Week 4 – Using Medicine as Art

I have never heard of using castings of pills as jewelry until reading this week’s reading. Colleen Wostenholme is an artist that crafts jewelry or sculptures from antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, Valium, and Dexedrine. Wostenholme’s studio is located in Hantsport, a small time in Nova Scotia. Her reasoning behind using the pills as artwork was to “link social malaise with the traditional practice of men claiming women by giving jewelry” (Wilson, 196) and to look at how pharmaceuticals have been used to create acceptable behaviors in women. Sarah McLachlan, one of the people that wore her jewelry, claimed that the the jewelry served as a kind of badge of honour, but because the she was a musician, she attracted media attention that led to attacks from law firms ordering Wostenholme to stop using trademarked imagery. This did not stop her from continuing her work related with pills.


“Pills” – Colleen Wostenholme

Robin Peck, someone who has analyzed Wostenholme’s work, has written an article named, Scattered Across the Floor, that provides a detailed report on the reasoning of the artist’s intent in the sculptures.  In the work above by Wostenholme, she scatters four rather big sculptures across the floor that each represent a sedative or antidepressant. Peck mentions that these sculptures are a powerful indictment of the collaboration between corporate pharmaceutical firms and contemporary psychiatry. The sculptures are made by repetitive hand labour and they are engraved with corporate pharmaceutical trademarks that portray signs of ownership, allegiance, and addiction. She wants to investigate the dynamics and relationship of media and self-worth of women.

1998 05 26 Sculpture Pills Colleen Wolstenholme 01   Wostenholme also decided to work with these pills because she used to be on antidepressants as well and she wanted to know what they were doing to her brain. The pills were “aesthetically pleasing to her and therefore attracted to them as objects”, so she says during an interview. In Peck’s article, she quotes that throughout the history of art with female nudity women are often portrayed as objects. Wostenholme believes that “men use jewelry as a method of marking their territory” and that it would be appropriate if women were wearing antidepressants as jewelry instead of diamond jewelries. Women are socialized to want to achieve a certain look and will spend too much money trying to achieve their goals. Because of this thinking, women started buying antidepressants in Canada, as reported by a group called Women and Health Protection. Wostenholme wants to emphasize the harms that these pills do to people and uses her work to address these concerns.

-Daniel Yang







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