The private non-profit foundation, La Maison Rouge presents Under Influences, Plastic arts and psychotropics, a major exhibition which addresses the relationship between artists and psychotropics. I was intrigued by the theme of the exhibit in the conservative French art scene : a show on the influence of drugs in a well established Bastille area museum!
Leaving moral judgement aside (and ignoring socio-judicial standpoints, psychological interpretations and preconceived aesthetic choices) the exhibition proposes examples (over 80 artists) of the interrelations between creative processes and the use of psychodynamic substances.
The curator, Antoine Perpère is an expert on the subject. He was a Nursing Administrator and since 1991, heads the Education division of the Addictology Treatment, Support and Prevention Center at a hospital in Paris .
Since the dawn of time, men have crossed the path of psychoactive substances, using plants, mushrooms and various concoctions. These encounters have led to intoxication, dependence, mystical insights, relief, death and even epiphany. Artists, who are constantly in search of doors to creation, used these passageways, catalysts, transgressions and stimuli to penetrate figments of the imagination, feeling compelled to try out their effects.
The show starts off with art created while using natural psychothropes. The work Drawing Under the Influence of Haschich (1853) by Jean-Martin Charcot, a scientist, known as “the founder of modern neurology” shows disorder due to the haschich he absorbed. Since the beginning of the XIXe century the consumption of haschich and opium spread through Europe, specifically through the scientific and literary circles. Founded in 1844, the Haschich club’s main function was to experiment with the effects of drugs. The writer, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) explains the ambivalence of opium: on one hand it enhances creation, while on the other hand it impairs communication :
« Opium enables one to give form to the uninformed ; it prevents, alas, the communication of this privilege to anyone else. Even if it means losing sleep, I shall watch out for the unique moment in the proces of cure when this faculty will still function a little and inadvertently will coincide with the return of the power of communication » (Opium, 1930).
The dramatist Stanislaw Witkiewcicz goes as far as to detail what he has absorbed on the paintings themselves. Notice in his autoportrait dating from 1939, the writings in pastel in lower right corner ‘C’ for alcohol and see ‘Co’ for cocaïne. More recently, following the same principle in 1995, Bryan Lewis Saunders does one auto portrait a day. In 2001, he made them under the state of drugs, trying a new substance everyday whose nature and quantity are mentionned on the drawings.
The most hallucinogenic installation in the exhibit is definately Dots Obsession (Infinity Mirrored Room from 1998) by Yayoi Kusama, the visitor captured and surrounded by red and white dotes experience visual hallucinations close to the ones he would have had with the usage of certain drugs. A film dating from the 70’s portrays Yayoi in full action in the basement of the building. Another famous Japanese representation of the mushrooms are Takashi Murakami’s. They can be perceived as human and cute or ‘kawai’ by a younger crowd, or even as sickly mushrooms that appear even like penises…
The large scale installation by Damien Hirst is a fascinating perspective on the other aspects of drugs, that are meant to treat patients. In this futurist piece called the Last Supper (1999), food becomes medecine and religion : criticism of the modern society of comsumption ?
Another section of the exhibit evokes the devastating effects of drugs, as Claude Levêque’s woobly neon writing is in opposition with the positive message : I wanna be well !
Perpère’s exhibit is fascinating and offers a very detailed (both historical and medical) analysis of the pieces. However, these essential clues to understand the progression of the exhibit are revealed only IF visitors read the little guide one can pick up at the entrance !
The exhibit ends with this quote : « Which brings us to the drug of all drugs, the one which has the deepest and most constant effect on man, which can reproduce the effects of all drugs and all stimulants, the most irreplaceable food and the most powerful toxin for the human brain : human speech. But that’s another suject. » Dr Aimé in his thesis, Drugs on brain, 1958.
la maison rouge
10 boulevard de la bastille
75012 paris france
phone +33(0) 1 40 01 08 81
fax +33(0)1 40 01 08 83
opens Wednesday to Sunday
11 a.m to 7 p.m
late-night Thursday until 9 p.m
subway stations : quai de la rapée (line 5) or bastille (line 1, 8)
RER : Gare de Lyon
the exhibition aeras are accessible to disabled visitors and people with restricted mobility
full price : 8 euros
ARTICLE BY: VANESSA THILL