Drugs are pervasive in our society. They alter chemical processes in the body, whether to treat an illness, relieve a symptom, enhance an ability, or alter a state of mind. Every person makes choices as to what ideals they want to achieve with drug use- good skin and hair, an escape from pain or depression, chemical bliss, more sex, less babies, or a chance at a longer, healthier life. We modify ourselves with herbal supplements, aspirin, Ritalin, and heroin. We live in a time when we have a president-elected council on bio-ethics, drug companies roll out glossy ad campaigns directly to consumers, and society’s standards for diagnosing and medicating mental illness are reducing diversity of human experience. Each of us has our own choices to make as to what we consider appropriate use of drugs for health or recreation. Medical guidelines change with time, further research disproves earlier findings, and each doctor’s advice may be biased by their personal convictions.
This is the backdrop for the creation of the Pharmacopia installation by Laurel Roth and Andy Diaz Hope. Pharmacopia recreates our personal battlefield of drug choices. Armies of devil pills and angel pills fight for your soul as tiny people trapped in pills and sprouting insect wings and legs watch on from purgatory. Three medicine cabinets create the planes of heaven, hell, and earth In the earthly medicine cabinet the garden of Eden flourishes amidst the toothpaste tubes and hemorrhoid ointment of daily life.
Above the medicine cabinets hangs a sparkling chandelier made of hundreds of razor-sharp syringes dripping beads and garlanded with strings of multicolored pills that create a canopy above the viewer. The chandelier captures both the allure and danger of drug use, the draw towards a beautiful ideal the pursuit of which sometimes involves brutal consequences.
Roth and Diaz Hope’s intention is not to pass judgment on the use of drugs – prescribed or otherwise – but to create a tableau onto which each viewer can project his or her own internal debate. Once externalized the viewer gains perspective on their personal relationship to drugs.