POISON THE CURE
8 September - 1 October 2017
Jenna Bliss was born in Yonkers, NY in 1984.
She studied at Rhode Island School of Design and Slade School of Fine Art.
She lives and works in New York, NY.
A skype conversation between Jenna Bliss and Nell Croose Myhill
3rd September 2017, 5pm Outpost, Norwich / 12noon, New York
Nell Croose Myhill: Much of your recent work has explored the apparatus of drug use, from capitalist economic structures to feelings of desire and escapism. What was the starting point for making this film, Poison The Cure?
Jenna Bliss: Well, I have been trying to articulate the relationship between drug use and reproductive technologies, and I think the starting point was really in thinking about bio-technologies (in which I would include drugs), and technologies as chemicals that are used to control reproduction. There are so many different influences and forces that are in conversation and contradicting one another: with drug use, there is a desire to control oneself, as well as controlling one’s own desire - or managing it. And then, in the case of birth control, it is the hope to control one’s own fertility and reproduction. But then of course, these things are driven by larger cultural and economic investments... I was thinking of drugs as an automation of desire and then how birth control automates fertility. I was also thinking about the unit of the body being controlled by technology and how these are a part of larger projects of, well, projects of global domination.
NCM: And so Poison The Cure has come out of quite a long period of research? Your previous film about the Lincoln Detox shares a number of similar concerns?
JB: Yeah, definitely. The Lincoln Detox film is a documentary (I mean it is still unfinished) but it in some ways it is a straight-forward documentary...
(interruption as Nell lets Mike into the gallery)
JB: ...and it’s telling the story of this community that was basically the result of direct action from several different revolutionary groups in the 1970s, who established an alternative drug rehabilitation clinic in the South Bronx. I think of it as a project of health autonomy really. I was researching material written at the time by groups associated with this project, such as White Lightning (which was a group of ex-addicts) and although they were for the most-part white, they were working often in solidarity with other groups like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. The drug addict is impossible for capitalism; you know, they are not good workers and they are pathologised, but at the same time, they are the ultimate consumer. I was really seeing how there are so many contradictions within the addict identity and how it is situated in larger political and economic apparatuses that people around the Detox were able to articulate.
With Poison The Cure, I wanted to use a similar strategy of mapping or creating a topology of addiction or drugs in a more expanded form, and introduce reproduction and birth control into it. Using the form of the docu-drama, I wanted to have more ability to bring elements together, rather than trying to tell a specific story or focus on one historical event.
NCM: The film employs voiceovers, collages of archival material and staged scenes. Could you talk about how you feel these narrative devices operate?
JB: I was looking at these histories of Victorian use of opium, and how it was really wrapped up both the UK and in the US- in the medical establishment - (which is not the medical establishment we have now, but was far more speculative; more like butchery and magic, you know? It was the ‘Wild West’). And there are a lot of romantic writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Thomas De Quincey writing about their opiate experiences at that time. So trying to embed the spirit of the romantic consciousness into the medical establishment was something I was trying to do with the scenes at the beginning of the film, with the landlord and the tenant.
The voice over is meant to be from the position of someone who only sees the positive potentials of technologies. For example, there’s this new technology that Melinda Gates was talking about on the BBC, I think, that an artist based in Berlin called Luiza Prado showed during a workshop she gave at KW Institute. In the film, Melinda Gates introduces a chip that is inserted into women’s bodies and regulated by an app that can control women’s fertility for up to 10 years or something. She talks about it using the rhetoric of: “by offering this, we can give women access to education because they are not going to be pregnant”, and the plan is for it to be used throughout the global south, which is very vague, but it is a device for population control.
I think with the threat of climate change, people are really talking about population as this detrimental thing in terms of the continuation of the human race, so it feels like having this perspective of preserving a future by destroying huge proportions of the population is terrifying, but relevant. So I wanted to address this technological positivism through the domineering voiceover.
I was just reading this book which my friend Lucy Beech told me about called Seizing the Means of Reproduction. It starts with self-cervical exams and then links the emergence of biotechnology through feminism and the cooption of a lot of these ‘primitive’ technologies, (like self-cervical exams). I mean we have cloning, but we also have these ‘primitive technologies’ which can be tools for seizing the means of reproduction - there is still terrain for that despite the incorporation of these strategies into counterrevolutionary projects, eugenics projects or liberal feminism.
And there are just so many contradictions and the only way to try and navigate some of this is to try and see all the moving parts and to create these maps or topologies.
NCM: That’s really nice because the next thing I wanted to talk about was the accompanying wall graphic, which credits all the people involved in making the film and points to bibliographic references that have informed your research, why was it important to include this alongside the film?
JB: Yes, I mean, it is a literal mapping! I literally had an atlas and tried to place these different references and citations through their geographic position, but also link them to other connected geographies, because none of these things are in a vacuum; none of these ideas of heroin cultivation or reproductive technologies are totally localised, they have wide reaching scopes. But you know there are huge gaps in this wall piece and I feel like it’s the beginning of trying to map.
NCM: I’m aware that this is your first solo exhibition, but it is evident that you have worked with a lot of people to produce the film - there is a generosity in crediting those people in the gallery space. Could you talk a little about the role of collaboration in your work?
JB: The actor who plays the tenant, Walter Bosque del Rio, was actually part of the Lincoln Detox, and he has taught me a ton about acupuncture and drug use, and how we can look at holistic health and alternative healing methods, and how the dominance of the western medical modality is flawed in terms of holistic health - especially how monetised it is in the US and totally private. Conversations with him have been totally influential in so many different ways. And then, in Puerto Rico, there is this artist-run gallery called beta-local and they were really helpful in putting me in touch with Michel Nonó who helped produce and acted in the film. They are an artist based in Puerto Rico, and working with themes of US colonialism and pharmacology within Puerto Rico. And then of course, there were a lot of people like Kirstie Dabbs that designed and constructed the costumes and Collin Ruffino who did the entire soundtrack...
I hope there is a generosity, part of not having the credits at the end of the film, but in the space, was hoping to deal with that, because films are almost always collaborative...