“Ugly Feelings” is an exhibition about emotional states that reflect a lack of agency. Anxiety, irritation, envy, lethargy — the kinds of feelings that are vaguely uncomfortable, sometimes difficult to justify, and usually dismissed as relatively banal, despite their pernicious power to prevent the emotional subject from acting.
These feelings have a tendency to circulate during times of painful uncertainty, disorienting their subjects and making it difficult to perform. “Ugly Feelings” is about these affective states, and how they correlate to similarly ambiguous, uneasy aesthetic judgments.
The exhibition is driven by a personal curatorial essay narrating a diverse group of works, which are bound together by a shared aim of dealing with or provoking particular emotions. The text itself is a response to questions that have been vexing Townhouse since 2011. How do we keep going in this extended traumatic moment? Artists find it difficult to work, exhibitions are cancelled, and seemingly innocuous projects can trigger unexpectedly violent controversies; as a result, the institution finds itself having to re-negotiate its programs very quickly (and usually with very limited resources) in reaction to the changing circumstances.
The emotional impact of working (or being unable to work) in this context has shifted our institutional and curatorial thinking. “Ugly Feelings” is a first step towards reflecting on that shift, a gesture towards a project that will manifest in 2014 asking if an institution can create an exhibition without an artist.
In addition to the exhibition on the First Floor Gallery, “Ugly Feelings” is a film and discussion series that touches on states of precarity, psychosis, nostalgia and utopia. Films will be screened in the Townhouse Library every Tuesday night at 7 pm starting on October 22, 2013.
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