The Zany Capsid is a video by John Walter that uses virology to address a collapse between labour and play in contemporary life. The Zany Capsid creates a fictional narrative that fuses real science with cultural theory in order to pose questions about how ideas are transmitted between groups and individuals as well as to ask if we are able to intervene in this process and if so how? The video incorporates found footage and animation made using scientific imaging software PyMOL. As part of research undertaken during his PhD, Alien Sex Club: Educating audiences about continuing rates of HIV transmission using art and design, John Walter began to address the use of performance and hospitality in his work as a form of drag that is jestered as opposed to gendered. The Zany Capsid speaks to the contributing factors informing this phenomenon.
The Zany Capsid draws on Sianne Ngai’s theory of zaniness as a cultural form of desperation manifest as jestered performance, which she explores in Our Aesthetic Categories – zany, cute, interesting (2012). Zaniness is characterized by a slippage between social and professional roles. The zany character can be traced back to the Italian Commedia dell’Arte character Zanni. He is a type of itinerant worker that travels to find work and learns specialist knowledge fast and then moves on to repeat the process elsewhere. The Zanni is a polymath whose hypercharismatic output is facilitated by his performance as a bouffant clown. This has significant implications on artists, for whom diversification of their practice and infinite adaptability have become factors of survival.
The video addresses zaniness as a virus that is passed between human hosts and transmitted within the performance of zaniness. The title of the video The Zany Capsid has a double meaning, referring also to the unusual shape and behaviour of the viral capsid of HIV. Capsids are protein structures within viruses that transport and protect it from the defences within the infected cell. The HIV Capsid transports the virus safely to the nucleus where it can replicate. The Zany Capsid compliments CAPSID, a three-year-long project supported by a Large Arts Award from The Wellcome Trust for my collaboration with virologist Professor Gregory Towers at University College London.