SURVIVAL 20. Art Review | PILLS

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes… The blue pill meant comfortable living in the illusion of the system, the red one – life in the unbearable truth. They offered a choice between two realities, or rather two separate states of consciousness in a world where the real was based on simulation. While Lily Wachowski has recently applauded the interpretation that The Matrix is a trans metaphor – in the 1990s, estrogen given to women during the process of gender reassignment was in red pills – this symbol of rejecting the offered knowledge in favour of a conformist illusion began to live a life of its own.

The red pill has become a sign of men’s rights activists, so-called red-pillers, claiming that they have realised the truth that society unfairly benefits and favours women, who rule the world without taking responsibility for it. Internet groups, such as the misogynistic TheRedPill, operating on reddit since 2016 (now “in quarantine”), which mainly bring together men expressing their frustrations, explaining the world to other red-pillers and offering dietary or training advice, is just one of the areas of the alt-right internet coded with multicoloured pills. A black pill denotes the nihilistic belief in the impossibility of changing the system; green – eco-fascism; pink – women living in involuntary celibacy; purple – the incel version of centrism; white – acceptance and action for the system; there are also iron, bread, rape, dog and other pills.

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

Being “pilled” may be a shorthand for a general political awakening – as is the case with the red pill – and taking further steps towards extremist views (most often extreme-right, but not only). In May 2020, to express criticism of what he viewed as government overreach in keeping businesses shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Elon Musk tweeted “Take the red pill,” to which Ivanka Trump replied “Taken,” prompting Lily Wachowski’s response “Fuck both of you.” The ideology encapsulated in pharmacological symbolism not only implies an uncompromising attitude to selected ideas, but also suggests a corporeal relationship with one’s worldview, in which adopting it literally means embodying it. Given that the language of ideological pill-popping emerged and thrives largely in online communities, the interpenetration of virtual worlds and AFK (away from keyboard) raises key questions about radicalisation of attitudes, the morphing of physical and digital bodies, and the relationships we build with the surroundings.

Apart from functioning as virtual metaphors, mind-altering pills are first and foremost psychoactive substances taken by a growing part of modern societies – over 30% of Europeans have used illicit psychoactive substances at least once in their life, and many of them take psychotropic drugs. These statistics do not take into account legal and unregulated psychoactive substances, such as alcohol, caffeine or nicotine. Taking a substance that affects one’s state of consciousness is not necessarily a radical choice or a dramatic alternative between truth and illusion; recreational consumption is the most frequent reason.

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

Inducing altered states of consciousness and alternative sensations has accompanied mankind – and other species – at least since the beginnings of civilisation, and its connection with culture and creativity has been described many times; for example, 2022 marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of Witkacy’s Narcotics. The history of legalising and criminalising individual psychoactive substances is a telling testimony to cultural, social and political changes. The ways and purposes of using them, from escapism to healing rituals, indicate complex and unapparent relationships between consciousness and the surrounding reality.

Non-neurotypical persons as well as those with mental illnesses take psychoactive substances every day in order to be brought closer to what is considered normal and be able to participate in social life. Although the taboo on mental illness seems to be slowly breaking, as evidenced by the growing numbers of people seeking professional help, many of them are denied help due to the ongoing mental health crisis in Poland. Mental diseases are treated as an individual problem, not a systemic one, despite the fact that complex factors contribute to the appearance of the symptoms.

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

In his analysis of capitalist realism, Mark Fisher emphasises the important role of depoliticising mental health. While he does not question the neurological origin of mental illness, e.g. low levels of serotonin in the brain, in the capitalist logic based on atomised singularity there is no room for inquiry as to the reasons for this. In the essay The Privatisation of Stress, he draws attention to anxiety-inducing factors inherent in capitalism, such as precarisation of work, self-surveillance and constant monitoring, the productivity and constant availability trap, competitive individualism.

The privatisation of stress is a perfect capture system, elegant in its brutal efficiency. Capital makes the worker ill, and then multinational pharmaceutical companies sell them drugs to make them better. The social and political causation of distress is neatly sidestepped at the same time as discontent is individualised and interiorised. (…) It is clearly easier to prescribe a drug than a wholesale change in the way society is organised.

Acknowledging that a mental health crisis is not only a social issue, but also a political one, can be a step towards a better understanding of our relationship with psychotropic drugs and other psychoactive substances, leading to the recognition of their systemic, not just individual, role. As America’s massive opioid crisis has unambiguously proven, the path between prescription medication and illegal drugs can be shockingly short.

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

The flip side of trade in regulated substances is the existence of producers and distributors operating outside the law, who create an alternative market for pills and other psychoactive substances, which functions in various social systems and spaces. While the long-standing association of drug peddling with the “social margin” has little to do with the contemporary drug trade, the problem of addiction is often portrayed as a classist one. The place where Survival will take place in 2022 was once called the “Bermuda Triangle” and considered the most dangerous part of Wrocław – a hotbed of social dysfunctions, crime and drug dealing. The area along Traugutta Street – which is currently the battlefield between Polish Public Television, which broadcast a report presenting this part of the city in contemptible light, and its residents and local authorities, who in turn demand an apology – provides an important context for a reflection on stigmatisation, mechanisms of reproduction of violence and the available escape routes.

Misinformation, mental shortcuts, messages lacking nuance, intended to explain the world in a simple and unambiguous way – all of them have become inalienable elements of our information space. Consuming an endless stream of news resembles compulsive pill-popping; the news industry, well aware of this, is increasingly about infotainment, news that is served efficiently, almost in real time and with immediate effect. It should be dosed in mouthfuls, bites that can be swallowed whole and easily digested; there is no room for doubt, different points of view, what counts is the effective ideological essence.

We invite artists to submit proposals of works addressing the issues outlined above. We are interested in site-specific projects, new works as well as existing ones that are connected with the proposed subject. Please treat this text as a starting point, a general suggestion about some of the directions and a brief outline of several matters referring to the motto “Pills.” We are counting on works that will address the contemporary meanings of consciousness in a wide array of contexts, from both systemic and social perspectives, offering alternatives or carefully examining various mental and cognitive states.

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

Built in 1852–1916, the complex of hospital buildings on Traugutta Street currently constitutes one of the most interesting examples of historical hospital architecture in Poland. It is almost complete – out of ten buildings originally constructed in various architectural styles, nine have survived to our times. It is also Wrocław’s only institution of that size that was established by women and run by them until 1945. In the mid-nineteenth century, Evangelical deaconesses purchased the tavern “Under the Austrian Emperor” with a view to opening an infirmary there. A chapel was built next to it, soon followed by more buildings. The largest one of them, already heralding the advent of Modernism, was erected in 1913–1916. The entire complex was called “Bethany.” At first, the hospital had 80 beds; this number would eventually reach over 200, making it one of the largest in Wrocław. Patients were admitted regardless of their religion and treated in the departments of internal diseases, surgery, laryngology and gynaecology. The complex also comprised wards for infectious and chronically ill patients. After 1945, the hospital was given the name of Tadeusz Marciniak, and one of its facilities was designated as a children’s ward.

The location of this complex in the Przedmieście Oławskie housing estate turned out to be hugely important for its development. Situated in the eastern part of the city, it is one of the most interesting districts in Wrocław in terms of the variety of architecture. It is named after the trade road leading to the town of Oława and further towards Krakow. Before 1808, when Przedmieście Oławskie officially became part of the city, it was a recreational area often visited by bishops of Wrocław, among others. The character of the district began to change in mid-19th century due to the proximity of the railway station and the city centre, which favoured the development of manufacturing facilities and, consequently, an influx of inhabitants. Large tenement houses were built along the old trade route, with warehouses and small manufacturing facilities in their yards. The area along Traugutta Street became a kind of the first industrial centre of Wrocław. At the same time, on the other side of the “Bethany” hospital there were green areas of the Rakowiec village, which was a kind of entertainment centre where travelling artists would set up their circus tents alongside lupanars. The flip side of this form of lifestyle was the drama of the girls employed in these nomadic institutions, often very young, who in many cases were also sex workers. At the end of the 19th century, Wrocław had the highest number of sex workers in Germany, and many of them worked in Przedmieście Oławskie. A very important and completely unknown fact in the history of this neighbourhood was the opening of Wrocław’s first club for non-heteronormative people (who then called themselves “friends”) around 1920, soon followed by a second one in the vicinity of the “Bethany” hospital. After 1945, having survived the siege of Wrocław, Przedmieście Oławskie was quickly populated by newcomers and began to face the same problems as any district consisting mostly of tenement houses. During these post-war years, many legends arose around the area, which in the 1980s resulted in nicknaming it “the Bermuda Triangle.” Although this name is still commonly used, today it usually triggers associations with an interesting part of the city with many architectural monuments, community activation centres and pro-social initiatives.

photo: Małgorzata Kujda

former Bethanien hospital
Generała Romualda Traugutta 118, 50-422 Wrocław

>application form

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We invite you to submit proposals of art projects for the 20th edition of SURVIVAL Art Review, which will take place from 24 to 28 June 2022 in the former Bethanien hospital. “PILLS” is the slogan to which the proposed applications should refer.

When submitting a proposal, we ask you to take into account the character of the available spaces; we also consider displaying art projects outside of the building.

The deadline for submitting proposals expires on 27 February 2022. Proposals can be sent by completing the form and the attachments. The SURVIVAL curators will then choose artworks to be presented in the chosen venue.


photo: Małgorzata Kujda


SURVIVAL 20. Art Review
former Bethanien hospital
Generała Romualda Traugutta 118, 50-422 Wrocław

Curators: Michał Bieniek, Anna Kołodziejczyk, Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz, Ewa Pluta, Daniel Brożek

Organizer: Art Transparent Foundation /

Co-Organizer: The Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wroclaw /

Survival Art Review id co-financed by the Municipality of Wrocław /

Partner: OKRE / 

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