Arts·Artspots

From the archives: How Lilith Fair helped this Canadian artist start a '90s fashion trend

20 years ago, Colleen Wolstenholme brought Prozac Nation style to the music festival circuit. Watch Artspots.

20 years ago, Colleen Wolstenholme brought Prozac Nation style to the music festival circuit

Sarah McLachlan's necklace? That's a Colleen Wolstenholme original. (CBC Artspots)

From 1997 to 2008, CBC's Artspots profiled more than 300 Canadian artists from across the country. We're sharing re-edited cuts of the vintage videos this winter.

Name: Colleen Wolstenholme

Hometown: Hansport, N.S.

Artspots appearance: 2005

13 years ago…

Buspar tablets as big as coffee tables. Daisy chains made out of supersized doses of Effexor. 

At the beginning of this Artspots video, you'll see a few of Colleen Wolstenholme sculptures from the early 2000s, but when the Nova Scotia artist appeared on the show, she'd already been playing with pills for years.

It was the "Prozac Nation" '90s, and by the middle of the decade, Wolstenholme was casting prescription pills in precious metals.

The artist herself had some personal experience with antidepressants, and to make her molds, she'd source materials from friends. The project was her way of exploring the effect these common drugs were suddenly having on the world. Were they just an all-too-literal quick fix? And, since women were more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than men, there were politics at play, too. Something to think about before swallowing.

At first, Wolstenholme was reproducing drugs on a smaller, more life-sized scale. Think Klonopin charm bracelets and Paxil rings — wearable art objects that put the secret contents of amedicine cabinet out on display.

And the subversive jewelry line turned into a '90s fashion trend when her old friend Sarah McLachlan (Wolstenholme even co-wrote one of the songs on Surfacing) invited her and her wearable pharmacy on the Lilith Fair tour.

That's the story she shares in this video.

Colleen Wolstenholme's drug necklaces explored the effect common drugs were suddenly having on the world in the 1990s. 0:42

Today…

If you've seen Wolstenholme's prescription accessories in recent years, it might have been in the news.

Pill patents expire, but does the same concept apply to art?

British art star Damien Hirst, like Wolstenholme, has worked pill motifs into his work for years, but in late 2016 — after discovering items from his 2004 series of prescription-inspired accessories — Wolstenholme sued for copyright infringement.

A Colleen Wolstenholme bracelet. (Art Mur)
Charm bracelet by Damien Hirst. (Christie's Auction House)

Ultimately, though, the complaint was dismissed this past fall. While it's true that Hirst had made gold and silver charm bracelets — high-priced baubles almost identical to the ones worn by the Lilith Fair crowd — the judge decided the concepts behind both artists' work were distinctly different.

In the decades since her music-festival days, Wolstenholme's continued to be interested in feminist and biomedical themes, though her practice has taken a variety of directions beyond the medicine cabinet, all which you can see on her website. According to the the Art Mur gallery in Montreal, a solo exhibition of her work will appear there this fall.

Colleen Wolstenholme. Pantagram, 1999. (Art Mur)
Colleen Wolstenholme. Birthcontrol/Viagra Rosary, 1999. (Art Mur)
Colleen Wolstenholme. Spill, 2003. (Art Mur)
Colleen Wolstenholme. Mandala II, 1999. (Art Mur)
Colleen Wolstenholme. Daisies, 1999. (Art Mur)

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