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How Micrography sparked my interest in the evolving online drug trade.
While working on the project Micrographic Stories new ideas swiftly surfaced after starting the initial project of visualising (OTC) painkillers. The project quickly expanded toward a wider spectrum of “daily” consumed (prescription) medicine and foods additives. Because some (hard) drugs are closely related to prescription medicine, the topic of visualising hard drugs was quickly raised. To elaborate on this idea and concept of visualising drugs underneath the microscope, I needed to get my hands on different kinds of drugs.
After some research, one of my acquaintances told me that getting drugs from the street was “old fashioned” these days. He said:
“Most (young) people these days get their Ecstasy, MDMA or other hard drugs by going online. Just google how to get on Agora by using TorBrowser. The quality, price, service and ‘entry level’ made it better, easier and most important ‘safer’ than getting your drugs on the corner of the street from some random guy.”
Bitcoin and the deep web were not subjects new to me when starting this project. During my first year of study (2007) at the Royal Art Academy (I/M/D department) in The Hague, a lecture was given about the deep web (invisible web). Part of this lecture was to explore, discuss, gain knowledge and understand the basics and possibilities of the deep web. At that time it was not as advanced, easy, safe and fast as today’s deep web, but it was still fascinating. A few years later Bitcoin was upcoming, and lectures were spent on crypto currency, getting me to mine my own Bitcoins. But at that time I did not see the direct (security) potential of Bitcoin, or of using it to buy things in the Deep Web.
Five minutes after using Google Search, I was browsing Agora on The Deep Web with my TorBrowser. Surprisingly things had changed a lot in the past years, websites were faster, easier to find and the user experience was better compared to the “invisible web” experience from 2007.
After looking around on Agora, I decided to make my first purchase to see if it would actually work as advertised. By transferring a small amount of my Bitcoin from my local wallet to my Agora wallet, I was ready to buy the lowest amount of MDMA possible, since I needed less than 0.1 gram to make my dilutions.
I started searching on Agora for MDMA. Within seconds it gave me a list of items and its vendors. The vendor from The Netherlands who was advertising with the smallest amount of 0.3 grams and 84% purity was the one I decided to go with, costing me 0.06198347 BTC.
1BTC equals 213,56 Euro, so this purchase would cost me 13,24 Euro.
I gathered up the confidence to purchase the MDMA based on good reviews and ratings that were given by others, such as:
“Fast delivery and great stealth, good communication with vendor and products look really good !!!! Will order again !!!! Truste”
Two days later an envelope of “the Rotterdam School of Management” came through the mail (a fake, home printed envelope). At first I thought it had been a wrong delivery, but it had the exact information and alias on it as provided through Agora using PGP encryption. Surprised and confused at the same time, I opened the envelope.
It was now time to take the next step in this project.
By using a few µg of MDAM I started creating the slides, by dissolving the crystals in demineralised water. The solution was later used to create several drops of 1 to 5 µl on a slide, hoping these drops would crystallise in time. When fully dried and crystallised the slide was ready to be imaged underneath the cross polarisation microscope. Lucky as I was, one of the drops crystallised perfectly and generated an amazing result!
Happy with the result, it was time to properly dispose of the MDMA. Together with some old expired medicine, I handed in a small plastic bag at the local pharmacy. Wanting to make sure the MDMA would be properly discarded, because flushing, selling or providing to others was not a legit option to me.
Walking out of the pharmacy my brain was in a twist. “I broke the law by buying and being in possession of a hard drug.” Struggling with this fact I asked myself if I should continue this project, and accept any possible risks involved; knowing that there is a tolerance policy in The Netherlands on possession of hard drugs in small quantities. For example:
“One globule, one ampoule, a wrapper, a pill / tablet (in each case, a detected amount of up to 0.5 grams); a consumption unit of 5 ml GHB is quantified as personal use”
So in this case I would not be likely to be persecuted or arrested. But what would happen if I made a habit out of using The Deep Web and Bitcoin, purchasing hard drugs to support my project? On the way home the question that kept repeating in my mind was:
Should I order another drug, and continue this project??
Scrolling down and seeing another micrograph of drugs gave away the answer to the question if I should order another drug.
Yes, my curiosity and vision behind this project was bigger. Bigger than my initial concerns about purchasing and possessing very small amounts of hard drugs. Next to that, the result of the first drug visualisation of MDMA got me “hooked” on the beauty of its microscopic; crystals, structures and colours.
I had seen a lot of crystallisation processes happening under the microscope in the last year and this was with no doubt one of the most vivid, intense and mind blowing results I had encountered. Stopping was not an option anymore; I got “addicted” and obsessed with documenting crystalline formations of drugs. So to expand the series I started to use the same method and process as I used for MDMA.
Luck was on my side for a long time; by making small adjustments to my experiments crystallising new drugs was never far away from giving me new and beautiful results. LSD, GHB, DMT, Amphetamine and 2CB they all gave results I had thought were never possible in the first place. They kept me wondering about how it’s possible that these microscopic structures can look this beautiful and diverse underneath a microscope. Giving me even more drive to share its beauty with the world.
Not only good and useful results where achieved. From all the things that where purchased along the way I could not create crystalline formations of Cocaine, Ketamine and Oxycodone. As frustrating as it got I decided not to actively continue the exploration and visualisations of these and other new drugs. So for the moment I’m only able to present you these micrographs, maybe in the future I’m able to restart this part of the project with the help of others.
So why am I making these micrographs (of hard drugs)?
By creating this micrographic art, I want to show the microscopic structures and create more awareness about daily consumed products. Most of us tend not to consume (hard) drugs, but other products, as in: painkillers or (prescription) medication or even food additives are more commonly consumed, and more familiar. For example:
At the first sign of a headache, most of us pop pills without hesitation. We get on with it, satisfied that medicine will see us through.
We often use products without hesitation. Who these days is actually reading every medication leaflet or product label? Some of us are very involved and aware about there product use, others “don’t care about what’s actually inside” until things may go wrong. Involved or not the things inside are often abracadabra to us.
By giving you a different angle (in this case a microscopic image) you might become more interested about the workings of these products and their “active ingredients” that may be in there for the better or for the worse.
To give an example about how I think this might work: Everyone is familiar with soda drinks. Many of these drinks nowadays have a light version that tends to be “healthier” than the regular one. Containing not sugar but aspartame. The aspartame is used as a substitute for sugar, and can actually be more harmful. It has been linked to almost a hundred different health problems. To raise awareness about aspartame I would try to visualise aspartame as the food additive itself. By doing this in a vivid and impressive way I’m hoping to gain your attention and along the way I might be able to teach you a bit more about aspartame, its use and therefore maybe its dangers.
But If your goal is to create awareness and involvement with the products we consume, then why are you sharing information about purchasing drugs on the deep web?
While working on this project I kept sharing my results, to the point of creating a “work in progress page”. By doing this I was able to gain feedback, interact and gain more information about how my Micrographs and Micrographic stories where received.
By sharing information about the project, people became interested about also my personal involvement with drugs and how I got my samples. Quite often questions like: Are you using yourself? or How do you get your samples? where asked.
“No, I have never experimented with hard drugs myself and the Micrographs of drugs that are displayed here are bought by using The Deep Web.”
The first part of the answer always let to the explanation of my concept and vision as explained above. Most of the time this explanation gave them a clear understanding and a deeper bond with my work.
As for the second part of my answer things where not so clear. In general most people did not know that it was even possible to order drugs “online” and getting them delivered at home. They where very surprised, and sometimes even shocked about the possibilities and not knowing that there is a “market space like E-bay” on The Deep Web selling drugs a.o. legal and illegal things.
By sharing my Deep Web experience I hope create awareness towards The Deep Web. Of course The Deep Web is more then only an illegal online place where you can order dugs with full anonymity and pay with Bitcoin. If this Dark Web is new to you?! I hope by sharing this information it will trigger you to do some more research. Once you do understand the pro’s and cons of this fascinating evolving online service, we can then identify problems together. Starting a discussion about how to handle these situations accordingly.
The next step in this project would be to continue the exploration of different not yet imaged types of “daily” consumed (prescription) medicine, foods additives and (hard) drugs, extending the series of micrographs that are already made. Ideal it would be to collaborate with institutes, companies organisations or schools hat support these Visualisations. By combining Art & Science we are hopefully able to generate more awareness and start an more open conversation about these subjects by using micrographs.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any suggestions, questions, comments, feedback or are willing to support or collaborate on this project.