All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Conceived according to a pathway made up of different ‘affective zones’, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” brings together several artists who examine the impact of the market economy and new technologies on the production of our emotions and their representations.

Exhibition All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
Artist(s) Pedro Barateiro, Richard Brautigan, Isabelle Cornaro, Marjorie Keller, Lee Kit, Marie Lund, Michael E. Smith, Mika Tajima, Marie Mathématique
Venue Palais de Tokyo, Paris
Text Eline Verstegen
Photography Aurélien Mole

In 1967, the American writer Richard Brautigan handed out copies of a short poem entitled “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” in the streets of San Francisco. It describes a “mutually programming harmony” between machines, animals and human beings. But this utopia is doomed to fail because it is “watched over by machines of loving grace”. Fifty years later, while machines are everywhere, they have paradoxically faded away, being integrated into all the aspects of our working environments and living spaces.

In the era of the Internet of Things, the digital economy and the marketing of affects, the artworks, some of which are new, that are being presented in this exhibition reflect the influence of monetary exchanges, digital data feeds, and the movements of goods on the production of our emotions, as well as their values and depictions.

The sociologist Eva Illouz uses the expression “emotional capitalism” to describe “a culture in which emotional and economic discourses and practices shape each other, thus producing a broad, sweeping movement in which affect is made an essential part of economic behaviour, and in which emotional life (…) follows the logic of economic relations and exchange.” [Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, Polity Press, 2007]

While the pieces in this show are based on abstract structures or materialise invisible economic processes, they are nonetheless run through with empathy and subjectivity. Apparently possessing psychological attributes, they reflect the modelling of our imaginaries and the transformation of our affects into logos, products or sales pitches, thus bearing witness to a kind of reification of our emotions and social relationships.

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Tique | publication on contemporary art #3: Six Questions