All images C/O Bob McNair

The first interdisciplinary evidence-based exhibition to unpack the current discourse and complexities of global vaccination debuts at the McMaster Museum of Art

The debate on vaccines is neither new nor exclusive to COVID-19 vaccines. However, it has taken greater precedence in the context of the current pandemic with millions continuing to be affected by the disease and many countries introducing mandatory vaccine and testing policies. Other factors, including one’s level of confidence, access to vaccines and a sense of collective responsibility, have contributed to the debate’s complexity, making it difficult to unpack. Fortunately, where words have failed in facilitating these challenging conversations, art has found success in fulfilling its role.

Immune Nations is the first interdisciplinary evidence-based exhibition to address the issue of vaccines. Debuting for the first time in Canada, the exhibition will be at the McMaster Museum of Art from Sept. 14 to Dec. 10. All visitors must book their visit through the museum’s website and provide proof of vaccination. For a sneak peek of the incredible works on display, a virtual tour is available through the MMA’s website and YouTube channel.  

The exhibition features works such as Jesper Alvaer’s Upstream the Cold Chain, a video comparing how developed and developing nations are navigating the network of fridges and cold rooms required to access vaccines, and Patrick Mahon and Annemarie Hou’s Design for a Dissemunization Station, portable tent structures presented with audio invoking feelings of the vaccine traveling through the body. A wide range of multimedia is used to explore vaccine hesitancy and resistance and global use and distribution of vaccines. Altogether, the works offer an immersive stage to contemplate and interact with the topics of current discourses on vaccination.

The research and design process of the exhibition took place from 2014 to 2017, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was initially developed to examine inequities in vaccine allocation and access under the co-leadership of Natalie Loveless, the curator of the exhibition and an associate professor of contemporary art history and theory at the University of Alberta; Steven Hoffman, professor of global health, law and political science at York University and the director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance, and the Institute of Population & Public Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; and Sean Caulfield, centennial professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, along with support from their graduate research assistant and PhD candidate Vicki Kwon.

During the research and design process, an interdisciplinary team of artists, scientists and policymakers from seven countries gathered in a series of workshops to share their perspectives and expertise. From the larger team, smaller groups were formed to each focus on a particular issue, such as the fear of misinformation, and strategize ways to encapsulate and promote public engagement with the topic.  

“[A]rtists were not simply given a topic to reflect on, but were asked, together with global health policy experts and vaccine scientists and humanities scholars, to engage in a collaborative research journey out of which, together, they co-created artistic works designed to engage the public on issues surrounding vaccines—their use and distribution, history and value as well as anxiety and misinformation,” said Loveless in a statement.

In March 2017, the first exhibition of Immune Nations was presented at the Trondheim Academy of Fine Art’s Galleri KiT as part of the 2017 Norwegian Global Health & Vaccinations Research Conference. Its second installment occurred shortly after in May of the same year at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Geneva. 

The current exhibition at the MMA marks its third iteration and a celebratory milestone for the museum as the show kicked off the museum’s first reopening since its closure in March 2020. Originally, the exhibition was scheduled to open last year in September at the MMA, however, due to the pandemic, it was postponed. Instead, the past year was used to introduce additional works that reflect the new challenges and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. These include Caulfield and Sue Colberg's #InfoDemic, Kaisu Koski's HUG, Arman Yeritsyan and Mkrtich Tonoyan's Antisocial Distancing and Kwon's Travelling Memories: The Vaccine Archive. 

These new additions to the exhibition highlight the complexities of experiencing the pandemic in a war-torn country, the influence of ideologies on trust in science and profound loneliness linked to social isolation. 

“It’s really interesting that we did this project before the pandemic and that we have had this opportunity to reflect on it and situate it in a very new context/world created by the pandemic,” said Loveless in her statement.  

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the exhibition has gathered increasing interest from the larger public. Loveless hopes the exhibition can help people to have deeper, more respectful and more empathetic conversations with each other.

“Art, at its best, brings that nuance and complexity that we need sometimes in this world of sound bites and memes and social media factoids…The exhibition emphasizes the power of the arts in thinking more deeply and critically about these pressing public policy issues…and in more fully addressing underlying root causes through exploration, empathy and collaboration, ” said Loveless in her statement. 

In addition to the power of the arts for facilitating difficult dialogues, Loveless stresses the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in bringing new perspectives to the inquiry of social and political issues and overcoming implicit biases across different fields. 

“Rather than bringing experts in different fields together to expediently combine their resources and skills, I'd like to see more interdisciplinary collaborations between artists and scientists, or artists and experts in other fields, that take as their starting point a kind of mutual questioning—an inquiry into the disciplinary bases and biases that work to configure how we ask our questions, from where we ask our questions and consider how these affect the kinds of answers that surface,” explained Loveless in her statement.

Photo by Kyle West

By: Youssef El-Sayes

Choosing a degree and career path is not an easy task. Students pursuing a degree in science have a wide variety of available career options. These range from positions in research, industry, medicine, illustration and so much more. It almost seems like the possibilities are endless.

But how does one truly understand their goals without experiencing their options? Many professionals end up with a job that they thought would interest them but eventually learn otherwise.

This issue has become so commonplace that institutions like McMaster University have developed strategies to help students gain a variety of experiences outside of their chosen undergraduate program. A great example are the interdisciplinary experience courses, offered by the school of interdisciplinary science.

For a full credit, students can choose from a wide array of IE courses that cover topics such as three-dimensional printing, visiting Kentucky for a caving fieldtrip or hiking Algonquin park while learning about Canadian history, geography and literature.

IE courses serve the purpose of introducing students to a variety of disciplines that will help broaden their perspectives and opinions towards science. By providing students with active learning opportunities, they can develop a personal connection and a deep motivation for the subject.

The idea of active learning has been studied for decades. In essence, active learning requires students to be engaged with the delivered content while critically thinking about the activities they are working on.

Current research suggests that fostering engagement in class activities is more likely to improve student learning compared to simply spending extra time on a topic. This is why IE courses available at McMaster University consist of short workshops, field trips or tutorials that keep students motivated and prove that learning does not need to be time consuming.

These experiences are especially rewarding for students because they earn a credit for their work. The results of IE courses are also long-lasting. For example, upon completion of IE courses, many students often undertake related volunteer positions and internships, in order to put what they have learned into practice.

Aside from personal growth, IE courses also provide a multitude of professional benefits. Due to the small class sizes, students can engage in one-on-one interactions with instructors or guest speakers and build valuable networking skills.

These experiences also set students apart by giving them something distinct and unique to include on a resume. Overall, IE courses allow students to build on their academic, personal and professional qualities and become multi-faceted individuals.

McMaster University has always led the path for innovative teaching and learning, and offering IE courses is no exception. Students should always challenge themselves to step outside of their comfort zone in order to find their real interests and ambitions. By doing so, students can become professionals in their fields that truly love what they do.

It is clear that experiential and active learning opportunities are able to foster skilled and competent individuals who are willing to create a brighter future, and this is exactly what McMaster has been striving to do. So the next time you are enroling for courses, consider taking an IE class.


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Devra Charney

The Silhouette

From Jan. 26-27, delegates from McMaster University’s Arts & Science and Integrated Science programs participated in the fourth annual Combining Two Cultures Conference, or C2C.

Established by Mac ArtSci students in 2010, C2C brings together interdisciplinary students from universities around Canada to discuss and develop interdisciplinary education through collaboration. While it originally focused primarily on interdisciplinary post-secondary education, it has grown to encompass the value of interdisciplinary studies in all aspects of problem solving in today’s world.

Leanna Katz, a recent ArtSci graduate, was part of the original steering committee that established the C2C conference. She recollected the initial enthusiasm for starting the conference and her astonishment that an interdisciplinary student-centred conference didn’t already exist.

“I loved so many aspects of the conference: the food was cooked from scratch by volunteers using ingredients from local farms, the working groups were developed and run by students from interdisciplinary programs across the country… All this gave the first C2C conference a distinctly McMaster ArtSci feel.”

Although Katz was part of the team who initiated C2C at Mac, she was also glad to see the conference through to its new hosts at the University of Waterloo.

“In the three years I was involved in planning C2C I was happy to see the conference move to another host university (the University of Waterloo, hosted by the Knowledge Integration Program) so that other interdisciplinary programs could take ownership of the conference for a period of time and give C2C their own flavour.”

This year, participants came from as far as McGill and University of British Columbia, as well as McMaster, Guelph and Windsor.

ArtSci and iSci students both engage in inquiry and problem-based learning that emphasizes cross-disciplinary exploration and coursework. Students at the conference spent their time thinking critically about why they chose to extend their focus across more than one area of study as well as the importance of interdisciplinary thinking in society.

Keynote speaker Payam Shalchian and panelists Tom Galloway, Vanessa Humphries, Jessica McEachren and Kathleen Beattie talked about their career paths in both arts and science disciplines, emphasizing that society has a demand for interdisciplinary perspectives. These individuals blurred the lines between seemingly distinct areas and made incredible innovations by combining their passions.

Working in the context of an overall theme of “boundaries,” discussion and problem-based learning facilitated insight into world issues, language, society and education. Discussion groups combined academics with inquiry in order to provide a constructive context for sharing and exploring diverse ideas. Skill sessions, new this year courtesy of Waterloo, provided an opportunity for hands-on learning.

Stephen Clare, a second-year Arts & Science student, felt that the conference presented a valuable opportunity to engage with highly ambitious students from across Canada.

“I attended the Creative Thinking skill session and we learnt practical ways of breaking through ‘mental boundaries”’ you may encounter working in teams or groups. It was very useful and a good way to break up the day.”

A panel for high school students was also added to the conference this year in order to investigate overcoming the difficulties of spanning across the disciplines while exploring the distinct opportunities it can bring to post-secondary education.

The C2C Conference will continue to run next year, being held at the University of Guelph. C2C 2013 provided a chance for students to engage creatively and discuss interdisciplinary studies in-depth in order to understand the benefits of breaking boundaries in both education and in the world.

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