Overnight sensations are rare in the art world, but a one-night display in Marseilles, France of an artwork called “PIP Show” by an unknown French artist named Camille Lorin made a major media splash this week. The title of the work, a simple mixed media installation of silicone breast implants hanging inside black fishnet stockings, refers to the French firm Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP), whose top executives are currently on trial, facing charges of aggravated fraud, namely that the firm knowingly provided substandard breast implants and hid evidence from safety inspectors. More than 300,000 women in over 60 countries are believed to have received the implants, which experts say are twice as likely to rupture as other brands.
Lorin has said she wanted to shift the focus from the PIP trial to the prevalence of breast implants, and the pressure on women to conform to standards of beauty. Certainly, whether, or why, women feel the need for breast implants is a worthy subject for treatment in art. However, the timing of the exhibit in Marseilles to coincide with the trial has put the focus squarely on PIP, whose 73-year old founder, Jean-Claude Mas, has not only denied that the substandard implants posed any health risks but has dismissed the women seeking compensation as “fragile people, or people who are doing this for money”.
Doing it for money should, of course, seem reasonable to Mas, who has admitted filling the implants with a homemade mixture made of industrial-grade silicone gel and other unapproved ingredients, which investigators say allowed the company to save $1.6 million in one year alone. He and three other executives of PIP face up to 5 years in prison if found guilty.
So bravo to Camille Lorin, whose work reminds us that art can still strike a powerful chord and shine a spotlight on an ugly story of science, medicine, business, politics and society.
Photo by Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images