The Swarm is an encaustic mixed media painting. Encaustic painting is an ancient technique that involves heating wax until it is liquid and adding pigments for colour. In this work, Elaine Whittaker has created a large grid with hundreds of small raised squares. At a glance, each one appears to be decorated with random black marks.
Are they scribe notations, musical notes or mathematical formulae? As the visitor confronts the work more closely, the mysterious black marks come into focus. They are the embalmed corpses of mosquitoes, each suspended in a droplet of translucent wax. The mosquitoes were from the Yukon in Northern Canada, more specifically Whitehorse, and were killed in ‘bug zappers’ and then shipped to the artist in Toronto for the creation of The Swarm.
“If you stand long enough and contemplate the work, do not be surprised if you start to feel a sting on your skin. Remember how you felt the need to slap the spot and had to look down. Recall the horror in that moment of slapping: there, on your skin, a squished mosquito in a sea of your own blood. — Elaine Whittaker
A Canadian mixed media and installation artist, Elaine Whittaker is inspired by an aesthetic in which art and science intersect. The Swarm, an installation of 1,500 mosquitoes, confronts us with the aesthetics of disaster told through the carriers of one of the world’s most fatal bloodborne diseases — malaria.