Notes on Ressentimentality

If Our Happy Life: Architecture and Well-Being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism at the Canadian Centre for Architecture asks some interesting questions but probes them in a flawed way, a few recent exhibitions in Montréal did so more successfully but purely by accident. Each one commands an affectively manipulated interaction with the past, projecting it into the present and a possible future.

At Diagonale, a wistful incapacity to face reality by sneaking into an over-cured aesthetic comparable to that of the CCA show is at work with Marie-Andrée Godin‘s (Im)possible labor which re-presents women’s art from the 1960s, here primarily given through three of its primary clichés: edifying text, ‘feminine’ abstraction, and the kind of interactive but primarily anti-septic tactility celebrated by Lucy Lippard in a variety of her essays on feminist art from the period. The first of these clichés is represented by a posted reading list of texts from the period, Betty Friedan included, to inform and filter your experience. By the entrance to the gallery, and doubling up on the filter to experience, one finds a set of low-rise seating material reminiscent of a snobby kindergarten classroom. A note on the wall prompts you to take off your shoes and put on the disposable shoes provided “before experiencing the piece” (avant de marcher sur le tapis the French says, giving it a very different connotation). These condoms for your tactile experience of the work are echoed by the generic capsule shapes that dot the various pieces of colossally over-inflated knock-off Bauhaus materials that the show consists of. (more…)

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Neoliberal Socialism in the Age of Empathetic Capitalism

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Design: OK-RM / © CCA

“Self-care displaces care for the common good, and happiness, once a tenet underpinning the post-war social-democratic project, becomes a commodity. Navigating the shift from collective welfare to individual well-being, this issue presents a “happiness industry” as expansive as its evasive subject.”[1]

November 2011: The United Nations recognizes the inadequacy of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of well-being. Happiness research is refined, codified, catalogued, and studied on a global political scale as the essential/unavoidable goal of every human being.[2]

Our Happy Life: Architecture and Well-Being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism at the Canadian Centre for Architecture is in some ways a follow-up to an earlier exhibition at the Centre, Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture (2011-2012). It was also heavily influenced by William Davies’ The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being (Verso, 2015) and various conversations that the curator, Francesco Garutti,[3] had with artists, as well as his own research. The slightly obnoxious title for the exhibition is reminiscent of both Alain de Bottom’s The Architecture of Happiness (2006) and Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), mashed together with a certain coquettishness, like what you find among grad students authoring the academic equivalent of click-bait journalism. It assimilates all these things into an uneven show that is more thematically intriguing than it is curatorial successful. Curiously, it is precisely the architectural component that makes it falter the most. Curator Garutti has stated that “[In] highlighting the values of all these things, I’m very interested in asking architects, ‘How do you reposition yourself?’ It’s not anymore the idea of master planning, of the city being the scope of only planners and architects. Corporations like McKinsey & Company are planning cities in India. Rather than the master plan, architects today work at a close-up space, in the flatness of interior space, which is also a space of meaning. That is not a position of losing.”[4] Yet, this is the element that is treated the most superficially. “Happiness rules are defining spatial values,” reads one wall text. This is largely done through imperatives: to vote, to laugh, to be involved with the arts, to keep up with technology, to cultivate friendships, to recycle, to recreate, etc. and this, however crudely, is the primary theme of the exhibition. (more…)

Occult Modernism

Image result for Modernism and the Occult (2015), John Bramble“Looked at thus, occultism, twinned with vitalism, becomes the soft underbelly of modernist nihilism, the other side of Das Nichts.”[1]

“Perhaps it is only that our conscience is so frightened, burdened, and tortured that it reacts with the most stupendous lies and pretences (fictions and images) at the least provocation.”[2]

In his Modernism and the Occult (2015), John Bramble identifies a religio-magical confluence in the borderlands between different spaces, respecting no boundaries. According to him, these are areas of great exploration an invention. This is evident in the ‘occult revival’ of esotericism in Europe in the 1890s and was coincident with the expansion of its imperial horizons. The esoteric was exotic, wondrous and part of the strangeness of modernity and the search for transcendental co-ordinates once they had been lost. As God seemed to have withdrawn, “[l]ike nihilism, modernist syncretism, [was] a way of pursuing this ‘occulted’, hide-and-seek god, [that] baulks at systematic definition.”[3] The result was often the creation of new myths (nomos) that would allow for the utopian overcoming of the limits of modernity. Orientalism, Decadence, Symbolism, Theosophy, Ritualism, Schopenhauer, Vitalism, Mesmerism, etc. were all part of this attempt to negotiate the transcendental and the nihilistic in equal measure against the legalist-rationalism of liberals and progressives. (more…)

Christian Messier at Galerie Laroche/Joncas

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Christian Messier, Bayou (2018)

A painter and performance artist, Christian Messier is currently completing his PhD at UQAM. For several years, his oils, acrylics and watercolours have been working over themes borrowed from films and pop culture. At their weakest they appear topical; at their best they seem dysfunctionally narrative, frozen, vaguely menacing. While his palette has often been garish and expressionistic in the past, his paintings exhibited at Galerie Laroche/Joncas are impressively stripped to more subdued and minimal colouring that look the way I imagine rust tastes. This allows him to downplay the melodrama that often seems on the verge of settling his work into a forced sense of irony or goofy self-effacement. (more…)