by Lenore Malen
"We live in a network of institutional settings, each one with its own rules, goals and rewards, the ensemble of which mediates our existential reality. The cumulative effect has long been identified under the rubric of alienation for which the corporate institutional power brokers have supplied their own palliative, epitomized in the term 'spectacle.' " - excerpt from The New Society for Universal Harmony
In The New Society for Universal Harmony, Lenore Malen uses pseudo-documentary photos, video and audio transcriptions, testimonials, case histories, and arcane imagery to archive the functioning of her own reinvention of the utopian society established in Paris in 1793 by the followers of Franz Anton Mesmer, known as La Société de l'Harmonie Universelle. Malen's New Society comes out of her long-term installation project and live performances of case histories and treatments performed at the fabricated Society imagined in Athol Springs, New York. The book expands the scope of the project to include original fiction and essays by "fellow Harmonites" Jonathan Ames, Geoffrey O'Brien, Pepe Karmel, Nancy Princenthal, Irving Sandler, Susan Canning, Barbara Tannenbaum, Jim Long, Mark Thompson, and others, as well as the first-person account of Malen's discovery and two-year involvement with the Society.
The "Treatments" offered at the New Society and documented in the book have been adapted from Mesmer's original proscriptions and Malen's photo documentation. They recall theatrical and narrative conventions particular to the tableau vivant, and reference a range of influences from the Kinsey Institute's Archives, theater and film stills from Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade, photographs by 19th century French anatomist G.B. Duchenne de Bologne to the Photographs of Calvin Watkins. Adding to the book's authority, Malen adopts personas including scientific corroborators, curious journalists and people whose lives have been forever changed by the Society. This work is often light-hearted and humorous. However, Malen's deft and thorough adherence to the actuality of her conceit she turns serious attention to a visible shift in U.S. cultural and political society towards blind discipleship and the seemingly overwhelming need to believe and to belong. The New Society examines our own culture's yearning for the perfect cure; what the Harmonites undergo and report is darkly funny and frequently impossible gesturing at the illusive search for spiritual peace and universal harmony, a search made more desperate in the present social-political-ecological climate.