director at the CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health. Huge thanks to Steven for joining us! 

One of the students in the course, Man Yiu Kingsley Wong, is also a talented photographer, and took the initiative to document the afternoon, which was particularly poignant as it was the only day of the whole term in which we gathered on campus in person.

Three-quarters of the class met outside York's Centre for Film and Theatre, right across the street from the Global Strategy Lab in the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research...

...while intrepid teaching assistants Lokchi Lam and Kurt Walker made sure the other quarter of us could participate via Zoom... 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Media Arts Futures: In Conversation with Evan Narcisse

Update, March 17:

Here's the webinar recording!

Original post, March 1:

Please join us on March 10 for a free webinar with pop culture polymath Evan Narcisse, writer of comics, video games and animation, which I'll be hosting as part of my course Writing for Games and Interactive Media.

Evan Narcisse works as a writer and narrative design consultant in video games, comic books, and TV, often focusing on the intersection of blackness and pop culture. As a journalist and critic, he’s written for The Atlantic, Time Magazine, Kotaku, and The New York Times, in addition to teaching game journalism at New York University and appearances as an expert guest on CNN and NPR. He’s also the author of the Rise of the Black Panther graphic novel and a contributor to Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Redfall, and Marvel’s Avengers. A native New Yorker, he now lives in Austin, Texas.

Presented by the Department of Cinema and Media Arts.

March 10, 2022
11:30am EST

Register HERE

Friday, January 21, 2022

Co-Creating Vaccine Confidence: An Anishinabe Theatre-Based Approach

I'm thrilled to be able to announce a new two-year project on which I'm a co-investigator, alongside the talented and lovely Joahnna Berti, Bruce Naokwegijig and Maurianne Reade, reigniting the Shadowpox collaboration we began at Debajehmujig Storytellers in 2018!

The new project is titled Co-Creating Vaccine Confidence: An Anishinabe Theatre-Based Approach to Strengthen Indigenous Youth and Young Adult Vaccination Support, and it's funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research under the COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence - Indigenous Health Research Operating Grant.

The team has grown to include more great folks from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, among others, and is led by principal investigators Marion Maar, Maurianne Reade, and Mariette Sutherland. (Yes, Marion, Maurianne and Mariette – a trio of names tailor-made for a musical theatre number!)

We're now working on a 60-minute presentation for the Chiefs of Ontario Health Forum on February 23rd.

Here's some of the press the announcement has received.

Press Release


CBC Morning North: NOSM researchers trying to grow COVID-19 vaccine uptake among Indigenous youth

CBC Up North: Debajehmujig Storytellers and NOSM collaborate to fight vaccine hesitancy


CTV News Northern Ontario: NOSM researchers have launched a new study that they're hoping will boost vaccine confidence among Indigenous youth


CBC Sudbury: Indigenous vaccine confidence being studied in northeastern Ontario

CTV News Northern Ontario: New study targets vaccine confidence for Indigenous youth

Sudbury Star: NOSM researchers study Indigenous vaccine confidence in North

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 Montreal

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 26th International Symposium of Electronic Art, (e)Montreal, October 13-18.  

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.