Posts Tagged ‘opium’

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“Collective intoxication” and “A sin, a crime, a vice or a disease” and brings together many items, such as historical documents on drugs trade, medicinal objects, books on the effects of drug usage, photographs and prints on tribal and societal rituals, art objects inspired on the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.

Lambda.

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