‘Stop being so attractive I can’t get anything done’, Marlie Mul @ Autocenter, March 16th, 2012

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A group of women each with a large inflatable cigarette stripped to their back, in North London 2011, addressing any smoker in sight to quit their habit. The overturn of the smok-ing ban in The Netherlands for bars under size of 72m2; a nostalgic gesture to what has been described as “the atmospheric heritage” of smoking. The low-profile emergence of the outdoor (public) smoking pole, a singular stainless steel hollow pole with unremarkable appearance, comes in a comfortable standing height size or is installed on exterior walls at standing height.

The artist in the text provided in the exhibition analyses the history of smoker in Europe, since the first smoker, the Spanish Rodrigo de Jerez who brought the tobacco plant from the American Indians to Spain and was imprisoned for his sinful habits during 7 years in which smoking had caught on. Little by little westerners took control over the tobacco plant and also over the Native Americans of course.

With industrialization, the smoking in factories, warehouses, shops and offices possibly started to take place to counter the monotonous, sluggish work of modern age. First of all was mainly a male thing and the smoking of cigarettes was considered as an individualized, mild and transient habit. The 1920’s introduced the cigarette for women as a symbol of freedom, equality and personal choice.

Over the 20th century… in industrial countries the cultural meaning of women’s smoking as it relates to gender relations has moved from a symbol of being bought by men (prostitute), to being like men (lesbian/mannish/androgynous), to being able to attract men (glamorous/heterosexual).

The smoking of tobacco was linked to lung cancer in the 1950’s. The 1970’s formed the end of the baby boom and led to an emphasis on quality rather than quantity of the population. The construction of smoking as a public health problem. Science and media strongly interacted in these issues. The Saatchi & Saatchi anti-smoking campaign from 1973 introduced the links between smoking and losing sexual attractiveness, wrinkles, smoking in pregnancy, addiction and poor health.

After this, the presentation of tobacco smoking as an act of freedom (to smoke) allows one to “blame” the smoker. “The public smoker takes away my freedom to be a non-smoker”. Smoking becomes a spatial issue. The right to breathe smoke-free air at the 1980’s is still a choice based on aesthetical factors rather than on proven health risks.  The loss of complete tobacco’s freedom in the 1990’s.

The debate over whether there is a moral difference between directly causing harm to someone and allowing harm to come to that person. The smoke for the smoker and the smoke for the non-smoker. Mainstream/side-stream; the acknowledgement of the existence of both direct and indirect smoke. Second hand smoke is the conception of connected rather than disconnected bodies.

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Text source: summary from hard copied text provided in the exhibition, Marlie Mul

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