October 15, 2012

Beverly Fishman's nonfunctional fragility

On the floor of one of the contemporary galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts sits Beverly Fishman's Pill Spill, an installation comprising eighty-six hand-blown glass pill-shaped objects strewn about a raised platform. Crafted in halves by a master glass blower, Fishman's pairings are based on formal qualities and size, which range from about eight to fourteen inches across. First on view in 2011 at the Toledo Museum of Art where Fishman was an artist-in-residence, Pill Spill is part of a larger series, which includes paintings that reference medical test results such as EEGs.

On September 28th, Fishman held a brief discussion in the DIA gallery where her installation is housed. She remarked that her work questions the divide between poison and "the cure" -- and whether or not there is a cure at all. One viewer remarked that the capsules are hollow, unlike their "real" counterparts, perhaps referring to placebo, or that our belief in the benefits of pharmaceuticals is empty, futile. Often it's said that an exterior appearance can mimic the inside. In Life of the Mind  Hannah Arendt has commented on this: "Appearances are no longer depreciated as 'secondary qualities' but understood as necessary conditions for essential processes that go on inside the living organisms... Since we live in an appearing world, is it not much more plausible that the relevant and the meaningful in this world of ours should be located precisely on the surface?"

The pills in Fishman's installation are also decidedly fragile -- and nonfunctional -- which, in relation to our bodies, speaks to our attention to superficial qualities as opposed to function and health. The glass capsules are unbelievably tactile, slick, and vibrant, which doesn't seem to translate through their documentation. A glass-blower in attendance at the lecture mentioned that few have bridged the gap between craft and fine art as successfully as Fishman in this installation. In her use of materials, Fishman comments on the seductive qualities of pharmaceuticals and the commonality of overlooking consequences in "quick fix solutions" in society today.

Image at top: Beverly Fishman’s “Pill Spill” is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts through the end of the year. Photo by Eric Wheeler, Detroit Institute of Arts.

 Related posts:
Community collectives at MOCA Detroit
Mike Kelley's paintings
Julie Mehretu returns to Detroit


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