Melbourne, Australia

Lauren Burrow, Temper (detail), 2019, tempered glass, eucalyptus resin, 12' 9 1⁄2“ × 18' 3 5⁄8”.

Lauren Burrow, Temper (detail), 2019, tempered glass, eucalyptus resin, 12' 9 1⁄2“ × 18' 3 5⁄8”.

Lauren Burrow

TCB art inc.

Bad moods, vagueness, reluctance to interpolate, deanthropomorphised mouth, antidepressed fish: This 2019 piece, whose title was spelled out neatly in permanent marker on horizontal bands of toilet paper mounted high on the gallery walls, announced the key terms of Lauren Burrow’s exhibition. Titled “Nuisance Flows,” it was oriented around the scientific analysis of the effects of antidepressants, not on humans, but on fish, whose environments have become subject to pharmaceutical pollution in recent years. Around the world, antidepressants are turning up in wastewater effluent, eventually making their way into aquatic ecosystems. When they are absorbed by fish, the result can be a reduction in predator-avoidance behavior and thus increased vulnerability. Burrow is committed to working with toilet water as an artistic material and concept, having first created ice sculptures in 2015 from water siphoned from the public toilets at Melbourne’s busy Flinders Street Station. Burrow’s use of water from the toilet conjures an anonymous and—importantly—public body, one that interfaces with other bodies of water, other creatures, other environments.

On the ground, below the list, Burrow arranged pieces of shattered tempered glass into crisp, glittering shapes corresponding to the pharmaceutical logos that adorn antidepressant pill packets, including those of Cymbalta, Prozac, and Zoloft. Seeping out from one corner of the gallery like a large puddle, this floor drawing (Temper, 2019) left visitors delicately treading its perimeter. Contrasting with the watery hues of the pale-blue- and green-tinted glass were chunks of red-brown eucalyptus resin, a native Australian substance that Burrow had smashed into a fine rubble.

This material was also present in the titular Nuisance Flows, 2019—a cast of a municipal stormwater grate made with transparent epoxy resin unevenly interspersed with eucalyptus resin, encrusted with the rusty residue of the original grate, and finally coated with high-sheen transparent nail polish. Like gutter, drain, and toilet water, eucalyptus resin mediates between interior and exterior: The viscous substance floods holes bored into the tree’s trunk by parasites in order to entrap and ultimately expel the invaders. A stormwater grate is a mouth, allowing water to pass from the street to what lies beneath. Raised about eight inches off the ground on four steel brackets, the grate here became biomorphic, a kind of quadruped. This effect was augmented by the fact that, after years of having been driven over by heavy cars and trucks, the original object had warped. For the exhibition, Burrow had flipped the cast so that its concave curves became convex, lending it the appearance of a rib cage expanding and contracting with breath. This flipping also positioned the viewer on the grate’s “underside”—as if you were inside the drain, moving through the subterranean vascular system of the city itself. The relationship of the list high on the wall to the two floor-based works consolidated this reading of the exhibition along a vertical axis. Visitors looked up and down, but not around, and thus not at one another.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi and Mark Fisher have attributed the recent widespread medicalization of depression to the stripping back of the welfare state, putting the burden on individuals for their own health, security, and happiness. But “Nuisance Flows” went much further than calling out the neoliberal drive toward atomization, effectively shifting the framework of depression itself away from both the individual and the nation-state to reconcile it with multispecies consciousness. If the smashed glass evoked a past, attesting to the violent event that transformed the whole into fragments, then the logos evoked a future, that of pharmaceuticals traveling through human bodies, then through wastewater systems, to eventually be imbibed by fish. In decentering the human experience of depression, the exhibition animated its materials, entreating us to attend to their long lives and trajectories—their flow.