June 6, 2022
This week we recognize the work of artist Lenore Malen.
Malen is a New York based interdisciplinary artist, who in 1999 invented The New Society for Universal Harmony, a fictional re-creation of an l8th century utopian society. Since she has used the lens of history and humor to explore utopian longings, dystopic aftermaths, and the sciences and technologies that inform them. She works with diverse media in all her projects incorporating live performance, photography, film/video, multi-screen projection, installation and fiction writing.
Filmed in Genoa and Bogliasco in May 2019 during a residency at The Bogliasco Foundation, Circe (above) was produced, written and directed by Lenore Malen. The Story, adapted from Homer’s Odyssey, Book 10, Circe, a Greek mythological figure, a sorceress, daughter of the Oceanid Nymph Perse and the God Helios, uses herbs and potions to poison the men around her. Preferring the company of animals to human males she transforms these same men into pigs.
In this film and installation Circe’s tale is woven into a dérive, an unplanned journey through the city of Genoa and into the mountains. On the journey Circe is accompanied by three men she befriends at the Aquarium of Genoa while lurking around large tanks of aquatic animals. The entourage reads aloud while they walk, at first from a screenplay by Gary Indiana on dislocation, lost objects, unfamiliar places. Eventually they turn to Book 10 that they read and re-read, rehearsing for a play while moving through the city.
Circe is a document of a live performance, a comedy and improbable spectacle on the streets of Genoa. It is also a myth in narrative form.
"From 2012-15, I was working with actors and a stage director hoping to bring to life an image from a 15th century manuscript illumination that we could use as a springboard for an investigation into human ecological destruction and our endlessly cruel treatment of non human animals. Many workshops led to video documentation that inspired the making of short films and eventually developed into Scenes From Paradise."
Scenes From Paradise (above) is a dark comedy presented in multiple formats: a film, live performances, and three-channel video installations, which are variously titled Reversal, The Reason of the Strongest is Always the Best, So we’ll no more go a rowing by the light of the moon and Scenes From Paradise. In every format Eden, the cautionary tale, is made newly relevant by the ticking clock of climate change, habitat loss and extinction. But we do not live in a human centered world; we only imagine that we do.
A fairy tale in an anxious time, the final chapter of Scenes from Paradise, Eve in Sheepland (above) is a dark comedy in 9 short scenes (17 minutes). It was filmed as a live, unscripted performance on a sheep farm in Ghent, New York. The two characters Eve and Adam, time travelers, find themselves on the farm. Naked and unashamed, befuddled and doomed they interact with the sheep, they learn to be human and they die. Together the scenes reveal the sheep’s bodily sense of vulnerability (and panic) as well as their profound knowledge of earth and death that we humans find too much to bear.
I Am The Animal (below) explores apiculture and the writings of Jacques Derrida brought together in three-channel video installations and a documentary film on beekeepers in the Hudson Valley Region. The title of the project is an homage to Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am, l998, which is a philosophical investigation into the way we have anthropomorphized animals and a plea against the industrialized treatment of them. In the films interview with beekeepers are intercut with historical and found footage.
Lenore Malen published her eponymously titled book The New Society For Universal Harmony in 2005 (Granary Books). She has exhibited and performed since 2004 on the BBC (Lion TV), at Apex Art, Participant Inc., Location One, The Slought Foundation. In 2010-2012 she performed at Wave Hill, Tufts University and the Mediations Biennale in Poznan, Poland. And, in 2019 at the Uppsala Konstmusem, Sweden. In Spring 2020, Malen was awarded a grant by the Finnish Cultural Institutes for a project (co-produced with Samir Bhowmik) titled “Where from Here” on the subject of virtuality in a pandemic.
Malen received a BA in Art History from Skidmore College, an MA in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania and later studied at the School of Visual Arts with the artist Will Insley while he was working on “OneCity,” a Non Utopian Monumental City. She was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and NYFA and NYSCA awards in Interdisciplinary Art. She teaches in the Art/Media/Technology Program at Parsons/The New School, New York. lenoremalen.com
Featured Images: Above, ©Lenore Malen, Circe (2020) filmed in Genoa, Italy during a residency at The Bogliasco Foundation; Circe (2020) on Vimeo (25 mins); Scenes from Paradise (2013-2017) performed live at Art Omi International Art Centerin 2016; Eve in Sheepland, 2018, installation at Uppsala Konstmuseum, Sweden, 2019; I Am Animal, 2007-2010, featured at CR10 in 2015, Livingston, New York, curated by Amy Lipton ; below, Lenore Malen at The Bogliasco Foundation, Genoa, Italy, 2019.