Ramiken Crucible, New York, USA
There’s only one work in Dora Budor’s ‘Ephemerol’, but it’s a big one, with an equally big title: We see you so often these days. How nice is it to find a patient who regards his status seriously. What status? His status as a patient. People tend to forget they are patients. Once they leave the doctor’s office or the hospital, they simply put it out of their minds. But you are all permanent patients, like it or not. I am the Doctor, you are the Patient. Doctor doesn’t cease being a doctor at close of day. Neither should patient. (2016). If you’re still with me, and are a fan of the director David Cronenberg, you might recognize Ephemerol as the fictional drug from his disturbing, dystopian sci-fi film Scanners (1981). When given to pregnant mothers as a sedative, the drug unintentionally endows their offspring with destructive, telepathic abilities. The film follows these ‘Scanners’ as they try to escape the clutches of the ‘Big Pharma’ security company ConSec. In one scene, the protagonist takes brief reprieve inside a giant head in an artist’s studio, which Budor’s work directly replicates. This is a departure for Budor, whose sculptures typically comprise actual set pieces – scale models from The Fifth Element (1997), Batman Returns (1992) and Johnny Mnemonic (1995), for instance – with added appendages, as in her 2015 Swiss Institute exhibition, ‘Spring’.
In Scanners, the head is an opaque shell for a rag-tag seating area. In ‘Ephemerol’, the head is reconstituted as a mould of translucent plastic; Budor presumably would have used the original, however, had it not been destroyed during filming. Constructed in various sections, the head is held together by metal scaffolding covered in ‘FX rust’ – a painted patina used by Hollywood set designers. In size and stature, the sculpture recalls a toppled Easter Island moai, though its facial features are more Hellraiser (1987). Inside the cranium, an (off-limits) seating area, fashioned from wide strips of tongue-like expandable foam, emulates Verner Panton’s psychedelic VISIONA II (1970) lounge, its undulating seats seamlessly melded with the floor, walls and ceiling. Ostensibly, this is a nod to Scanners’s over-the-top, almost camp production design – bright interiors of corporate headquarters and futuristic shopping malls, all seemingly made of Formica – except here it’s drained of colour and looks more like a fleshy organ.
‘Ephemerol’ elucidates how Budor’s interest in horror and sci-fi genres pertains not only to the fantastical and macabre ways bodies are transformed and deformed but in how those changes reflect larger fears about corporate malfeasance, technological and social control, and the security-state apparatus.
‘Ephemerol’ recalls the sedative’s real-life near-equivalent, Thalidomide, which was also given to pregnant mothers to treat morning sickness from 1957 until 1961, when it was banned for causing babies to be born with missing or abnormal limbs. Reality and science fiction are not so dissimilar. The work also references current anxieties around xenohormones like Bisphenol A (BPA), a high level of exposure to which can negatively effect the ‘brain, behaviour and prostate gland of foetuses, infants and children’, according to the Mayo Clinic. BPA is used to harden plastics and epoxy resin, which also means Budor used it to harden We see you so often … Feeling paranoid yet? Just don’t lick the sculpture.
Although it engages with these interesting themes, the question remains whether Budor’s sculpture overly depends on its cinematic source material for appeal. Unfortunately, the artist’s work is disadvantaged when, inevitably, a comparison is drawn between the two; in its visual and narrative complexity, the film overshadows the installation. ‘Ephemerol’ is a fine artwork, but it’s hard for Budor to compete with a two-hour-long cult movie, replete with fascinating objects, set pieces and plot lines. In comparison, her monumental head seems inert. Other artists, such as Douglas Gordon, succeed in making their filmic appropriations uniquely their own, but ‘Ephemerol’ is more Cronenberg than Budor.
First published in Issue 181