The Pits 2000

A man staring into space, clasping his hands against his mouth.“We see a lot of people in surgery who are unhappy. One of the difficulties in general practice is deciding which of them have a clinical depression that may benefit from drug treatment as well as talking treatments such as psychotherapy, counselling or other forms of psychological support.

“From listening to Steve talking about his experience of clinical depression it becomes clear that this is very different from ordinary unhappiness.”

Dr Liz Lee

A stream of antidepressants“In responding to Liz Lee’s prompting on the general subject of depression, I immediately thought of my own down-times and how I might be able to relate to this subject as an artist. As ever, the things closest to one’s own experience and readily to hand became the metaphors for this most difficult to pin down illness. Collaboration and feedback from people close to me, and relating to places I know formed the backdrop for the patient / doctor discussion between Steve and Liz which we recorded and you as a viewer can share.”

David Critchley

Hear no, See no, Speak no 2000

A grommet fitted into the eardrum to improve hearing in children, a replacement intra-ocular lens fitted during a cateract extraction and a Blom-Singer valve, which gives speech after a laryngectomy. All three of these have been used and removed.

Leftovers 2000

Diclofenac 2000

Sixteen pills, all different shapes, types and colours, in a piece of fabric.When a doctor prescribes a medicine they write the generic name on the prescription form. The chemist makes the choice of which brand to give the patient. With repeat prescriptions, the pills recieved may look different. For example in this piece all sixteen tablets and capsules are the same drug – diclofenac. This is prescribed mainly to the elderly as a treatment for arthritis in conjunction with up to a dozen other pills a day. A change in appearance can only add to any confusion.

Beekeeper’s Hat 2000

A woman in a beekeeper's hat containing pills.It has been estimated that, on average, each of us takes one course of antibiotics each year, 70% of which are amoxycillin.

Since the use of antibiotics became widespread in the second half of the twentieth century many bacteria have become resistant to them. The more antibiotics we prescribe the more resistance develops and there are now major and justified concerns about the overuse of antibiotics. GP’s prescribe 80% of all antibiotics in the UK and therefore control of antibiotic resistance depends greatly on rational prescribing by these doctors.

Armour 2000

ArmourMade in 2000 for the Pharmacopoeia UK tour and subsequently shown in Scandinavia, Armour was recently purchased by the Royal College of General Practitioners where it is on permanent display in their headquarters on Euston Road.

Armour was based on Liz Lee’s elderly patient Mr Brittain who suffered from emphysema, hypertension, heart failure, arthritis, indigestion and insomnia. Until the age of 50 he was relatively healthy but he did smoke. The smoking gradually destroyed the fabric of his lungs causing emphysema. It also contributed to the two heart attacks that together with his high blood pressure resulted in heart failure. He spent his last years sitting in his armchair breathing oxygen through a mask. Often in pain he could no-longer go out and had difficulty walking around his flat.

From his medical record we calculated all the oral prescription drugs he took between the age of 72 and 77 and sourced related empty pill packs. The resulting foil packaging scultpure represents the tough outer shell many people have to adopt in order to endure the suffering caused by the chronic diseases so common in old age.

Which Ones Have You Taken? 2000

Above is a collection of commonly prescribed drugs including treatment for heart disease, mental illness, infection, inflamation, hypertension, diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, pain and piles. See if you can spot any that look familiar, and point at them to see if you were right.

Pharmaceutical haute couture 2000

Come Dancing

Pharmacopoeia is an exhibition resulting from a 3-year collaboration between Susie Freeman, a textile artist working in London, and Dr Liz Lee, a general practitioner in Bristol, UK. Their work focuses on common medical conditions, with the objective of stimulating thought about the realities of health-care choices. “We particularly want to engage the imagination of people who have little confidence when dealing with doctors, and help them make decisions about their own medical treatment,” explains Freeman…

Full article available on The Lancet website (free, but requires registration)

The Birth of Medico-Political Art 2000

Joe Collier

O.T.C. Veil

There can hardly be anything more stimulating than the birth of a new art form, but here we have it. Moreover, how fitting it is that the works are displayed at an exhibition at Contemporary Applied Arts. If the powerful pieces displayed in Pharmacopoeia are not contemporary and applied, what are they?

Art and medicine have long been related. Florentine artists in the fourteenth century were so fascinated by the human body that they became dissectors of bodies at the University. Leonardo Da Vinci almost certainly dissected the bodies he portrayed in his series showing detailed human anatomy (inside and out) a hundred years later. But leaving aside dissection (and the tradition still continues with the recent controversial work of Anthony Noel Kelly), artists have depicted disease as in the famous gouty knee by Raphael in the early 1500s and the pictures of madness by Goya. Applied art too is part of medicine, as art and design are used both to sell medicines in promotional material, and in their product design – surely an artist had a hand in Viagra’s diamond shaped blueness.

The politicisation of medicines is also not new. The concept of political prescribing certainly surfaced in London in the late 1980s. Gradually it was realised that women were being given sleeping pills and sedatives, not because they were ill, but because it offered doctors (and society in general) an easy way of dealing with poverty, noisy neighbours, damp walls and domestic violence.

Pharmacopoeia takes on a new dimension. Here, with beauty, skill an insight, are explicit contemporary commentaries about our relationship with medicines and with treatments generally. The works bring home the enormity of our reliance on drugs, coupled with the power of mechanical help as provided by interuterine contraceptive devices and prostheses such as hip replacements. It also illustrates how wasteful our relationship can be as medicines are unused or abused. With this exhibition, Medico-Political Art is born.

Congratulations to the parents, Susie Freeman and Liz Lee, and to the Wellcome Trust, who through their Sci~Art award revealed their skills in midwifery.

Joe Collier is emeritus professor of medicines policy at St George’s, University of London.

Jubilee 2000


Armour and Jubilee were bought by The Royal College of General Practitioners in 2011 and are on public display in their central London headquarters next to Euston Station.

Jubilee is a wedding dress made of 80 denier nylon monofilament hand knitted on a Dubied industrial knitting machine. Enclosed in rows of tiny mesh pockets are 6,279 contraceptive pills. Allowing for a couple of breaks to have children this would provide contraception for a woman from the age of 22 to 50 years old.

Originally made in 2000 for the exhibition ‘Sexwise’, focusing on women’s health, Jubilee toured the UK from 2001 to 2003 and was part of Welcome Trust’s Medicine and Art exhibition in Tokyo 2010.

Medicine and Art

Come Dancing Too 1999

Ball gown incorporating the estimated 5,500 pills that would be needed to provide the equivalent 22 years of contraception provided by the Lippes Loop coil, which was fitted in a school cook following the birth of her fourth child and provided contraception until her menopause.

Photo: Neil Wilder

Under Wraps 1999

Under Wraps“Susie and I have been friends for 40 years and as women do we have had an ongoing conversation about periods, contraception and conception. ‘Under Wraps’ illustrates the menstrual narrative from menarche to menopause.”

Dr Liz Lee

Pills in Under Wraps

Alternatives Devil’s Claw
Contraceptives Mercilon, Microgynon, Logynon, Cileste, Organon
Heavy Bleeding Mefanamic Acid, Tranexamic Acid
Hormone Replacement Therapy Prempack, Nuvelle, Tridestra, Progynova
Morning After Pill Schering PC4
Pain Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Coproxamol
POP Contraceptives Loestrin, Neogest, Norimin
Thrush Sopranox
Vitamins and Minerals Premence, Iron, Primulot, B6


Go to Under Wraps – the Menstrual Narrative in Articles

Southmead Hospital 1999

Raw Materials 1999

Fabric containing all manner of natural materials - herbs, flowers, seeds and so on.Complementary therapies are increasingly popular. Some of these leaves, roots and seeds form the basis for both conventional and alternative medicines.

  • willow bark
  • poppy petals
  • cassia bark
  • rose hips
  • saw palmetto
  • eucalyptus
  • balm of gilead
  • foxglove
  • hibiscus pieces
  • mistletoe
  • marigold flowers
  • cardammon
  • garana seeds
  • mullein
  • cloves
  • mace blades
  • uva ursi leaves
  • star anise
  • gotu kola
  • finland moss
  • borage
  • cannela
  • juniper berries
  • parsley root
  • hawthorn berries
  • senna leaves
  • chamomile
  • chilli pods

The Overnight Bag 1999

The Overnight BagDecorated with varieties of the pill, condoms, pessaries and the morning after pill.

This handbag was made for the exhibition ‘Sexwise’, a collaboration between Pharmacopoeia, Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery and the Health Authority in Nottingham, which focused on teenage pregnancy.

“An important part of the project involved the teenagers themselves making a video about the reality of teenage pregnancy. They were obviously enthusiastic, they learnt a lot through participating in that project and their experience has undoubtedly influenced them. Sexwise also worked brilliantly with the schools. We use the project as a model of good practice for health promotion in schools.”
Jocelyn Dodd

One for the Road 1999

An artificial hip removed from a patient who had osteoarthritis is shown beside the estimated total number of pills they would have taken in lieu of having a prosthesis fitted.

One for the Road was shown in the context of other works and medical objects as part of Schmerz (Pain) in 2007 at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum der Gegenwart – Berlin:

“The exhibition PAIN traces the many expressions of pain: a picture of the crucifixion, the preserved specimen of a gouty hand, a video installation showing mourners, the flickering electric impulses of a nerve cell, a scream. Combining and confronting art works and objects from the realms of medicine, ethnology, religion and everyday usage, this exhibition ventures to make an expedition along the borderlines of art and medicine. It is intended as a laboratory for new visual and contextual impulses from the different spheres of imagery and objects, and is shown simultaneously in the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum der Gegenwart – Berlin and in the Medizinhistorisches Museum (Museum of the History of Medicine) at the Charité, Berlin’s main hospital”

Mr. Minckton 1999

Pill containers on a shelf.“I came across Mr Minckton’s pile of unopened pills on a home visit. I asked him if he would like me to take them away. It made me realise how wasteful some of our prescribing habits can be. In fact nearly everyone has a quantity of unused drugs in their medicine cabinet”

Dr Liz Lee

Hip Hip 1999

An elderly lady pointing at a false hip amongst fabric containing pills.Clippy Story

In 1978 Joyce Adams was 58 and working as a bus conductor. One lunchtime as she jumped down from her bus to get a sandwich for her driver she fell and fractured her hip. This is called a fractured neck of femur (the femur is the long bone of the thigh). Treatment is an operation to remove the fractured end of the bone which forms part of the hip joint and replace it with an artificial hip joint.

Joyce walked around on her artificial hip for twenty years. It eventually started to become painful as its shaft worked loose where it was cemented into the femur. This necessitated a second operation to replace the artificial hip with a new one and this was performed in Southmead Hospital, Bristol.

Mrs. Adams is now walking around comfortably on her new hip and she gave us permission to use the old one in Hip Hip, permanently on display in the hospital’s out-patient department. Hip Hip enables patients awaiting a hip operation to see what an artificial joint looks like after twenty years of wear. This is contrasted with pills taken for arthritis which, apart from fractured hips is the main reason for patients to have a hip replacement. Patients are understandably very interested in the work as it directly relates to their own experience of illness.

O.T.C. Veil 1998

O.T.C. VeilEasily available vitamins and minerals may look very similar to more dangerous prescription-only drugs.

Photo: Chloe Stewart

Come Dancing 1998

Come Dancing“Come Dancing is a dramatic ball gown decorated with over 6,000 multicoloured, foil covered oral contraceptives trapped in tiny net pockets, rather than appliquéd with sequins. At the waist, where a jewel clasp would be more appropriate, is a Lippes Loop, removed from a teacher for whom it had provided intrauterine contraception for 26 years, an equivalent period to that provided by the gown’s thousands of pills.

“The work resulted from consultations with patients about contraception, during which Dr Lee observed that, despite lacking a visual image of an interuterine contraceptive device, many women had such strong emotional feelings about the coil that they were unable to discuss its use rationally. In contrast, women choosing oral contraception were unlikely to realise the quantity of pills they would have to take over many years. By showing a Lippes Loop alongside the number of pills required to provide equivalent contraception, Come Dancing neatly reveals two previously hidden pieces of information, and helps to inform women about their preferred contraceptive method.”

Colin Martin, The Lancet

Photo: The Wellcome Trust