A Culture of Addiction | Art Review | Chicago Reader

A Culture of Addiction 

Pharmacopia is a large, spectacularly colorful installation by Andy Diaz Hope and Laurel Roth. Part of the group show "Sex. Drugs. Rock n Roll" at Gescheidle, it reflects on our obsession with drugs, both legal and illegal, and puts that obsession in terms of a crazed, overheated postmodern sensibility. A large chandelier made of hypodermic needles studded with beads hangs from the ceiling, sparkling but also menacing. A medicine cabinet has apparently crashed to the floor, where it's surrounded by mirror shards, and artificial flowers festoon a toilet and the walls, as if plants have taken root in an abandoned bathroom. "We're not trying to say any drug is wrong, just help people arrive at their own conclusions," Roth says. She's suffered from migraines since her youth and attributes her stomach problems to taking too much ibuprofen and aspirin. She became fascinated with chandeliers after seeing a particularly gaudy one in a shop: "It was so over-the-top it made the object cool again for me. The excessive sparkliness of the chandelier we built reminded me of rock-star drug culture."

A couple for the last three years, Roth and Diaz Hope collaborated on every element of Pharmacopia, though Roth says she did more of the "intricate" work. Both grew up in the Bay Area, and they live in San Francisco now. As a child Diaz Hope took apart the old mainframe computers his physicist grandfather brought home, and later he made contraptions like an electromagnetic pendulum that, if swung high enough, caused a frog's eyes to light up. In 1972, when he was five, his geologist father quit his job and left his wife and two sons; in his mind, society was on the verge of an apocalyptic meltdown. Today his dad lives in Nevada, in a stone house he built himself, with no electricity or phone. "He terraced the hillside and grows all his food and stores it in a big root cellar he chipped out of the mountainside that he keeps cool with spring water," Diaz Hope says. "He doesn't trust society very much."

Diaz Hope himself is skeptical about technology but hopes to make it more humane. As an undergrad at Stanford he studied product design, engineering, and fine art: "I was the kid with the dyed Mohawk who didn't fit in with the physicists too well." His thesis project was designed for terminally ill children: a tricycle with an IV pump, so they could ride without a nurse to help them. In grad school at Stanford he explored ways to improve office-cubicle environments, experimenting with scents and subtle breezes. A few years after getting his MS he started a furniture design business, and one of the objects he built was a TV cabinet for people who were "addicted" to television: a screen in front of the TV turned whatever image was on it into nine abstract circles. He had a corporate design job from 1998 to 2004, and among other things designed a video display for an elevator in a New York hotel that would track up and down objects at a rate proportional to the elevator's speed. The objects the hotel chose were giant nudes.

Diaz Hope has been doing his own art since college but rarely exhibited until the last year, after he quit his corporate job; three other pieces in this show are his alone. Study in Pink is from a series of "pill portraits": he places rolled-up cutout photographs of the subject inside pill capsules and arranges them to create a likeness of the person. The pointillist image that results suggests the way identity is filtered through drugs. "I think almost everybody has a debate over whether they are in control of their drug use or it's controlling them," he says, "from whether or not to take vitamins for some to how many times it's OK to do speed in a single weekend for others."

Sex. Drugs. Rock n Roll

When: Through Sat 4/15

Where: Gescheidle, 118 N. Peoria, 4th fl.

Info: 312-226-3500

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