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Packs of pills turn heads in Richmond. And that’s exactly what she wants: ‘We need to question more’

<i>WTVR via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Shannon Kurzyniec
Willingham, James
WTVR via CNN Newsource
Shannon Kurzyniec

By Elizabeth Holmes

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    RICHMOND, Virginia (WTVR) — One of the largest packs of pills you’ve likely ever seen is now on display at VCU’s Murray N. DePillars building off Broad Street in downtown Richmond.


Shannon Kurzyniec, a Master of Fine Arts student at VCU, built the art installation as part of her thesis project, putting prescription pills in the spotlight.

“I’m creating this world of bringing it to the front. The things that we hide in our pockets, our purses, our medicine cabinets, are now surrounding you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, but you always have it,” Kurzyniec said. “Why is it uncomfortable now that it’s in front of you?”

Her art installation includes wearable pill jewelry, a machine to take pills by the mouthful, and a white coat filled with pill bottles. It’s all presented against a backdrop of an enlarged blister pack of large white pills, scaling about nine feet by four feet.

“The white circular pills are recognizable to anybody,” Kurzyniec explained. “It could look like Oxycodone, it could look like Ritalin, it could look like the Claritin that you take to help with your allergies. I don’t want to speak to one topic or one pill in general because it’s not just one that’s the problem.”

Since childhood, Kurzyniec said she’s been told she had problems that could only be solved by pills.

“At seven years old, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression,” she said. “Being a young age, being put on it, in elementary school, it was to help me focus. But then I would be so hyper from the Ritalin that they actually put me on a downer to help me sleep at night and help me deal with the depression that was caused with it.”

“I talk about my grandma a lot in my subject matter because at that age, she had broken her neck and I remember her taking them by the handful to help heal her and I was mesmerized by the colors, shapes, and sizes, and you know, at that young age, it’s an impression that’s put on you,” Kurzyniec added. “That it’s okay to do this, and that you’re supposed to do this, as you get older, the more you take.”

Kurzyniec said she’s also lost friends and family to addiction to pills.

“Went to the emergency room with my father recently, and they prescribed him an opioid, but they never asked my sister or I, or him, if he has a history of drug abuse,” she said. “That scares me.”

Her fear of reliance on pills is front and center in other pieces of her work, including a vending machine that’s been repurposed with different “pills” and antidotes for different things. Kurzyniec said she understands how valuable medication can be for some.

“We need to question more, especially myself,” she said. “Especially myself, I question all the time now.”

She hopes her art invites people to ponder the impact of pill use and support those who may be struggling with addiction.

“I have the ability to have an impact on the public in such a way that I never thought I could,” she said. “And that’s my hope, is to impact others through my personal journey.”

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