Do No Harm: An Interview with Miss Bugs
"Imagine a world where Willy Wonka doesn’t want to give you a golden ticket; he just wants to get you hooked," Miss Bugs tells me on the eve of Do No Harm—The Dispensary, on view at Jealous Gallery in London starting August 12, 2022. A show that looks at Big Pharma, fast food and just the urges of modern life, Bugs has created 6,000 supersized capsules and tablets that will be spewing from sentinent vending machines. As much as the show looks at the power of advertising in our world of addiction, it's also a comment about how the art world creates a craving for itself, a modern look at how we consume objects and art as much as we are corporate consumers.
Evan Pricco: I know that big Pharma is such an issue here in the United States, but how does it play out in the UK? How big is its influence there?
Miss Bugs: As is often the case where the USA goes the UK follows... So there has been decreases in the consumption of opioids in the US,Canada and Europe, but the UK is now leading the world in the use of these drugs (per capita). We've read about GP prescriptions for opioids more than doubling between 1998 and 2018. And this crisis continues to gather momentum as Big Pharma roll out their aggressive marketing practices in a way that echoes the start of the opioid epidemic in the US.So to answer your question, the influence of Big Pharma is here and spreading around the world.
When do you start working on these unique sculpture variants? How are they made?
We started making the prototypes in the middle of the pandemic. It's a 5 stage process with 2 initial casts, one for the solid half and one for the clear cast around the disused food wrapper. These then both go into secondary moulds and we cast a resin shell around them for a perfect surface finish. The final stage is hand sanding and polishing before bonding together with more resin.What became interesting as the project developed was the endless variants that we had - creating 14 different solid colour caps and the endless crisps, chocolate, soda and fast food wrappers that we could use to encapsulate. Almost started to feel like we were human NFT random generators - we had a base concept but with endless possibilities and no one piece the same.
There are a few things that are interesting in this show, because there is addiction, advertisements and even the way art plays a role in facilitating these things. When you started the show, did you know you were going to address all these things or did the actual process of making the work lead to new angles of how art can critique and be part of this cycle?
The initial concept came off the back of an earlier Do No Harm series, which was an installation of 1000 multicolored lollies filled with surgical blades, syringes and pills. The lollies worked on one level as a visual gag but on another level they touched on themes of social addiction and the harm caused.Then these capsules expanded on the theme of social addictions but now the initial understanding of the concept is more concentrated on the use of pharmaceuticals, food brands, and our unchecked consumerism. We see how easy susceptible we are to branding, when you only need to see a small part of a crushed up McDonald's or Starbucks package. Maybe only a tiny element of their logo is visible but you instinctively know what it is. We definitely expanded on the Do No Harm world - and merging these themes makes for an visual interesting Willy Wonka pharmaceutical factory with lots of areas to explore. I don't think we came to the project understanding all the levels it seems to work on, but that's what makes it interesting to us - the different layers from the Opioid crisis to fast food consumption to advertising and yes, to how the art world takes part in the same system by fulfilling our wants, desires and status. And we're part of that - putting on a show with lots of products. I guess we're even questioning ourselves...
This is a big show, but where do you see this series going? Has it sparked new ideas for your moving forward?
I'm not sure if there will be another Do No Harm project just yet, but as you say it does touch on different themes... We're seeing certain amount of nostlgia playing out with this project - everyone's got their childhood favorite childhood treat - whether your favourite is a Baby Ruth like Chunk from the Goonies, or a bowl of sugar puffs like the Honey Monster. It feels like the resin capsules preserve moments of a more innocent time - maybe there is something to unpack there!
Any surprises for the opening?
Well we're playing the roll of Willy Wonka at the opening of "The Dispensary" - so they'll be "Un-Well Soon" Helium balloons, prescription pizza and intravenous beer.... At the center of the show we're installing a ‘sentient’ vending machine called Damien, a totemic sculpture on a mountain of 7000 oversized tablets and from inside comes a looping track that splices the Oompa Loompa song with monotone lists of pharmaceutical side effects.