A capsid, John Walter tells us, is the protein shell of a virus. Together with Professor Greg Tower from University College London and curator Bren O’Callaghan, Walter has created an exhibition based on research into virology from the starting point of the HIV capsid that gets right into the mucky business of the molecular, and celebrates the amorphous, uncanny and often downright icky world of the cellular. The work – and work is the right word to use here, the exhibition is grounded in Walter’s academic research and is enthusiastically pedagogical in nature – spans a series of constructed spaces in HOME’s main gallery.
Large-scale paintings and drawings dominate, covering the walls and floor, though animation, film, sculpture, screenprints and, er, tracksuits also make up this bodily ecosystem. Trypophobes look away: the ‘Cytoplasm Paintings’ (2017) are made up of concentric circles of dots and semi-recognisable organic shapes, fizzing with disordered energy. There’s an attempt to process these patterns through the use of collage; by employing kitsch, tactile materials like large paint pens, swimming floats, plastic bric-a-brac and expanding foam, Walter makes the intangible playful.
CAPSID is the experience of being shrunken down, and helix and triskelion (three legs radiating from a centre) shapes repeat, grow, shrink and move between two and three dimensions. We’re very much in the body of the thing here, floating around in the primordial gloop. It’s not merely an education piece though, and things get interesting when they move towards abstraction. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the film ‘A Virus Walks Into A Bar’ (2018), a DIY soap opera documenting the everyday of viral life. The cast wear appliquéd tracksuits, some of which are on display in the exhibition itself. There’s a reason this work is in a gallery and not across the road at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The ‘Allostery Screenprints’ (2017) riff on Las Vegas casino carpet patterns to illustrate the process by which molecules bond to enzymes. Again, familiar forms act in unfamiliar ways; sale signs and seasonal greeting cards ground the work in a world of real stuff-ness, fist sculptures holding enlarged protein shapes protrude from walls, and floating, corporeal phrases in bubble writing further disturb what is already strange.
Walter’s maximalist credentials are on full display, not least in the ‘Palimpsest Drawings’ (2017) where images and reference points cluster together and generate new meaning. It’s in this ‘accidental assonance’, messing about with the interior and exterior, where CAPSID really thrives.
Lucy Holt is a writer and journalist based in Manchester and London.
John Walter: CAPSID, HOME, Manchester.
10 November 2018 – 6 January 2019.