Alibi V.25 No.44 • Nov 3-9, 2016 

Culture Shock

Tonic for the Spirit

Allison Pharmakis investigates the human condition at GRAFT

Allison Pharmakis
Allison Pharmakis

A short list of things I googled when I went home after interviewing Allison Pharmakis: 1) theosophy: a collection of mystical philosophies culled from many belief systems that express the divinity of the individual and the world surrounding her; 2) Mary Warren: the eldest accuser at the Salem witch trials, later accused of being a witch herself; 3) the seven rays: Each chakra—centers of spiritual power on the human body—vibrates harmoniously with a specific color, called a ray. To say the conversation was vast and illuminating doesn't quite sum it up; Pharmakis is candid and intelligent, but to only mention that would be undercutting how inquisitive, open and attentive she is. Pharmakis is many more things, too—a photographer, a spiritualist and a mixed media artist, for starters.

Some of the many iterations of Pharmakis will surface in her upcoming solo exhibition at GRAFT called On Being Human. “It's an examination of [the question] … are we spiritual beings having a human experience or are we human beings having a spiritual experience?” She explained, decisively siding with the former as most true in her experience and research—of which there are whole binders full of notes and articles that she referenced for the construction of pieces in the exhibition. “I started doing a lot of research into subtle energy bodies … and working with those concepts in my art. People were really receptive to it,” she elaborated. “I feel like there's a place where I can be of service there, blending my photography and mixed media art and the research that I do. The show is the outcome of that.”

Soft sculptural material, photography and collage are merged in the works—all surfeited with minute details that speak to the exquisite attention and ideation Pharmakis applies to her work.

Soft sculptural material, photography and collage are merged in the works—all surfeited with minute details that speak to the exquisite attention and ideation Pharmakis applies to her work. “I feel like it's a responsibility personally to be smart about what it is I'm doing and to embody [it],” she said. And the work is largely meant to be healing—for viewers especially—but for Pharmakis as the artist, too. “I put a lot of intention into the pieces … I was excited to do the show because I thought it would be an opportunity to work on my own balance.” In a time where what is traditionally thought of as feminine—qualities like gentleness, receptivity and patience—are derided or undervalued, Pharmakis sees a need for balance between the feminine and masculine sides that reside in all of us. “That creates a balanced human being,” she concluded.

The works address how to mend fractured lives and achieve harmony through colors (the seven rays), themes, energies (à la theosophy, the spiritual tract that resonates most with the artist) and “what visuals I can put out there to help people think about these things so that they can invoke a little bit of that [balance].” Pharmakis feels especially compelled to facilitate the healing of women, and as such, they are frequently the subjects of her photos. For example, many of the works incorporate images from a photographic series she did in LA called The Subtle Body Project—nudes of women shot aerially in their personal spaces. “The images are women from above, almost being dropped to Earth, finding themselves having this human experience from a place higher up,” Pharmakis illumined, a concept that speaks to the overall themes of On Being Human.

As we sat on opposite sides of a table at Zendo, coffees in our respective hands, Pharmakis told me she had just finished up one of her large sculptural pieces for the show the night before. Still, she was already percolating ideas about ancestral DNA (important for thousands of reasons, one of which being that Pharmakis is a descendent of Mary Warren) and how to address that as an avenue toward healing in future work. One can only imagine the innovative works and ideas that Pharmakis will plunge into next, and the many new things she will teach us along the way. On Being Human opens at GRAFT (1415 Fourth Street SE) on Nov. 4, with a reception from 6-10pm and will stay up until Nov. 25.