Posts Tagged ‘drugs’

High Society

February 6, 2011

The use of drugs that plagues our society is not just a recent phenomenon. It can be traced back to early human history. Societies have used drugs for either medicinal purposes or for experimental, recreational, religious or mind-altering activities. Whether a drug is accepted or rejected by a certain society, whether it is a blessing or an anathema, whether it cures or alleviates pain or numbs and distorts the mind simply depends on the drug’s uses but also of the society’s values. Cocaine and cannabis were originally used for medicinal purposes – and in certain circumstances they still are today – but have been classified as illegal and banned in most developed-world countries nowadays.

The exhibition “High Society” at the Wellcome Collection attempts to give us a glimpse into the history of drug use. Ranging from simple drugs such as coffee and chocolate to more illegal substances, such as cocaine, opium and morphine, the exhibition bears a collection of drug-related artefacts and drug-inspired art pieces. It is organised into 5 thematic areas: “From apothecary to laboratory”, “The drugs trade”,”Self experimentation”, “Collective intoxication” and “A sin, a crime, a vice or a disease” and brings together many items, such as historical documents on drugs trade, medicinal objects, books on the effects of drug usage, photographs and prints on tribal and societal rituals, art objects inspired on the effects of drugs on human behaviour, marketing and educational materials and videos, installation art and statistics.

While the exhibition is meticulously organised, I failed to see a coherent message running through it; a fact that seems to prove that the whole is not just a sum of its parts. And while the historical items were numerous, they were just displayed as mere objects that the visitor just glimpses for some seconds, without much fanfare and without much of a story. Admittedly, one of the most interesting exhibits manifests itself at the end of the exhibition. David McCandless’s “Pure as the driven snow” is an informative graphic that provides information on the reduction of purity, the increase in price, the number of people involved and gross profits during the journey of cocaine from the production field to the end user.

Although not as informative as the “War and Medicine” exhibition, it is certainly worth visiting.


P.S.: The exhibition is on until the 27th February.


Roche Helveticum forte

October 31, 2010

Those who are familiar with drugs from Roche are probably aware how the drug boxes look like. Roche has a specific design for drug boxes with lots of white space, two proprietary fonts and two hexagons in one of the corners: one being filled with colour, typically blue and the other bearing the Roche logo. In essence, almost all of their drugs are packages in the same looking white drug boxes; the only difference is the name of the drug.

However, if you happen to visit the Roche central offices in Basel, you will encounter yet another Roche “medicine” called Helveticum forte. This one is also packed in they typical Roche white drug box, but the content is far from being an active drug. Instead, you can open the Helveticum forte box to find 36 playing cards and a small booklet that explains how to play a card game. This is because Helveticum forte is not a real drug that Roche decided to give for free to all their visitors, but a card game containing all sorts of different trivia for Roche.

In fact, the instructions of the small booklet tell you of a game that has two phases. In the first phase, two or more players are dealt with some cards with the aim to complete quartets (books of cards of the same rank). They do this by asking their fellow players if they have the cards the need to make the quarter and by losing their turn if they do not manage to find a card. When a quarter has been made, this needs to be laid down. After all the quartets have been laid down, the second phase of the game begins, in which the person who has completed a quartet asks the person on their left one of the questions contained in the quartets. For each correct answer, the respondent is being rewarded with a card and at the end, the person with most cards wins the game.

Helveticum forte is obviously a fun and creative way for Roche to pass on corporate information to a visitor. But what is more interesting is Roche’s willingness to package this board game in a “bogus” drug box, similar to the design of their real drug boxes. It can create a lasting impression.


[all images © copyright LambdaPhage]