Beware the Snuggie

By: Peggy Nelson
December 9, 2009

I have long been intrigued by the virus, a small personage embodying large paradox. The essential bit of life, DNA with a tail, yet essentially dead until its residency had activated the host for its own purposes, like the scrap of paper in the golem’s mouth.




HIV, electron microscope scan

Fascinating as well were the satellite transmissions, the grainy images that began to appear when we narrowed our angle of vision from wave to electron. Crumbly and moss-like, or was that noise in the signal? The mathematics revealed instead a tiny plane of Platonic Forms, a geometry of ferocious intent.



And then there were the names, whose poetry belied their awful effect, new ones tumbling in the wake of rampant mutation.

Aedes aegypti densovirus
Banana bunchy top virus
Kyzylagach virus
M satellites of Ustilago maydis killer virus
Sparganothis pettitana NPV
Uranotaenia sapphirina NPV
Watermelon curly mottle virus

And yet despite all these lovely metaphors, they resisted. I knew I would have to host them myself. I just didn’t know the cost.



The cost was Amherst. I can tell you that the last thing I wanted, then or now, was to live in a small town in New England. Everything ordered, known, colonized. But there was a guy, and, well . . .


Lord Jeffrey Amherst

Turned slightly, Amherst became the key. Amherst the town was named for Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commanding general for the British in North America during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He’s the one who signed off on the blankets. Yes, those blankets. The ones infected with smallpox. The ones that would “save on bullets.” The instruments of weaponized domesticity.


Variola Major

On a scrap of paper I found I had started a list of art supplies: blankets.

[Virus series: oil, wax, charcoal, on blankets]


Artists in residence archive.


Art, Kudos, Spectacles