The New Society for Universal Harmony

A series of programs exploring the legacy of animal magnetism in contemporary literature, philosophy, medicine, and psychotherapy


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Pedagogy
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

The Wagner Free Institute of Science, and the Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College


Lenore Malen, Franz Anton Mesmer, and Aaron Levy


Granary Books, Inc.

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web


0% Formal - 100% Informal

We have lost almost all connection with nature... We owe almost all the physical ailments that consume us to our institutions... We are on the brink of a Great Revolution. -- Nicholas Bergasse, l780s

Slought is pleased to announce "The New Society for Universal Harmony," an installation by Lenore Malen of 125 black-and-white and color photographs that reinvents in contemporary terms La société del'harmonie universelle, a utopian society established in Paris in l783 by followers of Franz Anton Mesmer. The exhibition at Slought will subsequently travel to the Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College (June 17 - July 6, 2004).

Lenore Malen will give a live performance about the society and its origins at 6:00pm at the opening. The New Society for Universal Harmony, by Lenore Malen, will be co-published by Slought and Granary Books, Inc., forthcoming in Fall 2004. A one-day symposium on Mesmerism in 18th-20th-century literature, philosophy, medicine, and psychotherapy will be held on Saturday, April 3rd, 2004. "The Magnetized Tree of Buzancy," a special display of material culture engaging Animal Magnetism, has also been organized at the Wagner Free Institute of Science (February 28-April 15; 1700 W. Montgomery Ave, Phila. 215.763.6529).

Mesmer's thesis, combining Newtonianism and astrology, was that a universal magnetic fluid linked all forces in nature and that an imbalance of the fluid caused illness in human beings. Mesmer initially used magnets as a curative agent but eventually dispensed with them, considering himself to be an "animal magnet." He induced an altered state of consciousness in his patients through auto-suggestion, a technique later developed into hypnosis. Mesmer's beliefs established a medical and psychological tradition that ultimately influenced Charcot and even Freud. They offer parallels with contemporary healing practices. The New Society examines our own culture's yearning for the perfect cure; what the members undergo is darkly funny and impossible, pointing to our often-illusive search for spiritual harmony. The utopian dream remains unfulfilled.

Treatments at The New Society for Universal Harmony, on display at Slought Foundation, have been adapted from the original cures at La Société. The New Society is a constellation of factual formats, pseudo-documentary photos, video and audio narratives, testimonials, and case histories in a stage-set environment. The pseudo-documentary photographs show the putative members of the society undergoing therapy by performing acts based on Memser's actual treatments. The photographs rely on theatrical and narrative conventions, particularly the tableau vivant, and make reference to documentary photos from the Kinsey Institute Archives, stills from productions of Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade (both theater and film stills), the photographs of 19th century French anatomist G.B. Duchenne de Boulogne, the work of the Czech photographer Frantisek Drtikol, and the photographs of Calvin Watkins, among others. The audio tracks present pseudo-biographies, philosophical musings, and scientific explications, exploring the ways in which the institutional and communal identities of the society have been shaped.

read more

The New Society for Universal Harmony was originally commissioned as a photo and text work for 9/9 revue d'art practique, Paris in 2000. It has been presented in NY as a performance at the College Art Association, at Apexart, and at Artists Talk on Art. The New Society has also been seen on the web on Jochan Gerz's anthology-of-art and at the Centre Pompidou. The photographic prints have been installed at Klenova Castle (Klatovy, Czech Republic), at Trynarstarka Tower (Lublin, Poland), and Castle Gallery (NY). In 2004 the work will be shown at ZKM (Karlsruhe), Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin), Kunstprojekte (Berlin), Galeria Color Elefante (Valencia, Spain) and at Skidmore College.

Lenore Malen is an artist and writer. In the l990s she was executive editor of Art Journal, published by the College Art Association. Her work has been show nationally and internationally. Currently she teaches cultural studies in the MFA Painting and Sculpture Program at Parsons School of Design, a division of the New School University.

Conference and schedule

Slought is pleased to announce "Animal Magnetism and After: A Symposium." This one-day event on Saturday April 3rd, 2004, from 1:30 pm-4:30 pm, will address the history of Mesmerism in l8th, l9th, and 20th-century literature, political and social philosophy, medicine, and dynamic psychotherapy.

-- Introduction, by Lenore Malen

-- A public reading from "The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P," with comments to follow, by Brian O'Doherty

-- "Occult Subjects: From Mesmer to Psychoanalysis," by Jodey Castricano

-- "On the Spiritual Telegraph in the Nineteenth Century," by Jeremy Stolow

-- "The Victorian Fascination with Entranced Indians," by Alisha Siebers

-- "Magnetic Phenomena, Therapeutic Practice, and Public 'Experiments' in 19th Century Europe," by Daniela Barberis