Sarah Shoenfeld Makes Art by Dropping Drugs onto Film Negatives
That big photo in the middle is a sample of speed. It was mixed with water and then dropped from a pipette onto an exposed film negative. It was then allowed to react with the light sensitive silver halide particles to create a visual impression of its own chemical make-up. These almost photos were made by the Berlin artist Sarah Schoenfeld, who says she’s been interested in depicting the undepictable since she was a child. “First I wanted to be a musician,” she told me over the phone. “But then I became more interested in how things look. Now I’m always looking for ways to make the internal, visual.”
These are lofty words, but then how do you render a narcotic event visually, without resorting to tacky drawings? Looking at it this way, her drug series All You Can Feel, nails the line between artistic depiction and scientific analysis, while somehow capturing something of the drug’s psychological effect. So I called Sarah up to say well done, and ask how she got the feelings so right.
VICE: Hi Sarah, that image of speed somehow looks the way speed feels. How did you do that?
Sarah Shoenfeld: Well, I didn’t think that when I first produced the work, but after I published the book (also called All You Can Feel) a lot of people said yes, this is how it feels. And what was really interesting is that I got a call from a drug rehabilitation center and they said that they had run their own little experiment. Without explaining the images, they had shown the book to their patients and asked them to pick a favorite. Every single one of them chose their drug of dependence, with 100 percent accuracy. Even the secretary who only ever drank coffee chose caffeine.
Wow. So how do you explain that?
Well if I had to say, maybe it’s that our understanding of reality is already shaped by our technology. We have these feelings, but don’t realize that they’re created by the things around us. So we think our feelings are our own, but here we recognize where those feelings came from. But I don’t know. I also like the idea that it’s not explainable.
Do you get asked to explain that a lot? Your answer felt suspiciously accurate.
No, most media people just ask where I got the drugs. And it’s like come on. I live in Berlin, I just buy them. Do we need to talk about it? Because you know, LSD was legal until everyone started talking about it.