The pharmakon is at once what enables care to be taken and that of which care must be taken–in the sense that it is necessary to pay attention: its power is curative to the immeasurable extent that it is also destructive.

Bernard Stiegler

The concept for pharmakon.art in large part derives from Bernard Stiegler’s book What Makes Life Worth Living: On Pharmacology, wherein he expounds upon how art and text might constitute a curative “pharmakon” for the eco-catastrophic nature of our current Anthropocene. “Pharmakon” is what Plato first called “writing,” that poison-cure for recorded speech. But the pharmakon was inherently paradoxical. While writing indeed “cured” the social ailment whereby a philosopher’s word would be forgotten by future generations, it was also a “poison” in that the written word could be perverted against the speaker’s actual intention. Stiegler sees the pharmakon through the lens of psychoanalysis when he theorizes it through D.W. Winnicott’s notion of a transitional object: that material–such as a doll or blanket–that a child imbues with special value to ease his or her transition from a presymbolic world of the mother-child dyad to the symbolic world of true object-relationships. Stiegler argues that the child’s transitional object is the first pharmakon, and, moreover, that the pharmakon’s most curative aspect is instanced by “the origin of works of art,” and, more generally, “the life of the mind.” That said, since the pharmakon-as-transitional object is naturally ambiguous–the world produced by way of it can just as easily be poisonous (dark) as curative (ethical)–much care needs to be taken of it.


Applying Stiegler’s contemporary take on the pharmakon, the activities documented on this website imagines the curative power that aesthetic and discursive pharmakons might have in our global crisis. How might art and text–those which are historically conscious–aid us in productively navigating our way through our contemporary Anthropocene, one plagued by global pandemics, financial crises, authoritarian populism and climatic disasters? Accordingly, pharmakon.art archives key pharmacological actions (past and present) produced by Juli Carson–in close collaboration with an international cohort of artists, scholars, curators and writers–as a means of promoting an ethical modality of art production as critical practice.


Juli Carson is Professor of Art at the University of California, Irvine, where she directs the Critical and Curatorial Area in the Department of Art. She is also Director of UCI’s University Art Galleries. From 2018-2019 she was Philippe Jabre Professor of Art History and Curating in the Department of Fine Art and Art History at the American University of Beirut. Her books on the convergence of psychoanalysis, hermeneutics and conceptual art include: Exile of the Imaginary: Politics, Aesthetics, Love (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2007), The Limits of Representation: Psychoanalysis and Critical Aesthetics (Buenos Aires: Letra Viva Press, 2011) and The Hermeneutic Impulse: Aesthetics of an Untethered Past (Berlin: PoLyPen, b_books Press, 2019).