Enter the Pharmakon
Next week (Sep. 22-25), the Critical Media Lab (CML) will be transformed into a gallery space to house the works of ten fascinating North American artists whose paintings, photographs, textiles, sculptures, and digital multimedia pieces interrogate the major themes of this year’s SLSA conference. Some of the works will also be on display at the UW Artery Gallery, which is conveniently located next door to the CML. Accompanying the plenary, the Pharmakon art exhibition will be open to the public for the duration of the conference.
This year’s conference theme, pharmakon, defined broadly as that which can both kill and cure, aims to tease out the ambivalences, contradictions, oppositions, and movements that the term embodies. The term pharmakon was used by Socrates to describe the hemlock he ingested in a final act of suicide; for him, the hemlock was poisonous — ending his physical life — but also medicinal — freeing his soul to an eternal afterlife. This same relationship, which is irreducible to a simple polarity or binary, since the pharmakon bears its own opposite within itself, is pervasive in both contemporary and historical societies. Through their themes, materials, and spatial configurations, each of the artists in next week’s exhibition explores the nuances of the pharmakon in the context of intersections between science and culture.
Kiki Benzon, a textile and mosaic artist and associate professor at the University of Lethbridge, will be showing her knitted and embroidered “science textbooks,” which combine scientific iconography, textile craft, and book art. Her textiles convey the intrinsic, often overlooked, elegance of scientific illustrations, while also functioning to defamiliarize our basic understandings of the physical world.
Brian Cantrell‘s interactive installation Waveform renders both visible and audible high frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones, bluetooth devices, and AM/FM radio. Cantrell’s work aims to generate awareness of the changes in radiative weather produced by the increasing use of wireless technologies, the health effects of which remain largely unknown.
David Clark, whose work attempts to locate a new form of narrative experience that is connected to the nonlinear way in which we navigate the Internet, is presenting his interactive “net.art” piece 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the Left hand). The work uses a series of animated vignettes to explore the life and philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, while simultaneously creating a “narrative vertigo” for the interactant who attempts to connect stories and make associations.
Allan Egan‘s figure paintings depict scenes that place the viewer in medias res, forming an engaging experience through which onlookers are implicated in the action of the scene. His works in Pharmakon employ imagery that creates intrigue surrounding a scientific moment, and plays with the notion that science, while overwhelmingly beneficial, can also be catastrophically harmful.
Jennifer Gradecki‘s interactive installation IRB# G10-02-066-01 consists of an IRB (Institutional Review Board) application for a study, letters of correspondence between the artist and the IRB, and a shock machine set up between two chairs. The piece questions the role of the IRB in the generation of artistic research, explores the possibility of exchange between the disciplines of art and psychology, and examines the social relations that a shock machine may represent or produce in a gallery setting. (Prepare to be shocked! …sorry, bad joke.)
In Mythologies, Brad Necyk examines the historical progression, literary expression, and philosophical discourse surrounding relationships between society, pharmaceuticals, the medical institution, and mental illness. Necyk’s pill bottles are labelled with names of theorists, including Nietzsche, Kafka, Freud, Jung, and Foucault, and quotations from their writing. The goal of the work is to interrogate the categorizations of psychoanalysis and pharmaceutics in the context of mental illness.
Steven J. Oscherwitz‘s compound pictures, created through several transformations involving an oil painting that is photographed and digitally fused with other scanned images, ultimately combining diverse images from various isolated disciplines. Oscherwitz suggests that his work is a metaphor for integrating once separate disciplines from the arts and sciences, while also reflecting actual interfaces in nanotechnology where interdisciplinary practices exist.
Local Kitchener artist Paul Roorda will be exhibiting a series of works that alter the material structure and appearance of bibles as a route to exploring the relationships between faith, ritual, healing, and judgment. In three of his pieces, pages of the bible or hymnbooks have been individually removed, folded, and rolled into tiny scrolls that are then placed in medicine capsules. In other works, included the one pictured above, vintage syringes are filled with a fluid consisting of red dye extracted from the covers of Gideon Bibles, which has been fermented to make wine.
In a series of photographs called Taxonomia, depicting the preservation, visualization, and display of animal specimens at the University of Alberta’s Museum of Zoology, Maria Whiteman examines the process by which the organic matter of animal bodies is transformed into knowledge about Nature. Her works examine displays of animals with regards to how they function to distill the anarchy of the natural world into the strict categories of science.
Colleen Wolstenholme will be exhibiting a number of pieces across the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo this month. Her work is on display at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (UWAG), the UW School of Pharmacy, and the Critical Media Lab. Wolstenholme’s work for the conference consists of gold and silver charm bracelets decorated with prescription pills, as well as several large plaster sculptural renderings of “pills” modelled after pharmaceutical medications. Her pieces evoke the detrimental side of prescription medications and explore relationships between states of mental health and illness.
The CML gallery space will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from Thursday, September 22 through Sunday September 25.