"Even though it was an opening in an art gallery, some people thought they were at a pharmaceutical party," says gallery owner
Daneyal Mahmood. "And a few people were offended because they actually believed they had the symptoms of DSACDAD. They thought
the show was making fun of them."
Was this Cooper's intent? Is her piece simply a spoof on our consumer marketing society and our seemingly innate belief that
a pill can fulfill us, make us well—even perfect? Or is it like Andy Warhol and his Campbell soup can paintings, a representation
of something so familiar we are forced to look at the thing itself—as well as art, society, and ourselves—anew?
Seeking illumination, Pharmaceutical Executive called up Justine Cooper and asked her to tell us about the HAVIDOL marketing piece in her own words.
What do you expect viewers to take away from the work?
It was never meant to be an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry. I saw it more as a subtle look at the way drugs, marketing,
and the consumer all kind of interact to create the atmosphere we have today. It's about the way we think about well-being
and about what is a disease and what isn't.
I was interested in where the pressure points were for people and their sensitivities. I wanted to make a drug that wasn't
about having lifesaving qualities so much as lifestyle-saving qualities; a drug that essentially helps you to consume more,
both materialistically and personally. A drug that helps you to be brighter, to be more beautiful, to be more interesting,
to be...well, more. So, I was interested in a drug that would appeal to a lot of people. Even me!
How did you go about actually choosing the disease?
I polled people I knew. I asked them what they would like a drug for that didn't already exist. Some people wanted frontal
lobe enhancers, smart drugs, which I think actually will be coming down the pipeline pretty soon. Other people wanted to be
able to talk to their pets. And so while that was maybe too narrow a market for me, I did make it a side effect of HAVIDOL—interspecies
communication. HAVIDOL is such an exemplary kind of drug, even the side effects are ambiguous: Is talking to your pets a good
thing or a bad thing?
Visiting the drug's Web site (
) is a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland experience: At first you think you've landed on a pharma site advertising a new drug, but
then you look a little closer, and you realize none of it is real. Then it's really quite funny.
I wanted to use humor to a certain degree. I think it's a more persuasive way of talking about complicated or difficult things.
But I didn't want it to be so funny that the humor was the only aspect people latched onto. There's a whole genre of comedy
that does spoofs on drugs. But it's over in a minute. You don't think about it much afterwards. I was looking for something
that was a little subtler and a little more ambiguous, so the line between fact and fiction moved on you.
What has been the reaction overall?
Some people immediately know it is a parody; other people realize it later. On the Web site, especially, there's a lot of
content, and they're happy to keep reading.