Twice upon a time there lived a halfman, sometimes it was a man but sometimes he was a worm. The part that was man could be seen in light, the part that was worm in darkness. Most of the time the man believed that he is only half – for when he could see his upper part he could not see the lower, but when he saw the lower part he could not see the upper. So sometimes –It thought to be a man but sometimes he thought to be a worm. Days passed, he felt blind and insecure till one day an old crow flew by, she had only one eye and she looked very pale, so pale that you could mistake her for a dolphin; as she landed on his head that she thought to be a stone, she started to pick on his eye while screaming: "-but –a -day, but- a –day". While the halfman heard: "-butterfly, butterfly". And due to the terrible pain that smelled like eyeballs burnt in sugar, he finally realized 'butterfly'. He is a butterfly. So he raised high up in the sky – as high as the irises grow- and being so dazed by its vastness he caused a great wind that created mountains and seas, helicopters and chocolate.
Zane Mellupe, Mumbai 2009.08.01
"a substance or procedure ... that is objectively without specific activity for the condition being treated". In life as in medicine, the continued application of the placebo is a regular practice that has become part of the contemporary zeitgeist. Not just in the subconscious and neuro linguistic programming of advertising and contemporary broadcast culture, but in the foods we eat and the houses we live in- there are substances at play that perform their function only in our minds, that add value to our experiences only through the strength of our own imagination.
In medicine the placebo is a pill administered to solve a problem- a physiological complaint or psychological condition, or merely administered to achieve an effect, a result. As applied in society, placebos are harder to define, and the ethics of the experiment more complex and esoteric and the results more elaborate. When the placebo is no longer a pill, but a message, or a political doctrine, the rules change, our boundaries shift and windows of opportunity or cracks in our make-up appear. We build churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, pagodas, and cathedrals; we populate white houses, courts, and schools in order to have this external belief – a belief that everything is under control. There is a model built around an ideal, an ideal in which believers are not brainwashed followers, in which objects carry pure inherent properties and not perceived, exaggerated or distorted ones, and in which freedoms are born of genuine struggle and celebrated victory. The realization of that model may or may not happen through our collective efforts with and through the vision of distinguished talents peppered throughout our society. Artists are amongst those visionaries, and specifically in this context the artists of Liu Dao, but they are not exclusively responsible or capable of change. In the end the ideal cannot be realized, despite our best efforts, because perhaps, there will always be more pills, branding, past experience, and high price to increase the effect of placebo pills.
Nick Hersey, Shanghai 2009.11.02
"Placebo" is a second in a series of exhibitions organized by island6 that focuses on the way in which studies of consciousness have inspired artworks created by the collective Liu Dao.
Kerry Ann Lee is in island6 Shanghai as part of the Wellington Asia Residency Exchange Programme, an initiative developed by Asia New Zealand Foundation and Wellington City Council, New Zealand
Piers Secunda is working with island6 thanks to the initiative of mooreandmooreart.co.uk