The phrase ‘m-Health’ (mobile health) emerged in the mid-2000s as an umbrella term to describe the use of mobile communications and network technologies in healthcare delivery. A logical step for a hyper-connected world, m-Health has enabled substantial advancements in diagnostic support and remote monitoring, while facilitating vital medical training in low-income countries with little permanent infrastructure in place. In recent years, however, an alternate, more commercially aware version of m-Health has emerged. The focus of a recent exhibition at London’s Cell Project Space, this iteration has spawned a seemingly innumerable number of digital therapy apps from Headspace to buddhify, increased the amount of YouTube-based yogis tenfold and exacerbated a widespread commoditization and subsequent fetishization of personal time and space.
Opening the show were a selection of objects from Andreas Ervik’s project SANKE (2014–ongoing), a luxury cosmetics brand offering ‘avant-luxury for supreme well-being’. On a plinth sat three bespoke products: LEIRE, a 100% clay skin-rub; HAV, a 100% algae cleanser; and REGN, a perfume carrying the scent of earth after rain. While evidently employed as caricatures of marketing exoticizing the readily available, these objects held their own as products. Elegantly arranged, they were seductive, desirable items and illustrative of the farcical way in which we have come to appreciate natural products: in a wholly unnatural way.
Considering the numerous adaptations of commercialized health, SANKE might have been the precursor to a diversity of artistic responses. Instead, near-indistinguishable arguments for the displacement of nature to accommodate social wellbeing echoed throughout Cell, losing emphasis with each wave. Pablo Jones-Soler installed two utilitarian steel benches in concrete, around which shells and twigs played an elegy to rurality (Benches, 2015); Hannah Lees used tufts of phragmites grass, their fragile stems contrasting with the kitsch amethyst gravel holding them in place (our life, that temporary eclipse to that other …, 2015); and, for Hazey (2015), Ian Giles created a natural spa using man-made products including speakers, teal benches and aroma diffusers. Although each work presented a valid case, none significantly furthered the arguments of SANKE, and while hints of anti-capitalist sentiment were perceptible beneath the incense of Hazey, explicit condemnation was tempered by a desire for legibility.
The artists that offered variations on this theme were Jonny JJ Winter and Rachel Reupke. For his performance, … presents Genius Bar, presents Guru Bar, presents Shangrilalalala Bar, presents skinny strala e-juice luau III: re-refreshed (2015), Winter manned a pop-up bar at the exhibition’s opening. Rustic, exclusive and peddling health-infused drinks, the bar exemplified what a faction of society has come to covet and consume: nutritional products with a no-added-sugar image. As Winter demonstrated in the weeks following the launch by leaving the littered bar untouched, this airbrushed ‘natural’ is far from realistic. Orange juice fermented, carrots began to rot, liquids developed skins and a more honest organic grew over the surface.
Reupke’s video – Containing Matters of No Very Peaceable Colour (2009) – attends to the exploitative drive of marketing campaigns. Accompanying a cycle of stock photographs of folded towels, a computerized voice-over describes a series of health and fitness adverts. Buzzwords include ‘healthy’, ‘Caucasian’ and ‘women’, but stretch to ‘ageing-process’, ‘sixties’ and ‘heart attack’. In deconstructing the adverts, Reupke unveils the manipulative framework that lies beneath merchandizing’s appeal to generalized demographics. The work communicated better than any other on show the extent to which health has now been illogically, irresponsibly and irredeemably transformed into a product.
As visualized by this exhibition, m-Health is both fascinating and an apt metaphor for the forcefulness and occasional absurdity of 21st-century consumerism. Though the works that revealed were comprehensively outnumbered by those that reiterated, ‘m-Health’ itself did not stand as a duplication but as an ambitious, if at times lacklustre, attempt to make a progressive stride into the problematic and often-unquestioned realm of the everyday.