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ASMR Is a Joke (But Laughter's Still the Best Medicine)

Concrete neck pillows and edible earplugs emerge at the Institute for New Feeling.

Some art is so clearly product or stock that incorporation as a business seems appropriate (see: Jeff Koons). Multimedia artists Scott Andrew, Agnes Bolt and Nina Sarnelle take this to a conceptual tongue-in-cheek extreme with The Institute for New Feeling (IfNf), a “research clinic” that offers wellness products, exercises, therapies, research studies and treatments in their quest to “develop new ways of feeling new.”

“We took on this corporate structure as a way of collectivizing different types of art activity under an elusive ‘we,’” Andrew tells The Creators Project. “In a country where corporations are granted personhood, this ‘we’ is both protected and powerful. Anyone can be an Institute (at least on the Internet). Anyone can construct a belief system; or define a new standard of beauty; or decide what is ‘good for us.’”

The Cloud from Institute for New Feeling on Vimeo.

Among the nearly dozen “treatments” are an assortment of ideas that take the piss out of the wellness industry. Easily one of the funniest is the Watermark.mov, a high definition steam room. Featured at the How to Water exhibition at Eastside International, ten viewers sat in ten pods getting a steam treatment while getting hypnotized by rhythmic on-screen visuals, light and sound.

In The Cloud, the artists crafted a three-course food experience “made entirely of foam and air.” The “low fat, low cal, low carb” culinary performance resembles the science fiction-esque trend of molecular gastronomy, food popular with avant-garde chefs and certain highbrow foodies. These meals are designed to appeal both to the mind and the body.

Institute for New Feeling, A Collection of Air Qualities, fragrance line, 2016

The treatment group, which has been performed several times, is a two-person audiovisual stage performance. Hitting a hilarious smattering of cultural conventions and trends, the group draws upon electronic music concerts, aerobic routines, team-building exercises, yoga, group therapy, karaoke chanting and self-help seminars, all in an attempt to generate “intimacy, physicality and energetic connection” amongst participants.

The picture that begins to emerge with this hodge-podge of activities is that each produces something like the atmosphere of a cult, with IfNf as its leaders. The art just helps people break the collective hallucination that convinces individuals that such activities, when done within a group, aren’t cultish.

IfNf’s products are similarly acute pieces of satire. In Pillow, the art pranksterism is thick, with IfNf creating a cement neck pillow “to be used in-flight or at home.” IfNf also poke fun at artisanal products with Earplug, a line of edible earplugs made from artisan-rolled Japanese mochi. Naturally, all ingredients are listed so customers can rest assured that their bodies and the environment will remain healthy whenever they need to plug their ears.

Cream is the exact opposite of anti-aging products. Originally exhibited as part of MAXIMUM MINIMUM IN UNUM at the Miller Gallery of Carnegie Mellon, IfNf’s Cream is described as an aging “accelerant." In the installation, Cream drips from dispensers onto the half-naked bodies of people who look like as if they’re getting a mud bath at a day spa. The irony is that it probably works about as well as similarly marketed anti-aging products.

Pillow from Institute for New Feeling on Vimeo.

The ASMR subculture also get some ribbing with IfNf’s Downloads, videos and audio tracks that feature soothing voices. But instead of taking things as seriously as the ASMR community, IfNf’s soothing downloads feature people reading email spam, a guided yoga meditation for pets, and a series of listicles designed to be “an alternative to diets.”

IfNf is taking their brand of wellness satire to Whitechapel Gallery for Artists’ Film International with the work This Is Presence, a 17-minute video that runs until October 2nd. The video is also appearing at Istanbul Modern MAAT Lisbon.

“This work functions as a kind of SEO campaign for the Institute for New Feeling, exploring the many strategies by which content on the Internet is generated, manipulated and proliferated—either by bots or by an invisible human workforce—in order to influence search results,” Andrew explains. “The film depicts a slow fall down an Internet 'rabbit hole,' floating through a ring of interconnected training modules, news articles, facility tours, click bait and social networking sites; all of this is original content, shot for and about our organization.”

Like most of the Institute’s work, it should prove what we have known for a long time: satire is one of humanity’s great wellness products.

You May Like from Institute for New Feeling on Vimeo.

Click here to see more products and treatments by The Institute for New Feeling.

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