Jeff Ostergren

Posted by Amira Brown on


My work centers on the “pharmakon”, a Greek word that simultaneously means cure, poison, and paint and is the origin of the English words pharmaceutical and toxic. Each molecule of pigment or drug contains the entire history of its invention, production, marketing, and consumption, be they ecstatically mind-altering, physically poisonous, or both.


The history of drugs and color are profoundly intertwined, beginning with early methods of organic harvesting, extraction, processing, and application. This history continues through the shift into the synthetic during the Industrial Revolution. I focus on chemical histories of the Anthropocene. Parallel to early Modernist art movements of the 1800s, chemical companies such as Bayer, Merck, and Pfizer were founded through simultaneously producing synthetic pharmaceuticals and pigments with the same chemical processes. An exhibition in 2018, in which I did a deep dive into the history of Bayer Pharmaceuticals, concretized my interests in the interconnected, sometimes dark, histories of chemicals, image visualization, and the body.


I often work with images of idealized leisure, urban parks, and controlled nature that follow this same timeline to the present through art history, popular media, and pharmaceutical advertising. Tools such as pigments, photographic materials, and digital equipment that are literally poisonous to the human body and violently devastating to the environment produce these beautiful, powerful, sometimes problematic images.  Many of these technologies are the result of a dominant power structure that is as toxic as the chemicals they deploy.

 You Can Find his available work here

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