Friday, 17 April 2015


If I am exposed to the suggestion that this a bad time of year for a cold or flu, will I become sick? Am I ill because I have seen the advert for Beecham's Cold and Flu or do they really care?

Psychogenic pain or that pain which is derived from prolonged emotional stress is not taken seriously in society (and certainly not by my mum) but specialists consider it no less 'actual' than other forms of more socially acceptable suffering (if there should be such a thing). The International Association for the Study of Pain (yes I know, I want to be a member too) states that,

'Many people report pain in the absence of tissue damage. If they regard their experience as pain and if they report it in the same ways as pain caused by tissue damage, it should be accepted as pain.'

Nocebo (Latin 'I will harm') is the opposite of Placebo (Latin:I will please'). If I take a sugar pill placebo thinking it is medicine for my headache, my headache will be eased or 'cured'. The Nocebo however is its evil twin, if I take something knowing it is poison i will become sick and I may even die. Ironically, there is a case where a man overdosed on a Placebo, thinking it to be the real drug and he collapsed. The power of the suggestion is so strong that it releases such chemicals in the body that can lead to real dangerous and debilitating illness. This is the power of the imagination...this is art.

Power of suggestion 'I suggest' goes beyond the medical, especially in cultural and societal terms and a form of hypochondria can be easily transplanted into how we imbue meaning where there is none, in art. I would go so far as to say that actually, the greatest art is that which is open enough to allow such an exchange to occur. It fits with the notion of Pareidolia (of which i do harp on about quite a lot I know) but I see similarities in the imagining of shapes where there is none (see Giotto in a potato chip). I feel the power of suggestion physically impacting on my existential well being when I stand in front of something wonderful or terrible.

If we accept the amazing power of art to heal then art must have an evil twin too. Studies have shown clearly that cultural Nocebo effects can be passed around ironically like a real virus from individual to individual. What, in the past, used to be spread through a small community by gossip and here-say, can now carry to vast swathes of the population by popular culture and social media and the only arbiters of the nation's health are infected with this filth themselves (this includes me by the way and this blog is severely infected).

So when you look at a tablet, does it say, 'this is a cure' or does it say 'you need me because you are sick'?

I am bombarded with photographic equivalents of Placebo, works offering healing in the atoms and chemicals and pixels, all I am asked to do is believe and i will feel better. Wearing my brutal, atheistic, objectivist hat, I am considering the legacy of works that rely on these cultural perimeters of the present to sell themselves. Works we feel are strong now, may mean very little in the future and other ignored works will become future masterpieces. A good example I have always felt is the horror film genre, which is especially susceptible and responds to the era it is created in but always fails to resonate in quite the same way to a future audience.

Do you want to feel better?

There are so many cures on offer and if we are creatively self-medicating perhaps we should be aware of what we are taking, where it comes from and who is selling it to us (like breast milk on the internet). Ultimately though we must ask what we need to feel better about.

Here are some pills for you to take, some are Placebo, some are Nocebo and some are real.

Image_9079, from series Nocebo © Richard Ansett 2015

Image_9088, from series Nocebo © Richard Ansett 2015

Image_9524, from series Nocebo © Richard Ansett 2015

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