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WE ARE: Famous Accountants

August 18 August 22, 2011

“Famous Accountants, directed by Ellen Letcher and Kevin Regan, proposed to organize and lead a five-day program of encounter-group sessions, called More Joy, at NURTUREart for the WE ARE: summer project. Hosting sessions of 2–4 hours with 8–12 people, we experimented with the exercises and techniques outlined by the psychologist William C. Schutz in his book Joy: Expanding Human Awareness (1967) and developed at the Esalen Institute, a spiritual retreat in Big Sur, California.

More Joy included classic exercises such as “Roll and Rock,” in which the group lifted the relaxed body of one member and passed him or her around the room, and “Breaking Out,” in which participants formed a tight circle, arms interlocked, around a single person who was encouraged to escape. We documented all sessions on video. This research footage was on display between sessions.

Complete Sessions Program: http://www.famousaccountan​ts.com/encounte…r_group/index.html

RSVP to partecipate in one or more of the group sessions here: moreandmorejoy@gmail.com

The goal, then and now, was not to arrive at a specific agenda or to find an applied use. Rather, we sought to explore these techniques for their abstract potential to generate psychological or emotional affect. In this way, these “affective technologies” may have generated psychological or emotional change and provided intensified psychological or emotional states, shifts in consciousness, even epiphanies.

A pioneer in the human potential movement and a faculty member at Esalen from 1967 to 1971, Schutz joined John Heider and Stuart Miller to form a trio of somewhat notorious seminar leaders, dubbed the Flying Circus. During this time Schutz reworked Kurt Lewin’s sensitivity training group model after it passed through the hands of humanist psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, transforming it into its most emblematic form: the open-encounter group. Of their method Heider wrote: “Under the Encounter Contract I say how I feel about you. My obligation to be polite, kind, or considerate is, for the time, set aside. The Encounter Contract replaces the familiar Social Contract.” This loosening of inhibitions in a group setting is what people generally think of when hearing about encounter groups—especially as the New Age, self-help industry exerted its influence on the Me Generation into the 1970s and beyond.

Esalen methods and Schutz’s book Joy were uniquely 1960s and highly publicized, with articles about them published in the New York Times, Time, and Life. The scholar Jeffrey J. Kripal, in his book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (2007), contends that they took “a more stable form of transformative practice and morphed it into an all out assault on the psychical frontier.”

Famous Accountants is a collaborative social experiment that most visibly manifests itself as an art gallery. It is located in the basement of Gates Institute (1673 Gates Avenue), a sacred site on the geographic border between Bushwick and Ridgewood, among other psychic divides.

During the whole WE ARE: series, the gallery was also open on Thursdays (one day before opening dates) to reveal each exhibition’s installation process.

Famous Accountants

WE ARE: Famous Accountants, installation view

Paperback edition of "Joy," by William C Schutz

WE ARE: Famous Accountants

WE ARE: Famous Accountants