Truth Serum

This project explored the experimental use of psychopharmacology in relation to security culture as pursued by the Department of Homeland Security in USA< and intelligence services in UK.  A gallery-based installation consisting of two rooms, multiple videos and audio, led to an offsite immersive experiment, in which visitors were interrogated as part of a performance experience. A catalogue essay ‘The Psychopharmacology of Truthfulness’ was written by Nicholas Langlitz.

Framed by theoretical work on ‘bare life’ and human rights by Georges Agamben, the research drew on both the indications that extraordinary renditions were taking place, and the persecution and prosecution of politically active bio-artists i.e. FBI charges against Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble 2004-9. The research examined both the historic and contemporary use of drugs in interrogation by FBI and CIA, and the ethical attitudes of the public to the concept of a truth serum in particular. 

The filmed performance experiment was re-shown at Casino Foundation in Luxembourg who had commissioned a further installation of the research materials. Audiences were able to watch other members of the audience, to analyse experiments for themselves, in both installations of the work.

Truth Serum – an Immersive Experiment

Participants were voluntarily removed from FACT by appointment. They were driven by one of Office of Experiments team to an abandoned warehouse, and an offsite processing centre where they signed further consent forms prior to psychological conditioning and then automated interrogation by software designed to predict truth. Using a known technique, referred to as the ‘stroop’ effect, the software worked with participants selecting placebos, alcohol or Scopolamine (truth serum patch worn on the skin) to enhance the experience.

Video documenting some of the self-experimenters made by FACT learning team is available on Youtube here

Commissioned and supported by Arts Catalyst, London.

‘Truth Serum’, was exhibited at FACT supported by Goethe Institut and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Truth Serum featured in Thames and Hudson World of Art Series ‘The Body in Contemporary Art’ (O’Reilly, S, 2010 p199-200).

Skinterface was supported by American Center Foundation, Casino Luxembourg Forum d’Art Contemporain, Institut Français du Royaume-Uni, UKCTE University of Liverpool, SymbioticA/University of Western Australia.

Truth Serum: Casino Foundation for Contemporary Art, Luxembourg
Truth Serum: FACT, Liverpool
Truth Serum: FACT, Liverpool