The LSD portfolio comprises twenty offset litho prints on perforated card, each by a different artist. It was produced and published by Rob Tufnell, London over three years between 2013 and 2015. Tufnell invited artists from different generations to create a print on a uniform sheet of perforated ‘blotter’ (one of the ways of distributing doses of the drug LSD) but without the active hallucinogenic ingredient. Since the early 1970s many illegal manufacturers of LSD have distributed doses of the drug using sheets of absorbent paper – so-called ‘blotter’ – soaked in the chemical. The sheets were perforated so that it could be divided into 900 quarter-inch squares – each square being one dose of LSD. Both as a form of camouflage and as a means of identification, these sheets were often labelled with increasingly elaborate designs, becoming vehicles for a developing iconography or branding for the counter-cultural activity in search of personal liberation. Often these designs derived from the late modernism of pop and surrealism, as well as the aesthetic decadence of the late nineteenth century. The LSD portfolio engages with this history of countercultural re-coding of mainstream visual culture – testament to the range of response the publisher’s brief elicited.
Art & Language’s Part of an American Portrait 2013 is a description of the facial co-ordinates of the American actor John Wayne, written out in capital letters, one letter per tab. The dislocation that this strategy engenders in reading the text is an echo of the obsessive experience that can occur under the influence of hallucinogens and the intense observation it can lead to. Thomas Bayrle’s Fats Domino 2014 is a graphic head and shoulders portrait of the eponymous blues and rock and roll singer. He is portrayed in a kaleidoscopic manner, his features provided by the repeated image of a record turntable that also forms the field that he is set against – a turntable depicted on each tab. Kaleidoscopic transformation is also the structure adopted by Jim Drain for his Shadow Pit 2014, in which black and white silhouettes form an abstracted pattern within a structure of receding squares. It also informs the hidden imagery in Philip Taafe’s Untitled 2014 and the disrupted pattern making of Richard Wright’s Untitled 2013.
Repetition and seriality, however, are the dominant strategies within the portfolio: Steven Claydon’s Black and Speckled 2014 derives from an image of a man wearing cartoonish spiral glasses – the image being repeated across the sheet 100 times (each image occupying a square made up of nine tabs). Jeremy Deller’s Industry and Technology 2013 repeats the award sign for Excellence in Industry and Technology 900 times on the sheet, one sign per tab, as if LSD and its hallucinogenic effect should receive such an institutionalised seal of approval. Mark Leckey’s Untitled 2014 presents a repeated segmented set of diminishing circles, each circle occupying a square of four tabs. Chris Martin’s Untitled 2015 consists of a cartoon image of an orange frog on its hind legs against a green background – each image occupying a square of nine tabs. Laura Owens’ Untitled 2014 is made up of repeated sets of cartoon toy eyes arranged seemingly at random over the sheet. David Shrigley’s Strive for Excellence 2013 repeats the title’s statement written in a square made up of four tabs. Pae White’s Untitled 2013 is a repeating design made up of interlocking embryonic animals that appears as if over-exposed towards the bottom edge of the sheet where a white silhouette of a woman’s head and shoulders appears – a figure supposedly in a state of reverie or undergoing enlightenment.
Alternatively, other artists have opted to present a single image on the sheet that the separation of the tabs would then fragment. Henning Bohl’s Untitled 2014 provides an abstract image of overlaying planes and the shadows they cast. Liam Gillick’s Libra Solidus Denarius 2013 presents the Latin phrase (a popular term for Pounds, Shilling and Pence but also, ironically, abbreviated to Lsd) in three lines. Rodney Graham’s Tiny Tim Tabs 2014 is a photograph in profile of the performer beloved of hippy designer of Oz magazine, Martin Sharp. Carsten Holler’s Untitled 2015 is a photograph of a toadstool – perhaps hallucinogenic, perhaps deadly. Aleksandra Mir’s Mandala (USA Medium) 2013 re-presents the Stars and Stripes American national flag as a mandala – the stars occupying a circle at the centre and the stripes being concentric circles surrounding it. Matt Mullican’s Untitled 2015 is a handwritten number ‘2’ surrounded by a cursive frame of looping pen strokes. Tal R’s Deaf Institute 2014 is a drawing of a backyard scene of a fenced yard looking towards a building, with an eye drawn on the picket fence. Mungo Thomson’s Negative Space (STSciPRC199914d) 2013 is an image of the moon.
The stated aim of the LSD portfolio was to highlight the links between both the ‘shamanic, drug induced rituals of prehistory’ and the ‘signatory grid of modernism’ described by the grid of perforated squares that makes up each print (quoted at http://www.robtufnell.com/Exhibitions/LSD/index.html, accessed July 2017). The significance of these connections between psychedelia and modernism have recently started to be investigated, most notably in the exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (and touring) from 2016 – and are underscored by the different responses to Tufnell’s brief made by the artists.
The portfolio was published in an edition of one hundred, of which Tate’s copy is number ten.
Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 2016.
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