Field Projects is proud to present our winter open call exhibition, Show #17: Drunk-Tank Pink, curated by art critic Benjamin Sutton.  This exhibition features selected artists Xinyi Cheng, Hai-Hsin Huang, Heather McPherson, Christopher Moss, Maria Pithara, Rob Raphael, Christopher Rodriguez, Kelli Thompson, and Jessica Weiss.

“Merely fifteen minutes of exposure was enough to ensure that the potential for violent or aggressive behavior had been reduced. That’s not long. Pink is strong medicine!” — David Byrne, “Colors/Pink,” Cabinet Magazine, Summer 2003

Pink, a color that fills some of the most innocuous, sentimental and saccharine sectors of our visual culture, is a potent mood-altering substance. In 1979 Alexander G. Schauss, then the director of the Institute for Biosocial Research at City College in Tacoma, Washington, published the article “Tranquilizing Effect of Color Reduces Aggressive Behavior and Potential Violence” in the Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry.  In it, he detailed how a specific shade of pink created by mixing one pint of outdoor semi-gloss red trim paint and one gallon of pure white indoor latex paint (try it at home!) had, at his urging, been used to coat a holding cell for new inmates at Seattle’s U.S. Naval Correctional Center.  The new arrivals, typically the most violent detainees, turned docile after 15 minutes alone in the all-pink cells.  This breakthrough led Schauss to name the anger-reducing, heart rate-lowering, distractibility-curbing color after the center’s chief warrant officer Gene Baker and facility commander captain Ron Miller.  Baker-Miller pink began to appear in many jails, juvenile detention centers and penitentiaries on the west coast, eventually earning the nickname drunk-tank pink. In at least one case, though, when a group of inmates were put in an all-pink cell for an extended period of time the color did not have the intended effect, and the irate prisoners started scratching the rosy paint off the walls.

The nine artists in “Drunk-Tank Pink” harness the hue’s behavior-modifying properties to achieve extremes of numb sedateness and hair-pulling madness.  Hai-Hsin Huang’s paintings of demented figures in all-pink domestic interiors exemplify the latter strand. The room cast in a crisscrossing pattern of neon pink light in Christopher Rodriguez’s photograph seems destined to produce a similar result for its inhabitant.  The color’s sedative properties are showcased in Xinyi Cheng’s “Bathtub,” a strangely beautiful image of an utterly mundane scene. Kelli Thompson’s comically deadpan “Anna with Cat” also taps into pink’s calming qualities. Rob Raphael’s stacks of pink-splattered porcelain induce calm with their apparent precariousness. Maria Pithara’s textile assemblages evoke cells of the biological sort, as well as demented quilting. Several artists incorporate pinks into their stylized takes on portraiture: Jessica Weiss’s wallpaper-patterned silhouettes resemble uncannily anthropomorphic Rorschach tests; Heather McPherson’s practically abstract masks suggest disfigured and grimacing outcasts; and Christopher Moss’s cracked, emoticon-like character might be a smiley face OD’ing on Baker-Miller pink. These artists’ incredibly varied practices exemplify the full range of psychological states that pink can both reflect and provoke. No doubt they would make Dr. Schauss, now the chief evangelist of the açaí berry superfood movement, very proud.


Image: Hai-Hsin Huang, Untitled Pink