“Lenore Malen’s multi-media project “The New Society for Universal Harmony,” documented in a recent book and in several gallery and museum presentations, simulates the spell of utopian yearning (and its familiar decay into authoritarianism ideology) in a slyly deflationary paradigm of illness and healing, expanded outward from individual malaise and cure to an idealized therapeutic communitarianism. Malen’s model utopia is an elaborately woven fiction—a restaging in photographs, videos and texts of the “magnetic healing practices” in the years leading up to the French Revolution by Franz Anton Mesmer. . . .
from Mesmer as Metaphor: Lenore Malen’s Fictions of Utopia by Gary Indiana Art in America February 2006
The New Society for Universal Harmony is an invention born out of necessity. A period of profound loss motivated me to create a healing community of people who had shared in the loss. It eventually expanded to include other like-minded friends, mostly artists and actors. The New Society was inspired by and named after La société de l’harmonie universelle, founded in Paris in 1793 by Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer himself was a brilliant scientist, and ultimately a charlatan, who claimed to channel magnetic fluid from the planets and the stars to the bodies of his patients. His earliest subjects included the French aristocracy and American politicians and their families.
We “harmonites” lived in a fictional Athol Springs, NY, near Buffalo, NY. (Upstate New York was the birthday of numerous 19th century American utopias, including the Oneida Colony, the Skaneateles Community, A Society for Universal Inquiry, Sodus Bay Phalanx of Fourierists, Cassadaga Lake Free Association (Lily Dale) and others.
I became the new Doctor Mesmer, magnetizing and mesmerizing the members of The Society and other willing subjects, and documenting these events as artwork (an archive) in photography, film, audio transcriptions, testimonials and case histories. Word spread and I was contacted by the BBC to heal the British actress Miriam Margolyes, who was touring the US as part of her television series Dickens in America. Dickens himself was a mesmerist. (Early members of The New Society included Todd Erickson, Ruppert Bohle, Stephen Brewer, Kathryn Alexander, Ilana Rein, Elke Solomon.)
My book The New Society For Universal Harmony, published by Granary Books, Inc.in 2005 was born out of this long-term project and includes a first-person account of my discovery and two-year involvement with the Society.
The New Society For Universal Harmony has been exhibited at the Zilkha Gallery, Wesleyan University, Skidmore College, Castle Gallery College of New Rochelle, The Slought Foundation, (University of Pennsylvania,) Philadelphia, The Cue Art Foundation, NYC, Shepherd Fine Art Gallery, University of Reno, Reno Nevada, and Participant, Inc.