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Airborne Allergens at Art by Karina Bergmans. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Karina Bergmans super-sizes airborne irritants in new exhibition

By Crystal Parsons on June 16, 2016

Seasonal allergy sufferers of the National Capital Region! This exhibition is for you! On now at Art-image, Maison de la culture de Gatineau presents the exhibition Allergènes aéroportés by Ottawa artist Karina Bergmans.

I recently went to see Airborne Allergens just before the gallery opened for the day and in my typically impatient fashion, smashed my face and hands up against the glass to sneak a peek. It was a “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” sort of moment as I was confronted by several alien-looking, 8-foot inflated orbs, each glowing and bobbing slightly in the dark.

Each is a representation (with some artistic license) of a mould, pollen and a virus cell (technically that last one’s not an allergen, but why quibble?) on a simply gigantic scale. Often in the visual art world, when something is really, really important, it’s made to look really, really big. Therein lies the beauty of this work – it’s incredible to think that tiny particles, invisible to the human eye, can have a major impact on day-to-day life for those who, like my husband, suffer from allergies. There’s also something to be said about air-quality here too – you don’t really think about it until you don’t have it anymore. Super-sizing air borne irritants does makes you think.

This is a quality I’ve always appreciated about Karina Bergmans’ work; she’s great at taking small, unnoticeable everyday things that surround us (or in this case, get up our nose) and presenting it back to us in a way that makes us consider them from a variety of different perspectives. For instance, the artist told me she used a material called Tyvek to construct each of the orbs; a material used to make safety suits for light HAZMAT work. I love that these allergens are made of the very same material that could probably be used to defend against the real thing.

Some art is meant to be seen and some is meant to be experienced and this is one of those exhibitions. I found that out after the fact as I unfortunately didn’t stay in the gallery long enough to watch the orbs deflate and inflate (they are set on a timer to do this every 30 minutes – damn my impatience!). However, it’s also quite nice just to sit in the semi-dark gallery and watch the internal lights move across the orb’s surface as they sway gently (there’s also a sound track playing of bird song) – not so menacing after all. But then again, I’m not the one who suffers from allergies. My husband said it made his eyes water and nose drip (maybe the artist did too good a job).

If you are an allergy sufferer and want to confront “the enemy” please remember this is a “no touching” exhibition and violence against art will not be tolerated (you may also want to bring an anti-histamine).

Allergènes aéroportés will be at Art-image, Maison de la culture de Gatineau until August 27, 2016 with an artist’s talk on August 22. This exhibition is presented in conjunction with Triennale des arts textiles en Outaouais 2016 and was made possible with the support of the Ontario Arts Council.