John Walter: A Virus Walks into a Bar

Work / Art

John Walter’s artworks draw parallels between how HIV and culture are transmitted

John Walter is a multimedia artist with a research-based practice that tests the boundaries of pictorial space. In a new exhibition Capsid at Manchester’s Home gallery, John will be exhibiting a new series of work from 10 November until 6 January with free admission. A maximalist installation occupies the whole gallery space exploring the artist’s ongoing fascination with the representation of viruses within the visual arts. Multiple bodies of work inform each other and contextualise one another across the broad, science-based themes.

Capsid is the London-based artist’s largest solo show to date, marking the defining career of the artist that intersects art and science. Curated by Bren O’Callaghan, the work takes the HIV capsid as the starting point to the research. “Capsids are the protein shells of a virus which act to protect, cloak and deliver the virus to its host”, explains the artist. Essentially, the exhibition addresses the “crisis of representation surrounding viruses and presents a new way of viewing and understanding HIV based on the best current scientific knowledge” through art.

In an attempt to bring awareness and visibility to marginalised topics in contemporary culture, such as the HIV virus, John unpacks ideas of infection and its inherent social connotations. The work visually examines the HIV virus as a “sneak” which is a menacing agent that tricks the host into spreading its infection. Through the intertwining of “art, science, allegory and real-life situations”, the work additionally draws parallels between the process of contagion and the spread of social ideas between groups or systems. For instance, in the humorously titled A Virus Walks Into a Bar, performers are distinctively separated into different social groups through their microbe-inspired costumes and interact with a giant plastic capsid that holds one performer hostage.

Innovatingly re-articulating the representation of viruses within the arts, John’s work offers a unique perspective on virology that is visually communicative. Capsid analogises the transmission of disease with the transference of culture through a wide variety of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, sound and video installations. Additionally, the exhibition features semiotic phenomena from “children’s television, pharmaceutical industries and LGBTQI+ culture, science and art history” which all offer differing outlooks on the matter at hand. Capsid opens this week on 10 November until 6 January at Home, the centre for international contemporary art in Manchester.


John Walter: GAG


John Walter: Fist (triskelion)


John Walter: Button Onesie


John Walter: Inhibitor


John Walter: Hung Drawn and Circumcised


John Walter: Urinal Matt


John Walter: These are not the gallerists you are looking for


John Walter: The Zany Capsid


John Walter: The Allostery Process


John Walter: Cytoplasm


John Walter: Palimpsest