We’re delighted that our work A Cluster of 17 Cases will be part of a new exhibition, opening this July, at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden in the Netherlands. Contagious! examines the history of infectious diseases and their effects on people’s lives up to today’s COVID-19.

A Cluster of 17 Cases resulted from Blast Theory’s artists’ residency at the World Health Organization in 2018, and is inspired by the stories of the 17 unsuspecting people who stayed on the 9th floor of the Metropole hotel on the night of Feb 21, 2003. These 17 people were subsequently identified as spreading the SARS virus to at least 546 people around the globe.

As part of our residency, we made three trips in early 2018, to interview key staff at the WHO’s Strategic Health Operations Centre (“SHOC”), which monitors epidemics and pandemics across the world and coordinates international collaboration in response. We explored how epidemiologists studied the movements of each of the guests in the Metropole Hotel that night; even conducting tests to trace airflow between rooms.

Comprising a vitrine housing a scale model, you are invited to use audio handsets to listen to two accounts of the SARS outbreak. The first is a fictional first person account based on Miss CJP. The second plays audio of an interview with Dr. Mike Ryan, Operational Coordinator for the World Health Organization’s SARS response in 2003, who shared his insights into dealing with uncertainty and the challenges of declaring a global alert in the face of limited information.

Contagious! opens on July 16 2020 and runs through to January 9 2022. A Cluster of 17 Cases was previously exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in 2018 and at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong in 2019. The Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is currently European Museum of the Year.


Watch the short film of our residency at the World Health Organization below.