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Proximal Spaces is a multi-modal exhibition that explores the environment at multiple scales in concentric circles of proximity to the body. Inspired by Edward Hall’s 1961 notation of intimate (1.5ft), personal (4ft), social (12ft) and public (25ft) spaces in his “Proxemics” diagrams, the artworks are an interpretation for this current time—this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


In Fall 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a team of international BioArtists collaborated on a montage of microscopic images of their everyday environment. The resulting images and discussions explored a heightened awareness of the microbiome on and around us. Proximal Spaces was originally designed as an exhibition at the Toronto International Design Centre as part of the DesignTO Festival 2021. Following the Festival's decision to move to a "virtual and distanced" format, the piece was redesigned through a series of artworks:


— An augmented reality application that explores the invisible environments of computer generated bioaerosols suspended in the air of virtual space.


— An infographics diagram based on original microbial drawings, Petri dish samples by the BioArtists, and Hall’s proxemic concentric circles.


— A hyper-Penrose Petri dish that fractures and mirrors as thousands of contagious and non-contagious filled triangles mutate into new life forms.


— A video brings together all these elements and the BioArtists’ discussions and responses to the sampling and culturing of their microbiome and that which lives in their Proximal Spaces.

These works visualize the variegated response of the biological environment to unprecedented levels of physical distancing and self-isolation and recent developments in vaccine design that impact our understanding of interpersonal and interspecies ‘messaging’. The artworks present an interesting mode of interspecies engagement through hybrid virtual and physical interaction.



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 writers 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 writers are: Kelley Aitken, Nancy Viva Davis Halifax, Maureen Hynes, Anita Lahey, Dilys Leman, and Sheila Stewart. 


Click here to access the website.



Artistic Directors: Joel Ong, Elaine Whittaker

Original Drawings: Elaine Whittaker

Graphic Design Programming: Natalie Plociennik, Bhavesh Kakwani

AR/Web Development: Sachin Khargie, Ryan Martin

BioArtists: Roberta Buiani, Nathalie Dubois Calero, Sarah Choukah, Nicole Clouston, Jess Holz, Mick Lorusso, Maro Pebo, and Felipe Shibuya  

Video Editor: Nada El-Omari

Sound Designer: Michael Palumbo

Web Designer: Lu Zhouyang

This project is funded through the Vice President Research Innovation’s “Research in the Time of COVID-19” initiative at York University and supported by Sensorium: Centre for Digital Art and Technology. We thank the staff at DesignTO and the Toronto International Design Centre for their support and adaptability through the various stages of provincial lock-down.


2023 · SuperOrganism

           Copernicus Science Centre, Warszawa, Poland

2021 · Uncommon Senses III

           Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

2021 · Invisibilia

           El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera, Buffalo, United States

2021 · IV Trans-disciplinary & Trans-national Festival of Art & Science

           Online exhibition

2021 · Proximal Spaces

           DesignTO Festival, Toronto, Canada

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