Scratching Wounds: The Sad Truth about Pharmaceutical Products

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The TIME OUT series is making its sixth appearance at the Ars Electronica Center to showcase the considerable talents of students in the Time-based and Interactive Media program at Linz Art University. This exhibition was curated jointly by Gerhard Funk, the program’s director, and Gerfried Stocker, artistic director of Ars Electronica.

One of the works is “Scratching Wounds” by young media artist Karol Kensy. The installation consists of a turntable hooked up to a projector. As soon as the turntable starts to spin the record album created with a Ms. Pinky timecode vinyl system, advertisements for various pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and detergents are projected onto the wall of the installation space. And as soon as an installation visitor “scratches” the record—i.e. moves his/her hand back and forth across its surface—video material documenting the products’ ingredients being tested on animals is mixed into the advertising. Thus, in a metaphorical sense, one is “scratching” on wounds.

We talked to Karol Kensy about the elaborate investigation he conducted, how vigilant consumers can avoid purchasing such products, and how widespread animal testing still is.

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Which pharmaceutical ads did you select and why those in particular?

Karol Kensy: In addition to ads for various painkillers and other pharmaceuticals, we decided over the course of the project to go with advertising for cosmetics and grooming products. The reason for this was that, as I went about my research, I realized how often the same ingredients that are hazardous to people’s health or are tested on animals are used in these products, and how much of these ingredients are in them. In making my selection, I tended to keep an eye out for very presumptuous, bizarre and ridiculous ads in order to heighten the contrast in the work.

As soon as you scratch the record, these commercials are replaced by videos of these animal tests. Are they directly connected to the advertising videos?

Karol Kensy: No, the videos aren’t directly connected to the advertising since, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find any good video material at all showing animal testing, to say nothing of information pertaining to it. Nevertheless, I was able to find out which of the products’ ingredients were tested on animals, and most of them are by no means harmless substances. Basically speaking, these are questionable ingredients that cause suffering to animals.

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How widespread is animal testing nowadays?

Karol Kensy: According to PETA and a few other organizations, animal testing—for example, in Germany—has been banned since 1998. In the EU as well, cosmetic guidelines in force since 2009 provide for a partial ban on the sale of products that contain ingredients that were tested on animals. Here, I’d say that the operative word is “partial.” Such regulations are often not transparent and there are possibilities to perform the animal tests abroad. Furthermore, who ever looks to see the origins of these things when they’re making a purchase?

What do you have to look out for if you want only products containing no ingredients that were tested on animals?

Karol Kensy: Even after doing all this research, I can’t really answer that question because there are simply no guarantees here and, like I said, the laws are awfully inscrutable. Nevertheless, there’s a website that really helped me in my investigations:

With the help of organizations with no ties to the industry, this website gathers information about products and their ingredients. Their database—which is just huge at this point—is a very convenient way to find out which substances occur in which products, where they’re from, whether they’re questionable for humans, and they also occasionally make available info about animal testing.

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How did you come up with the idea of linking the videos to a turntable?

Karol Kensy: Since I’m an avid DJ and record collector, I simply followed my passion in order to make the job of programming, which I’m really not that into, somewhat more bearable. At the same time, I realized that it’s a perfect metaphor, so that’s how the title of the work came about.

The opening of TIME OUT .06 was on June 8, 2016. Students’ works can be visited anytime during the museum opening times.