December 11, 2013 | 5 Comments

Vice/Virtue Water Glass Series: Dispensary, Exhaust, and Fountain (Diller + Scofidio)

From the curators: Diller + Scofidio (and Renfro, as of 2004) is a unique New York–based architecture firm whose practice relies on a lively dialogue with the visual arts, performance, and technology. The Vice/Virtue glass series was produced for the 1997 exhibition Glassmanifest, in Leerdam, the Netherlands. In this installation, Diller and Scofidio use subtle humor—and  drinking glasses—to explore our often contradictory cultural attitudes toward addiction and health. The “hacked” glasses “accommodate the dual pursuits of health and hedonism,” explain the architects.

One of my earliest childhood memories lives in a photograph. I was probably five years old, at the beach with my family in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. That was “our” shore town because my grandparents built, owned, and ran a motel there called Ocean View Courts, which, being eight blocks from the beach, actually looked out on Broadway, not the Atlantic. On this particular day, in this particular picture, my parents and I had left our blanket, and my younger sister Christine on it, all alone, just long enough for her to find an illicit prize.

In the 1950s, it was not considered neglectful to turn your back on a small child for a moment or two at the beach. The shore insulated you from the vices of the everyday. (Now, the opposite is apparently true.) Your small, square, plaid, cotton badge of admission, pinked around the edges—purchased on the boardwalk and pinned on your bathing suit—was the insurance policy that this was a domestic space, a family haven. (My dad worked for Prudential in Newark, so we knew all about insurance.) Even today, it’s common to leave a wallet or purse on your blanket while you take a dip; and when you leave the sand and cross over the boardwalk to the parking lot, you are acutely aware that you’ve left a peaceful vacuum for a world just waiting to insert you back into its timeline.

On the day in question—and “day” is inaccurate, it was a moment suspended in time just like the photograph that documents it—I remember coming back to our blanket and seeing my sister, who couldn’t have been more than three, trying to light one of my father’s Winstons. There she sat crouched under the umbrella, her small fingers trying to cup a flame around the cigarette in her mouth. We howled at her dogged determination to light the match, much less the cigarette, and her defeat by the ocean breeze.

Today, when I look at the photograph—and it was always one of our favorites in the family scrapbook—I see a knowing, gleeful parody of an adult. A towheaded blond in a child-size Brown University sweatshirt (my father’s alma mater, of course), Chris ignored the camera daring it to contradict her version of adulthood, populated with wise-cracking fathers proud of any signs of street-smarts in their offspring, just in case an Ivy League education didn’t cover all the bases.

Maybe another family would have simply been horrified at the sight of the child smoker and wouldn’t have commemorated it the way we did. (The camera must have been grabbed from the blanket quickly to catch her in the act.) But then that family wouldn’t have had a father who was a teenage pilot in World War II, who kept that romance alive with angle of his cigarette; a father who was the first in his family to go to college (much to their chagrin—his penance was managing the motel for a year), and who masked his insecurities in smoke.

We children of the 1950s had no idea of the mythology we were imbibing, nor did our parents fully realize that they were perpetuating myths. My father, at 18, was told in flight training that he was one of the golden boys—substitute “gods” for “boys” and you get the picture. Even after the counter-culture years of the late 1960s (and my parents’ own embrace of civil rights and feminism, and rejection of the Vietnam War), the lingering glow of the 1940s still hovered over our family’s sense of itself. Time and memory have no respect for chronology.

War and romance, death and cigarettes, the pleasures and pains of family, beginning with the excruciating act of birth when a new person enters the room and love takes over. We are not hard-wired to separate them fully, as anyone’s family photo album will prove. If we could only know the future, we might be able to dodge the bullets of addiction, but this is the folly and the tragedy of youth. We wouldn’t believe it if they told us.


So my father thought. And I do, too, but only to a point. For he also passed on the gene for skepticism, tacitly giving me permission to take exception with his fatalism. Since his death in 1996, an insistent staccato of acronyms—IED, WMD, PTSD—has shot through our veil of ignorance, shredding the glamorous dress uniforms that marched off to war once and for all. My father’s grandchildren and their children can no longer maintain the illusion that they don’t know the future. They can only choose to believe it will not be their future.


Is addiction a form of violence?

  1. December 12, 2013, 12:13 pm

    Mac Rosea

    “War and romance, death and cigarettes, the pleasures and pains of family, beginning with the excruciating act of birth when a new person enters the room and love takes over. We are not hard-wired to separate them fully, as anyone’s family photo album will prove. If we could only know the future, we might be able to dodge the bullets of addiction, but this is the folly and the tragedy of youth. We wouldn’t believe it if they told us.”

    What an amazing quote. Health and hedonism shown as two sides of the same obsessive coin. Dilller and Scofidio ‘s project teamed with Yelavich’s writing is a perfect match, illustrating how all of us constantly get ‘tangled up in our leash’ around the paradox of obsessive health and addiction.

    Addiction is often violence against one’s self, where those who can’t stand the pain of life need to hurl themselves towards the abyss, simply because the drudgery of normal existence (not being a golden god), is way too boring

  2. December 16, 2013, 7:28 pm

    […] on one specific object. (Full disclosure, Yelavich herself is one of the commentators; see here.) Now those expert observations are stimulating a lively public conversation, which the following […]

  3. December 18, 2013, 3:06 am

    Jamer Hunt

    Susan Yelavich, Director of the Design Studies graduate program at Parsons The New School for Design has generously obliged her students to post comments to Design and Violence. Additionally, they have started to compile a fantastic bibliography of design and violence related readings. You can follow their work at this link: <>.

  4. February 27, 2014, 1:17 am


    Instead of regarding not having the ability to predict the future as the folly and tragedy of youth, I see the the myth lays in front of young people as excitement and adventure. Youth is almost the only time that people have the “privilege” to be rebellious and follow their heart. On the one hand, compared with grown-ups, young people have much looser frames to regulate their behaviors; on the other, no matter how broad the boundaries are, young people still have the responsibilities to pull themselves back when approach too close to the edges. Violence emerges when people give this responsibilities and control to others, or just let themselves fall off the edges.

    Addition works in a similar way that it seduces people to cross the boundaries and to give away their control power and bullies people Then addition is violence when it turns people to its subjects of ruler that traps people in its delusion of regarding such addicted behavior is the only choice. It is interesting to ask smoker why they smoke. The answer varies, but quite a lot of them refer smoking as a relief of stress. For once, they smoke to let pressure go; for twice, they smoke to relax themselves; for three times, they smoke to re-boost energy to carry on their work……Bit by bit, those people can only think of smoking when they are stressful that makes them surrender their control power to nicotine. In such circumstance, addiction is a violence over human’s self control, which represents their integrity and dignity.

    The addiction shows its violence more obviously when people have the will to get rid of the addiction but have no practical ability to achieve it. This violence is easily to find in objects fetishism. Some people embedded special emotional complex within certain kind of objects, be bowls, shoes, or whatever. Those objects build invisible strings attach to people, letting them to worship and to embed spirits. In spite of the fact, in some cases, those object may drive people bankrupt, they still cannot stop from buying/ having them. It is almost like heroin that erodes human’s mind until he loose his consciousness and rationality.

  5. January 14, 2015, 3:40 pm


    Addiction may be considered violence only in as much as any other disease is also considered violence. Violence, as defined in this project, “is a manifestation of the power to alter circumstances, against the will of others and to their detriment.” Although diseases are by nature harmful to our bodies and to our cells, rarely are they inflicted on an individual deliberately and against his or her will. According to the World Health Organization, addiction is a chronic disease. If we accept that addiction is a disease, then to consider addiction violence would be very arbitrary.

    The real violence, I believe, emerges when addiction is publicized as something desirable. When ads promote cigarettes, for instance, associating smoking with adventurous or glamorous lifestyles, they mask the real consequences of cigarette addiction, and, in so doing, glamorize a harmful disease.