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Psi-Tox Exhibition - Jolana Izbická
exhibition catalogue by Phil Shoenfelt


While viewing the five pictures from Jolana Izbicka’s “Psi-Tox” series, it would be useful to keep in mind the Three Domain System, a method of classification first propagated by the American microbiologist Carl Woese. Woese’s three domains – Bacteria, Archaea, Eukaryota – can be visualised as a Phylogenetic Tree of Life, comprising manifold subdivisions of the different cellular life forms. According to recent research, the number of cells in the human body is actually less than the number of bacteria – 30 trillion human cells, as opposed to 40 trillion bacteria – leading some biologists to theorize that we are more bacteria than human. If proteins and amino acids are the “building blocks of life”, then bacterial organisms play an essential part in regulating the physical processes of life. But as we all know, bacteria can be destroyers and killers of life too.

In early 2014, Izbická was wrongly diagnosed with encephalitis and admitted to hospital. As part of the diagnostic process, and prior to having a lumbar puncture, she was given atropine, a widely-used medication which dilates the pupils, allowing for an intraocular eye test to be carried out. Izbická reacted badly to the atropine – a synthetic related to so-called “witches’ drugs”, such as belladonna, datura and mandrake – and embarked on an extended psychedelic experience, akin to a ten day LSD trip. As it turned out, she was not infected with encephalitis after all, but with Clostridium difficile, a spore-forming bacterium leading to inflammatory infection of the digestive tract. With the bacterial balance of her gut disrupted, the “bad” bacteria gained dominance and seemed, in her sensitized state, to be “speaking” to her.

In spite of the disturbing visions and voices summoned up by the atropine, Izbická was able to photograph herself in this heightened mental state. When she was released from hospital, and as part of her art therapy, she began to experiment with digital photo collage techniques, integrating the photos she had taken with her original artwork. The results are both beautiful and terrifying, and invoke the theories of such writers as Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell), Timothy Leary (The Psychedelic Experience, Exo-Psychology), and the renowned Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung.

The hallucinatory quality of these pictures is vivid enough to be shocking. Images of surveillance (By what? By whom?) abound. In fact, eyes are everywhere – planted in the hand reaching out for help, in Buddah’s face, even in the vagina. Big Brother is watching from the forest of the Unconscious, but whether this is a manifestation of societal tendencies, or a metaphysical state of mind, is hard to say. Meanwhile, bacterial spore infect the scene, speaking in voices from another dimension, another domain: “You think we exist only in the gut? Think again. Body and Mind are one, and we will travel along secret pathways unknown to you and find a way to destroy your brain…” A terrifying threat indeed, a manifestation of what Salvador Dali called the “Paranoiac Critical Method”. In other words, a way of perceiving reality based on irrational knowledge – a method which reveals an ultimate truth, the nightmare at the back of every dream.

Phil Shoenfelt, 7th June 2016


 

 


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