Proximal Spaces (2021)

PLEASE visit the project website at

In the era of the pandemic and social distancing, the 6ft radius has somewhat erroneously demarcated as the official distance that we should stay at to minimize contagion.  The notion of bubbles, territories, personal and geographical space has had, of course, a longer history, some of which have been exposed as arbitrary and oppressive through discourses of boundary-crossings in human migration, interspecies intermingling/communication and the nascent critiques of the atmosphere as the ‘commons’ (and more recently, the ‘un-commons’).  From a biological standpoint, habitats and ecosystems are known to always be in flux, and the sharing of materials, even as embedded as genetic information, happens beyond species boundaries, and often at time scales that perceptible to us humans. 

One early development of the concept of boundaries and bubbles can be attributed to the sociologist Edward Hall, who in 1961 proposed a visualization of concentric circles of borders extending outward from the body that defined ‘personal’, ‘social’ and ‘public’ spaces.  Each of these circles were well-defined zones that engendered unique communicative interactions when traversed.   Proxemics bears a striking resemblance to the zones of contagion that extend from the body in visual representations of the pandemic – especially in the assumption that this 6ft radius is a sort of safe or ‘dead’ zone where the self and its health can is contained.  In reality, the situation is vastly different ensured by the brownian motion of microbial life across these zones and the way spaces retain traces of microbial life. Recent critiques of the 6 ft safe zone (namely that they are outdated) and experimental setups of airborne microbial flux affirm that boundary transgressions are inevitable, and thus the paper suggests that emerging paradigms of inter-species relations and rising bio-literacies could provide better models for everyday living. 

‘Proximal Spaces’ is a multi-modal exhibition that invited a group of bioartists to sample and visualize cultures of microbial colonies in their environments at multiple zones of proximity from the body.  The project documents visual artefacts of cultured petri dishes and discusses the thematic(s) of boundary crossings that have arisen in such collective activities, and includes further modes of activities in the development of an AR application, site-specific installation as well as ekphratic responses to the work by a group of renown poets in Toronto.

This work has been presented at:

Uncommon Sense Conference Virtual Gallery.  May 2021.

FACTT – Festival of Arts and Sciences (virtual) May 2021 

DesignTO Festival.  Toronto International Design Centre, and Virtual. Jan 2021

PLEASE visit the project website at

Artistic Directors: Joel Ong, Elaine Whittaker
Original Drawings: Elaine Whittaker
Graphic Design Programming: Natalie Plociennik, Bhavesh Kakwani
AR/Web development: Sachin Khargie, Ryan Martin
Roberta Buiani
Nathalie Dubois Calero
Sarah Choukah
Nicole Clouston
Jess Holz
Mick Lorusso
Maro Pebo
Felipe Shibuya

Video Editor: Nada El-Omari
Sound designer: Michael Palumbo
Web designer: Lu Zhouyang

In the spring of 2021, six Canadian poets (“The Intransigents,” formerly known as “The Inconvenients”) came together to pursue a lyric response to Proximal Spaces. The poets were challenged and inspired by the virtual exhibition with its combination of art, science, and proxemics.The focus of the artworks – what inhabits and thrives in the spaces and environments where we live, work, and breathe—generated these six distinctive poems. The poets are :
Kelley Aitken
nancy viva davis halifax
Maureen Hynes
Anita Lahey
Dilys Leman
Sheila Stewart