Raqs Media Collective

Reverse Engineering the Euphoria Machine

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CreditsCourtesy of Nature Morte Berlin

Across the fields of philosophy, economics, anthropology and art, critics of capitalism have been preoccupied with the processes by which it is normalised as a system that generates rather than responds to desires. Reverse Engineering the Euphoria Machine is a sculptural articulation of this enquiry.

As part of their research the artists looked into the work of Edward Louis Bernays (1891-1995), a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a central subject of Adam Curtis’ TV documentary The Century of the Self. An expert in war propaganda, Bernays observed the phenomenal appeal of ‘democracy’ as a concept when there was a need to manipulate public opinion during the Second World War. Applying his findings to advertising and public relations during peacetime, he became emblematic of the American Way – that is, the export and popularisation of values rather than just products.

Bernays’ work in linking the acquisition of commodities with achieving happiness and wellbeing provided the basis for the Euphoria Machine. Yet the same manipulation of desire can be applied to production as well, in the realisation that both consumption and production are vital for the generation of profit and the reproduction of capitalism. In the words of the artists: ‘A job was no longer something you did to earn a living; it became a mark of your special identity as a human being. The building blocks of Capital were internalized as personal drives. To us, this marriage between deep-seated internal drives and the running of the vast impersonal network of a global economy is the secret of the Euphoria Machine’. (BlouinArtInfo, April 24, 2012)