Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo at Storefront

Last chance to see the dance-installation by Harrison Atelier (HAt), exploring the convergence of art, culture, medicine, and technology.

Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo is on view through 30 November at Storefront for Art and Architecture . Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo exemplifies the in-situ, hands-on approach characterizing the work of Harrison Atelier (HAt) . The new performance is the third installment in a series of collaborations that metaphorically bridges the gap between dance and medical technology.

The show's title composites two scientific terms, pharmacophore and placebo. A pharmacophore describes the structural features of a molecule responsible for biological activity. Placebos are simulated medical interventions which generate a beneficial change (perceived or actual) in a biochemical state in anticipation of therapy. Placebo effects are augmented by marketing campaigns, social ambition, quests for scientific success as well as institutional prompts such as white lab coats, prescription labels, and medical apparatuses. Often the appearance of side effects triggers the placebo effect in an otherwise ineffective drug. Sometimes a placebo effect is caused by diagnosis.
Rehearsal for <i>Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo</i> by HAt. Photo © Ariane Lourie Harrison.
Rehearsal for Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo by HAt. Photo © Ariane Lourie Harrison.
Where, then, is the distinction between pharmacophore and placebo? What are our cultural placebos, the conventions and assumptions we derive every day? Might medicine itself be a placebo-pharmacophore? These questions form the conceptual touchstones of Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo, HAt's exploration of the cultural and philosophical economy that surrounds medicine, technology, and the human prospect in the 21st century.
<i>Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo</i> by HAt. Photo © Jacob Dugopolski.
Pharmacophore: Architectural Placebo by HAt. Photo © Jacob Dugopolski.
The installation, conceived and designed by HAt partners Ariane Lourie Harrison and Seth Harrison and choreographed by Silas Reiner, evokes a pharmaceutical-cultural landscape by constructing props meant to represent the molecules responsible for producing a drug's desired effect. Eight-foot tall laminated glass plates framed with stainless steel are set against the back of the gallery. Contoured seats are integrated into the space and are dotted with transparent, inflatable balloon-like structures that, once unfurled, become spatialized pharmacophores. Dancers and audience members use the set pieces as cushions for back or arm support and, because neighboring seats share inflatables, each feels the movements of others. The interaction among designed objects, dancers, spectators, and set creates a performance that highlights the social prompts of our cultural-placebos, a reminder that the desires which foster placebo-effects are socially authorized.

At once avant-garde and pragmatic, engaged in theory as well as form making, the ideas underlying the design-dance hybrid exemplify the main thrust of the HAt's body of work.
The installation evokes a pharmaceutical-cultural landscape by constructing props meant to represent the molecules responsible for producing a drug's desired effect.

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