Collecting Health in The New York Times

Collecting Health in The New York Times

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What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in March

Jillian Steinhauer
March 13, 2024

This week in Newly Reviewed, Jillian Steinhauer covers Maria Prymachenko’s allegorical paintings, Khadim Ali’s imagined creatures and Jody Wood’s “Social Pharmacy.

If our society is sick, then Jody Wood proposes a partial treatment. Her project “Social Pharmacy,” from 2021 onward, invites people to exchange remedies for physical and mental ailments. It takes the form of a small, mobile structure with red walls and wooden shelves, which hold items like herbs, fruits and vegetables. A tag on each explains what it’s for and how it’s used.

Some recommendations are straightforward — ginger tea to ward off colds — while others are delightfully abstract, like a cinnamon stick prescribed “for overthinking.” The pharmacy is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via Wood’s exhibition “Collecting Health,” which also includes photographs, sculptures and video. Visitors are invited to take something and in turn, fill out a questionnaire describing a remedy of their own. Gallery staff then stock it.

Wood works in a lineage of social practice artists trying to reimagine how we relate to one another and by extension, the systems that govern those relations. “Social Pharmacy” elegantly emphasizes that illness is not just a solitary matter, but also bound up with the health of others — a hard lesson of the coronavirus pandemic. By privileging community knowledge, Wood looks for solutions beyond institutions — itself a double-edged remedy. She started the project in New Brunswick, N.J., a city with many hospitals and low vaccination rates. Her video “Against Medical Advice” (2021) features impoverished residents at a food pantry discussing their distrust of the medical establishment. In the face of systemic inequality, community care is empowering, but limited.