CHICAGO — The Institute for New Feeling (IfNf) visited Threewalls on July 16, bringing with it a small traveling exhibition and film screening. The group, self-identified as a “research clinic,” aims to explore “new ways of feeling, and ways to feel new.” Its small temporary show displayed products and instructionals intended as self-help for the internet age, offering ways to disconnect from and reboot oneself for the constant demands of digital nagging and notification dings.
IfNf was founded by artists Scott Andrew, Agnes Bolt, and Nina Sarnelle, who curated the sculptures, handouts, audio clips, and videos that serve as the products and treatments of the traveling new age clinic. Their own contribution to the show consisted of four products: an Oxytocin Air Freshener, Pressure Point Insole, Cement Neck Pillow, and Edible Ear-Plugs. These objects were displayed in front of projected commercials vaguely demonstrating each of their uses — the beautifully composed videos combined the visuals of upscale beauty treatments with the feel and sounds of an ASMR YouTube video.
The objects lived better on screen than in person, simple sculptures that needed the activation of movement and demonstration provided by the videos; my desire to touch them came only after experiencing the associated videos. Each clip jolted the pleasure centers of my brain as ambiguous bodies slowly touched, slapped, and rubbed the objects; it was a form of visual therapy.
Various works produced by other artists comprised the rest of the exhibition: instructionals inspired by Fluxus scores and waiting room trifolds ranging from how to heal your avatar after various forms of digital abuse (“Avatar Therapy” by Kate Hanse) to how to rearrange your closet to soothe your brain (“Hang in There—an activity for an uncertain age” by Jesse McLean).
Only a few of the pieces were immediately interactive. I was most inspired to try Luke Loeffler’s “Treatment for Hyperactive Electronic Response Syndrome,” a message-based response system that urges viewers to strengthen their will against submitting to the constant rechecking of digital devices. By texting a number and turning one’s phone to vibrate, one engages with the therapy, working to accept and ignore all notifications that come (text 505-672-5561 and try it yourself). I lasted all of three vibrations, anxious that I was missing a ‘real’ notification instead of the messages from the immersion therapy I was quickly failing.
The screening featured 16 videos ranging from 30 seconds to 10 minutes — variously instructional, meditative, and completely abstract videos mostly relating to our relationship with objects and our decreased connection with their functions as we build them to be smarter and more intuitive. A piece by Agnes Bolt was a standout, a nine-and-a-half-minute screen grab of the artist using Photoshop to lasso objects out of various rooms of her house while Bob Ross speaks gently in the background, instructing his audience to add more and more paint as Bolt continues to subtract items from her personal space.
Although I was excited about the idea of the exhibition’s treatments, I was disappointed by the overall lack of physicality and interactivity, making me me wish I had been introduced to the group via their exhibition at Recess in New York last month. There the group produced 15-minute cyberculture clairvoyant readings, which sound more substantive than the fairly intangible speed-dating session I had with the artists as they were passing through Chicago. IfNf, however, hopes to open a permanent “spa” in LA to continue their curatorial treatments, a project that sounds like a better environment in which to encounter the currently nomadic digital healers.
The Institute for New Feeling exhibition and screening took place at Threewalls (119 N Peoria St, #2C, Chicago) on July 16, 6–9pm. The institute continues a monthlong tour of the US, ending July 31 at StorefrontLab (337 Shotwell Street, San Francisco).