What makes it so disorienting is the detail and breath of the piece. Why did you make it so complete?
It started out just being three television ads, because that was the initial idea. And then I realized to be a really successful
marketing campaign, you'd need a Web site, because it's so much more efficient. It reaches so many more people seeking information.
And the cost is so much less to produce a Web site than to produce TV ads or broadcast them. I started mimicking the way I
imagined Madison Avenue thinks for these campaigns. If I were making HAVIDOL: Part Two, I'd have a patient-advocacy site.
How many years did it take to complete?
I had the initial idea about three years ago, and then I had applied for funding from the Australia Council, the Greenwall
Foundation in New York, and the New York State
Council for the Art. I knew that it must be a relatively good idea when I got funding from all those places. The funders
could picture it; it was viable. The idea must be at the forefront of people's minds.
How did you pitch it as a grant proposal?
I didn't have a name for the drug then. I was only making a lifestyle pharmaceutical and a marketing campaign for it. And
then after I got the funding, I kept adding more components to the marketing campaign.
It seems like there's not just one way of receiving the work.
Well, exactly. It was not meant to be preaching some higher ground. I think one of the reasons it was successful is that we
all identify with having certain symptoms of dysphoric social attention consumption deficit anxiety disorder. So maybe that's
what people come away with, that it is simply a sort of an examination of their own choices and their own lifestyle. I guess
my hope would be that maybe they'd feel content with what they actually have.
Instead of taking a drug for happiness?
HAVIDOL isn't like a happy pill, really. It's so you can cope with—what does the woman say in the ad?—"our high-paced 24-hour
excessive consumer culture." It's not a drug for depression. It is a drug to make it easier and to make things somehow manageable,
and also to make you feel like you're living more fully.
The whole piece, all its elements, is really gorgeous. Was that intentional?
It had to be seductive—otherwise, it fails.
Did it seduce you in the making? Was it fun to do?
Oh, it was so much fun to make because it wasn't just me, it was collaborative. As an artist, I'm really more of an editor.
Filtering through all the possibilities and picking ones that work together. And I don't think I work particularly fast, but
I think I'm detailed. So I really enjoyed working with all the different people, having the discussions.
The photographs you did at the Natural History Museum seem very different.
Aesthetically, it is entirely different. But the thread that binds them is the idea of desire. With the museum photos, you're
looking at institutional desire and the desire of science to kind of place this veil of rationalism over a pretty messy, sublime
kind of world.
HAVIDOL is a much more cultural, social idea about desire and about what we want and why we want it. My belief is that we
don't just want these things because we're told to want them. It's as if we're almost biologically built to desire to be better—that
it's some kind of survival mechanism. And the fact that HAVIDOL can kind of promise to deliver that is tapping into not just
the glossiness of the pharmaceutical advertisements, but almost an innate genetic determinism to excel.