The New Society for Universal Harmony is said to have have been founded as a utopian “therapeutic community” in Athol Springs, NY, by a Dr. F.A. Mesmer, namesake of the controversial 19th century discoverer of animal magnetism (mesmerism). The name of this group is a direct homage to the Society for Universal Harmony (Société de l'Harmonie Universelle) founded by followers of the original Franz Anton Mesmer. Artist Lenore Malen, who refers to herself on the society’s website as its "archivist", has created a number of projects centering on the society, including a book, a website, and various installation and performance projects.
The society's website is replete with photographs of the grounds, the activities of visitors and members, and the treatments available; but there is very little actual information about what the society does and who its staff and members are. The book offers considerably more information; for example, the society's treatments are apparently based on the original Mesmer's ideas. Photographs of these treatments, which feature peculiar-looking prosthetics of various kinds, bear a strong resemblance to images made by late 19th century scientists such as the neuro-anatomist G.-B. Duchenne de Boulogne (author of the landmark text Mechanism of Human Facial Expression.)
The New Society is an example of what might be called the institutional form of fictive art: organizations of various kinds whose existence consists largely in a name and the products of the institution. An early exemplar of this form is artist Marcel Broodthaer’s conceptual museum project of the 1960s known as the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles. These organizations rarely have a permanent physical location, and affiliated personnel are often hard to determine; in the case of the New Society, for instance, a number of the people said to be connected to the society in various ways are in fact alter egos of Malen. With the advent of the worldwide web, with its ready affordances for creating a sustainable facade, such fictive and/or virtual institutions have multiplied enormously.
Like fictive artist Jim Shaw (inventor of the O-ist religion), Malen twists the familiar framework of spiritual seeking into a new form, one that neither claims nor entirely disowns belief.
New Society for Universal Harmony web site
Lenore Malen, New Society for Universal Harmony (Granary Books, 2005)