Tag Archives: virus

‘Cause It’s Always Gotta Be Blood

Laurie and Debbie say:

In April of this year, gay Black musician Lil Nas X released a limited line of Nike shoes in collaboration with art collective MSCHF. The shoes featured a pentagram design and a sole filled with red ink and “one drop of human blood,” provided by members of the art collective. The 665 pairs of shoes sold in less than a minute (the 666th was supposed to be given away–gotta love Lil Nas X’s flair!), but the homophobic right-wing outrage was almost as quick and Nike halted the sale of all shoes that hadn’t been shipped.

Now, straight white skateboarding star Tony Hawk has sold out a limited edition of 100 skateboards, designed with paint which includes Hawk’s blood, and outrage is noticeably absent. (Read about this in Raffy Ermac’s article at Out, Lil Nas X Points Out Lack of Outrage for Tony Hawk’s Blood Skateboards.)

Needless to say, Lil Nas X is right: racism, homophobia, and double standards are all at work here, and we support him unconditionally.

At the same time, this makes us think about the role of blood in human culture(s). The title of this post is from Spike, a vampire character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike expands on that quotation by saying:

Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? It’s what keeps you going, makes you warm, makes you hard, makes you other than dead.

So it’s no accident that blood-infused consumer goods are cropping up in the time of COVID-19, when being “other than dead” is on the mind of virtually every human being on the globe, including the affluent and comfortable, and the rich and powerful. It’s no accident that the complex and confusing aspects of COVID stem in large part from it being a vascular disease (i.e., a disease of the bloodstream), which is why it affects so many different human systems and has such a wide variety of symptoms and severity.

Spike (or his screenwriters) are correct when they say blood is life. Blood is a centerpiece of religions across the world, from the Jewish/Islamic conviction that menstruating women must be sequestered, through the Christian rituals of drinking the blood of Christ, to religions that demand blood and scarification. Blood is simultaneously unclean and purifying, terrifying and essential.

If two famous men in two very different subcultures have created consumer goods with blood in them, and both have had commercial success, you can bet your last late-capitalist dollar that more of these goods are coming. They will take many forms, and they will get many reactions: when women start getting on the bandwagon, a whole new set of horrified responses will appear on the scene … especially when it is menstrual blood.

It took 21st century technology and a global pandemic to quicken this trend; now we all get to watch it unfold. Somewhere, Spike is snickering gleefully.


Thanks to Alan Bostick for suggesting the Spike quotations. Follow Debbie on Twitter.

Follow Laurie’s new Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.



Dangerous Viruses As Objects Of Fear And Beauty

Laurie says:

Luke Jerram has created exquisite glass sculptures of dangerous viruses.

HIV virus


Designed in consultation with virologist Dr. Andrew Davidson from the University of Bristol in England, using a combination of different scientific photographs and models, the sculptures were made in collaboration with a team of specialized scientific glassblowers.

They are not literal reproductions. Aesthetic and structural modifications were made in creating the pieces.

Jerram said: “It’s great to be exploring the edges of scientific understanding and visualisation of a virus. Scientists aren’t able to answer many of the questions I ask them, such as how the RNA is exactly fitted within the Capsid? At the moment, camera technology can’t answer these questions either. I’m also pushing the boundaries of glassblowing. Some of my designs simply can’t be created in glass. Some are simply too fragile and gravity would cause them to collapse under their own weight. So there’s a very careful balancing act that needs to take place, between exploring current scientific knowledge and the limitations of glassblowing techniques.”

New York Times columnist Donald G. McNeil Jr.recently wrote a column about them, Are Killer Viruses, Rendered in Glass, Also Things of Beauty? (His article is more nuanced than these quotes.)

They are all beautifully rendered in blown glass, their shining, spiky capsids (you have to wonder how they get the Windex into those delicate crevices) encasing their destructive RNA or DNA cores, which are rendered as spiraling dots of milky glass. They are beautiful hand grenades, the illusion heightened by their precarious perches over a hard floor. Mr. Jerram defends his work by arguing that it is in the tradition of today’s young British artists contemplating death aesthetically.

But Mr. Jerram is also on an educational mission. Science journals, he complained in an interview, always color their pictures of viruses — sometimes for clarity, but sometimes just to make them look scarier. As a partly colorblind person, he feels that inserts bias.

Swine Flu virus

In the discussion of his work that I’ve seen, there is an assumption that there is a direct perception of danger when contemplating the sculptures. It’s beautiful work, but without the knowledge that they are HIV, small pox and SARS, they are simply beautiful. The fearful reaction resides in our knowledge of their danger. The power is in the information. None of it is in the art. If these were beautiful abstracts, or for that matter cold viruses, the reactions would be very different.

People do tend to be strongly reactive to color. The color does makes the images more emotional and so more potentially powerful. But again, only more powerfully frightening with knowledge. The bias he discusses is in intensity, not in specific emotion.

There are images like snakes and spiders that evoke a direct visceral reaction from many people. As would British artist Damien Hirst’s shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine, from his series The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

But this art is dependent on our reactions to the viruses rather then direct apprehension of the work. The beauty and the fear are on two different axes.

SARS Corona virus
SARS Corona virus