From impressionist predilections for absinthe and surrealist experiments with hallucinogens to Warhol’s mind-altering Factory parties, narcotics have long been affiliated with the “bad boy” lifestyles of avant-garde artists. Drugs not only promise a transcendental state that art aspires to, but also offer the cachet of connections to marginalized subcultures.
The contemporary shift towards medicalizing certain drugs and commercializing others has changed our relationship to these substances, however; on television, ads for pharmaceuticals offering miracle cures with vague, disturbing side effects are as ubiquitous as car commercials.
Now, a new group exhibition at Winnipeg’s PLATFORM explores how these shifts in drug culture have changed the way artists represent “the poetics and politics of narcotics.” “When the Mood Strikes Us…” is the first exhibition organized by director J.J. Kegan McFadden, and it brings together recent works by six Canadian artists that investigate our ongoing search for escape through pharmaceuticals.
Imprinting corporate logos sourced from the Internet onto giant pill sculptures scattered across the room, Colleen Wolstenholme’s SPILL installation makes the prevalence of prescription drugs physical. Accompanied by her Pill Mandala photo series of medications arranged into fanciful patterns, Wolstenholme’s wry appropriations call up the over-prescription of antidepressants.
Vancouver/Berlin-based artist Jeremy Shaw’s One Single Hit White Clinical Acid (after Malevich, for Optimists) offers a minimalist depiction of a quarter-inch square of blotter acid referencing the search for a sublime experience that has preoccupied both artists and youth subcultures throughout the 20th century.
Meanwhile, Abbas Akhavan and Marina Roy’s collaborative video installation Victoria Day (Bombay Sapphire) invites the viewer to join in their West Coast–inspired drinking party, providing a flop mattress in a simulated field of grass where one can contemplate culturally acceptable forms of self-medication. Taken together, along with works by Winnipeg artists Paul Butler and Larry Glawson, the projects in “When the Mood Strikes Us…” offer a multifaceted perspective on continuing interests in achieving both chemically and artistically induced altered states. (121-100 Arthur St, Winnipeg MB)