Visualising Addiction

Experiences of addiction span human history and extend across all cultures. Yet it was not until 1877 that Eduard Levinstein published the first Western medical definition of addiction. Since then, our understanding of addiction has continued to evolve. From the 1970s onward, the notion of what constitutes an addictive source expanded to include sugar, pornography, gambling, sex, shopping and, more recently, internet usage and gaming. Today, addiction in all its forms constitutes a major public health issue. Stigma and shame endure, shaping societal attitudes towards addictive behaviour and the possibility of rehabilitation.  

This panel welcomed papers on the representation of substance and behavioural addictions in visual culture. What does addiction look like? How has the experience of addiction been rendered in visual and performance art? How do people with substance or behavioural addictions view themselves? How is art used in addiction recovery? What do these visualisations tell us about how society views addiction? 

The art-historical treatment of addiction has been dominated by Western perspectives and voices, which risks reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes and limits understanding of the complex relationship between addiction and identity. We are especially interested in constructing a more complex global narrative of addiction through its visualisations.

Session Convenors: 

Hannah Halliwell, University of Edinburgh 

Lucy Weir, University of Edinburgh


Barbara Barreiro Leon, University of Aberdeen 

Representations of new identities and drug use in 20th Century Spanish Cinema: Quinqui Cinema and La Movida

During the Transition period from Dictatorship to Democracy in Spain, different film genres emerged to portray and represent the country’s social changes and new identities. These new moments brought with them the inclusion of social and countercultural freedoms, among which drug use was included as part of the romanticization of the golden period of Spanish modernity. 

Quinqui cinema was one of the examples in which marginalization with respect to crime and drugs was explored the most. A cinema in which the protagonists were criminals and drug users. Not only this, but these narratives are famous for the main character, who even becomes an icon of transgression in that new Spain that was being forged. 

On the other hand, and during La Movida, drug use was more idealized, since consumers were not criminals, but normal people who entered the world of art and underground music. These new characters of the countercultural and punk dynamism in Spain are presented as young people who experiment with sex, alcohol, and drugs. This genre, not only cinematographic, but cultural, will leave a very important mark on Spanish popular and artistic culture. 

The different modes of representation, the narratives and the prototypes bring us closer to a new social reality in the last decades of the 20th century in Spain. This document aims to analyse and study the new archetypes and the different forms of idealization of drug use through Spanish cinema and using two specific and significant genres of this moment of change. 

Manuvelraj Ponnudurai, Independent Researcher 

Behavioural Addictions and Indian Culture, Indian Movies and Visual Culture: A Critical Inquiry of Women Drug Addiction in India.

The Republic of India aka Bharat has a long historical continuity and renowned for its rich cultural heritage. Traditionally, for the people, this country is being revered as ‘Mother India’ (Bharat Mata) for the glorification of feminine power (Shakthi) but in contrast when India majestically celebrated its 75 years of Independence (2022) the country encountered a great social menace of women drug addiction. Over the last three decades, the use of illegal drugs has spread to practically nook and corner of the globe severely affecting most of the country’s citizens in the form of drug addiction. Perhaps the biggest problem is that it makes its deepest impression on those most vulnerable. Like many other societies, India is undergoing transition and Indian women, who culturally appeared to have some kind of immunity to drug addiction, at least in terms of ‘social inoculation’, are now recognised as also being susceptible to drug use and its related problems. Over the years several Indian movies have portrayed women drug addiction in the context of ‘Indian culture.’  

This study based on art historical approach, aims to examine women drug addiction in the real life   and in some film portrayals and it will scrutinise the recovery measures adopted by Government of India (if any). On the basis of available visuals (from real and reel) this work will also try to find out the views of the society regarding women drug addiction. Since, this research is related with gender and to strengthen the arguments it will explore how the social barriers or the stereotypes relating to addiction is being viewed. For the purpose of visual culture this inquiry will try to analyse the ‘women drug addiction’ being portrayed in different regional Indian movies in our times. This paper will also investigate how the assertions of ‘Indian Culture’ are getting channelled through the kind of narrative being produces about the women drug addiction in the real life vis-à-vis the cinematographic portrayals. 

Yana Shtilman, Université Paris Cité 

Ballads of Dependency: visualization of sexual and drug addictions in Nan Goldin’s portraits of Cookie Mueller and Greer Lankton

This paper is devoted to Nan Goldin’s photographs depicting the lives of actress Cookie Mueller and transgender model and artist Greer Lankton shot in the 1970s-1980s in the US. Using photography and gender studies theoretical frame (for example, theories of Judith Butler and Nikki Sullivan), it analyses visual patterns of documenting different forms of addiction (drug and sexual) and female and female transgender identities.  

This paper suggests that it is crucial to study Goldin’s photographs since they stand aside from stigmatized depictions of drug-addicted people shot by professional reporters who would alienate their subjects in most cases. Unlike them, Goldin was a close friend of both Mueller and Lankton. She took their intimate portraits while living together and being a part of women’s major life events for several years. Moreover, Goldin’s images suggest non-conventional representations of sexual life and intimacy. Considering the complex identity of her models (for instance, Greer Lankton) and the stigma around transgender women who are often oversexualized and fetishized by media, Goldin’s portraits tend to humanize and personify the individual experience of Lankton.   

While maintaining a critical approach towards Goldin’s methods (I refer to Louise Kaplan’s critics of her in her book American Exposures (2005)), I, however, argue that intimate series with Mueller and Lankton create non-conventional and unstigmatized representations of addiction and identity. The corpus of this paper is Goldin’s series with Cookie Mueller and Greer Lankton. 

Belinda Thomson,  University of Edinburgh 

‘For Body, Brain and Nerves’: the Vin Mariani phenomenon

In 1871, Vin Mariani was launched in France. Developed in Paris by a Corsican chemist and based on a secret recipe combining red Bordeaux wine with coca leaf from Peru, where the coca plant’s analgesic and stimulant action had long been valued, within two decades Mariani’s tonic wine had become a phenomenal international success.   

The therapeutic claims made for Vin Mariani were multiple, its effects on ‘body, brain and nerves’ instantaneous but also progressive according to its promoters. Presented in an instantly-recognisable bottle, Vin Mariani quickly won adherents among the social elite, including royalty, heads of state and Popes; opera singers and public speakers extolled its relaxing effects on the vocal chords. Dosed to adults and children, the danger of potential addiction was not acknowledged, yet the mood-enhancing, stimulant effects of Vin Mariani strongly hint at the likely addictive outcomes. As the potential harm associated with cocaine became recognised, the coca-based constituents were gradually eliminated from the formula, and the drink’s popularity accordingly waned.  

Keen to capitalise on his product’s social cachet, Mariani engaged talented writers and artists in an unprecedented advertising campaign involving celebrity endorsements. Between 1894 and 1925 a series of flattering portraits and mini-biographies was published, gathered together in albums under the heading Figures contemporaines. In return the celebrities gave Mariani’s miraculous elixir their handwritten testimonial; for artists and illustrators, the endorsement typically took visual form. This paper explores the various ways in which artists enlisted to promote Vin Mariani sought to visualise its effects. 

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