Countercultural Intoxication: An Aesthetics of Transformation

Harris, Mark. 2011. Countercultural Intoxication: An Aesthetics of Transformation. In: Adam Lerner and Elissa Auther, eds. West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965–1977. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 324-343. ISBN 978-0-8166-7726-9 [Book Section]

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The essay discusses the impact of LSD experiences on West Coast counterculture experimental film and poetry of the 1960s and 1970s. It argues that significant changes in this period to the imagery and language of film and poetry corresponded to the expansion of perception induced by LSD, mescaline and peyote. The extreme transformation of perception caused in many users by such drug-related hallucinations set new thresholds for authentic experiences and emboldened new practices of collective living, off-grid communities, and alternative economies.

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Book Section

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This book West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977 was published to accompany the touring exhibition West of Center: The Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977, ( organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, Colorado (November 10, 2011–February 19, 2012), continuing at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona (September 29, 2012–January 6, 2013), at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon (February 9–April 28, 2013), and at the Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, California (June 12–September 1, 2013). The book has gained additional attention through its link to the exhibitions which have been extensively reviewed.

The book was also launched on January 21st, 2012, at the Alexander Gray Gallery, New York, NY. Reviews of the book appeared in Library Journal, March 1, 2012, by Jonathan Patkowski (; in Art Monthly, March 2012, by Colin Perry (; in Art Journal, Spring 2012, by Jennifer Doyle (; in Journal of American Culture, volume 35, issue 3, September 2012, by Kristin L. Ellsworth ( ; in Western American Literature, Volume 47, Number 4, Winter 2013, by Lois Rudnick (

I have worked extensively in my writing on researching how concepts of intoxication developed in modernity in response to demands for social transformation. I have shown how various forms of intoxication in the imagery and life practices of 19th-century poets and 20th-century Surrealists have served as forms of agency that are alternative to the militant avant-garde. I have also developed a studio practice that focuses on, amongst other subjects, the utopian wish-imagery of psychedelia and drug narratives.

This piece of writing relates to studio work of mine that includes drawn fictional accounts of drug disasters (Drug Dealer, 2005, exhibited O-Map, Modern Art Oxford, 2005, and State Fare, Wexner Center, Columbus Ohio, 2007); to videos I have made questioning historical accounts of hashish use (Marijuana in the UK, 1999, exhibited Kunst in der Stadt, Bregenz, Austria, 1999, Dream Machines, Hayward Gallery touring exhibition, 2000, and High Society, Wellcome Collection, 2010– to videos and drawings where I have worked with Chinese musicians to profile the utopian content of Mao Zedong’s Long March Poems (Mao Songs, 2005, exhibited State Fare, Wexner Center 2007, Year_06, Keith Talent Gallery, London, 2006, American Idyll, Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati, 2006, and Dial Collect, SOMArts, San Francisco, 2013)–
and to drawings and paintings, on which I continue to work, concerning the artwork and social communities of American communes of the 1960s (Morning Star, 2011–present, exhibited: Country Club Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2010–
London Open, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2012– and profiled online by the Drawing Center, New York, in Drawing from Photography, Redux Part 3, 2012–

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17 May 2013 07:09

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 15:51


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