Sunday, 26 May 2013

Last of the London Notes

Before I put aside my visit to London, I must share one of the truly astonishing exhibits at the British Museum. One doesn't expect to be surprised in a museum, really... educated and delighted perhaps, but astonished? Nevertheless, that was my reaction as my friend Sheila and I came into a large room that was all about "life and death" (one of my fave topics any day of the week) and saw directly in front of us the display you'll see below, titled CRADLE TO GRAVE.

The design component for these two long banners is....
...pills. Pills and more pills, pills and capsules of all shapes and sizes... Each of the tapestry banners holds 14,000 drugs sewn into the nylon filamant that provides the background for the pills which, as you can see, are cleverly arranged in patterns...It is a wonderful example of social commentary, because in viewing the banners you learn that the number of pills that an average English person takes during his or her lifetime is --wait for it -- 14,000.  Pertinent, even shocking information, which is, at the same time, a work of art. The installation was created by artists Suzie Freeman and David Critchely, and Dr. Liz Lee. One banner belongs to a man now dead, having died of heart problems at age 76.  The other banner represents his wife, who is still alive in her 80s. These two had illnesses or health issues that are entirely common, neither one had a long-term disease requiring special care. They were just ordinary people -- and their lives are documented along with others in photographs set on the edge of the tapestry. Breathtaking, to walk alongside the display and begin to contemplate all the drugs  taken over the years, for whatever reason... from headaches to hay fever to birth control to erection dysfunction to osteoporosis to stomach ulcers to depression... and in addition, whatever the current belief in Vitamins pushes us to take.. C? D? E? a nice combo of the Bs?

Worthy of reflection, our dependence on the pharmaceutical industry.... Perhaps we live longer, perhaps we live better... or do we? I do notice that when I am travelling, as I was whilst in London and Leeds, I usually forget to take the daily pills I bring with me in a little labelled vial... And somehow I manage to survive (at least in the short term).