by Meg Fair
Pharmakon is an experimental industrial noise artist whose albums come with artist statements. Her work is raw, powerful. It’s aggressive and harsh in a purely feminine way, a refreshing relief from a world of harsh noise built so much on the ugliness of masculinity.
Her second album, Bestial Burden, is an exploration of consciousness being trapped inside a body, one that sometimes has a mind of its own. Margaret Chardiet, who performs as Pharmakon, wrote the LP after doctors discovered a cyst that nearly caused one of her organs to fail.
Bestial Burden feels like screaming from the bottom of a dark well. It is fiery and horrifying, a grotesque acknowledgement of the betrayal of your own broken body. As somebody who has dealt with painful chronic digestive issues, alopecia areata, shingles, asthma and a rotating cast of other frustrating ailments, Bestial Burden was the first album that made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
For so long I just wanted to scream about all the ugliness that my body imposed upon me, and here Chardiet was, screaming, shrieking, laughing, crying, choking, creating haunting noise that mirrored my pain and vulnerability. She, on a gut level, was putting out art that reflected my lived experience, and being able to hear that ugliness aired was incredibly cathartic.
Chardiet’s latest release, Contact, is no longer a scream from the bottom. It is an ascension, an exploration of the moments when our mind can transcend outside of our flesh vessels and truly experience existence.
At The Shop on a Tuesday night, Pharmakon performed material from Contact. Chardiet brought out her small table full of gear, built around the sounds created by a piece from Pittsburgh Modular. She carefully duct-taped some of the cables to the floor, meticulously insuring her microphone and its long cable didn’t disconnect during her performance.
The house music faded away, and Chardiet began.
Without a word, she launched into the set. It was loud, rattling. She entered the crowd, creating a small aisle of empty space. The entrance was slow and gentle at first. She went face to face with members of the crowd as she screamed. As the song’s arc intensified, she threw herself onto the ground, writhing as she vocalized.
Bear with me here, as I’m about to get a little abstract. The people who were enjoying this set, truly experiencing it, appeared very different than those too fearful to invest in it. She approached some who laughed nervously, some who looked away anxiously, some stared at Chardiet with jaws dropped.
But others leaned right into her. She shared embraces with crowd members, some swayed with their eyes closed almost completely unaware of the human performing. She wove in and around the crowd. There was no front row or back row. Only a sea of bodies part of something larger at work.
I understand being afraid to give yourself over and invest in a Pharmakon set. It is emotionally exhausting, it’s beautiful and frightening.
Chardiet’s work reminds me a little bit of Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present, in which she sat across a table from folks without saying a word, just locking eyes. The responses varied, but each was moved in a different way. Chardiet does the same thing by engaging with the crowd, only instead of a silent stare, she presents a raw and guttural verbalization of her message.
At one point Chardiet broke up a fight in the crowd without missing a beat or saying a word, only using her movements and presence to send a message of separation.
During this performance, I was one with the sounds. My body swayed, I leaned into Chardiet, I closed my eyes and felt every sound and every scream pierce my inner being. There is something so primal and relatable in her art. If you’re open to it, it will tap into every emotion stored inside of you and set them free.
And when the set was over, I cried. I cried for a good twenty minutes after it had ended, feeling this giant weight off my shoulders, a flood of a relief as if Chardiet’s performance had shaken the grief and anxiety and sorrow from my body.
I had been exorcised by the contact, and I was free.