It started as something big. Grew into something massive. And claps back at the largest pain pill producer on the planet. It's a giant heroin spoon. And this is its story.
The Why Behind a Giant Heroin Spoon
Why did Boston-based sculptor Domenic Esposito create the giant heroin spoon? Let us mark the many ways.
In the first place, it's personal. Highly personal. For him, as well as for his family. In fact, it's been highly personal for the past 14 years. That's how long Esposito's brother Danny has been battling opioid addiction. And that's how long the Esposito clan have been battling the disease right long with him.
The opioid crisis struck close to home in other ways too. Specifically, Mama Esposito's home. See, Danny's bad habits included the bad habit of leaving things behind. Ugly things. And the practice helped unhinge the entire family.
“My mom found a spoon in the house," Esposito told WNPR. "And she called me in this crazy panic." When that happens, he continues, "your heart starts racing, and all the air gets sucked out of your lungs."
The second why was opportunity. Last April Esposito met Stamford, Connecticut gallery owner Fernando Luis Alvarez. The gallerist was working on a new exhibition called "Opioid: Express Yourself," an artist-led project aimed at calling out the culprits behind the current opioid epidemic. The show's primary targets were painkiller-producing pharmaceutical companies. But Big Pharma's army of lobbyists and lawmakers also made the list. So did over-prescribing doctors.
Alvarez had seen the bad guys, and he wanted to bring them all down.
"I've been in doctor's office waiting rooms, and seen people sitting there like zombies," said Alvarez, also to WNPR. "They go in there, get their prescription drugs and they walk out. How can doctors not see [what was happening]? Doctors knew. Purdue Pharma and these other companies [also] must have known. And so long as the money kept flowing in their direction, our politicians just turned a blind eye on the problem.”
When Alvarez met Esposito, the gallerist was still looking for an anchor. He wanted some sort of big, symbolic work of art that would tie the whole exhibition together. It took him all of five minutes to realize Esposito was his anchor.
“It was a no-brainer," said Alvarez. "Especially after hearing the story of Esposito's brother and what his family has gone through."
The How Behind a Giant Heroin Spoon
Esposito knew it needed to be big. Big and crazy. Big enough to represent the enormity of the opioid crisis. Crazy enough to get everybody's attention. And then to make it all stick.
"I wanted the sculpture to be big," Esposito said. "This is the biggest epidemic the US has witnessed. Millions have been affected. Not just the lives lost, but the people left behind because of addiction."
When Esposito told Alvarez of his idea for a giant heroin spoon, the gallerist said go. So Esposito did. Go, that is. Just six weeks before the show's opening. The crunch was rather crushing.
"It was a difficult process," said Esposito. "Because you're under this time constraint. But there's [also] an emotional factor. I had a real visceral feeling while I was constructing the spoon."
The sculpture's material also provided some significant challenges. Then again, steel will kind of do that to a project.
"The bowl of the spoon was made by using an English wheel," said Esposito. "It's way of rolling metal so you get that curve. Kind of like how they made bumpers on older cars. It’s heavy. A lot of it is constructed of 1/8th inch steel. It's about 10 feet in length. 19 feet if you rolled it out flat. And it weighs about 800 pounds."
Yep, you read correctly. Esposito created a nearly 800 pound steel heroin spoon. Then he took it on the road.
Showing a Giant Heroin Spoon
Last June, Alvarez and Esposito were ready for action. The giant steel heroin spoon sculpture was finished. It even had a name: "The Opioid Spoon Project." It also had an occasion to go with: The "Opioid: Express Yourself" exhibition.
Now they needed the perfect spot to place the sculpture. Since Big Pharma topped their list of targets, and Purdue Pharma was right there in Stamford, the world's most notorious OxyContin provider became the logical target.
Alvarez and Esposito dropped the giant heroin spoon on the sidewalk in front of Purdue Pharma headquarters. The pharmaceutical giant's logo figuring prominently in the background. It was the perfect photo op spot.
Then, says Esposito, things started going crazy. Purdue called the cops. The cops asked Alvarez and Esposito to remove the sculpture. Alvarez and Esposito refused. And the cops were stymied. Guess they weren't accustomed to dealing with guerilla artist types.
The buck got passed.
"It just kept escalating with the police," Esposito said. "First, we just had a normal policeman on watch come up and try to get us to remove it. Then the sergeant. Then the captain. And then finally, after an hour of negotiations, it went all the way to the state Attorney General. So, at that point the police hauled it away with a front loader."
Alvarez ended up being arrested for obstruction of free passage and interfering with police. Both charges are misdemeanors. Arrest was pretty much part of the plan, says Alvarez. And he has no regrets.
"Absolutely none at all," said Alvarez. "It's such an important mission. We needed this to be an easy way for people to remember the importance of accountability."
The giant heroin spoon stunt not only worked. It worked wonders.
Gifting a Giant Heroin Spoon
When authorities gave Esposito back his giant heroin spoon back last October, he and Alvarez immediately set their sights on another drop spot. This time they targeted the Massachusetts Statehouse. Specifically the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. But the drop was a show of support rather than a slap. In fact, Esposito and Alvarez claimed the sculpture was a gift. And why would AG Healey warrant such a gift? Because Healey was the first AG to sue current and former Purdue Pharma executives by name.
We at Recovery Boot Camp would like to thank Boston artist Domenic Esposito and Stamford gallerist Fernando Alvarez for gifting the world that giant heroin spoon, as well as for so robustly scolding Purdue Pharma. We're especially stoked by the art operatives' continuing work on the opioid issue. There can never be too much awareness. And there can never be too many ways to effect that awareness. That includes giant steel heroin spoons.