Decision Fatigue

Ilana Harris-Babou

The points of departure for Ilana Harris-Babou’s work are contemporary forms of digital media and the ways we insatiably consume them—think of the glut of home improvement and cooking shows and beauty tutorials made available instantaneously online daily. Via these numerous digital interfaces, our “realities” of daily life become reinforced through personally-constructed algorithms. Harris-Babou is acutely aware of this abject irony of engagement and uses it as comedic fuel for sending a “trojan horse” to consenting audiences. In Decision Fatigue, the artist’s mother Sheila Harris plays the leading role of “Sheila,” a beauty expert teaching from her bathroom, a setting full of consumption and creation. We not only witness Sheila’s improvised deadpan performance, but we also become implicated as one of her anonymous followers. Her language and actions come together in absurd ways: a rose quartz facial roller is promoted to relax oneself in preparation to enjoy a TV dinner; she espouses the benefits of washing down a multivitamin with Pepsi, which, she admits, she is addicted to. Sheila also offers us an alternate world of beauty supplies and their demonstrated value, however fantastical, by touching, applying, and sampling ready-made products such as chocolate chip soap “from the Amazon” and a Cheeto face mask.The title sardonically nods to our overwhelmed mental states regarding media consumption and to our bodies as sites of digital commodification. Via this witty and biting critique, Harris-Babou highlights the absurdity of health and beauty standards that many don’t have the resources or time to maintain while keeping a tone ripe with fantasy. In a year of worldwide stay-at-home orders, this video touches on global realities and insecurities around boredom and an innate desire for collective approval.

Ilana Harris-Babou‘s work is interdisciplinary; spanning sculpture and installation, and grounded in video. She speaks the aspirational language of consumer culture and uses humor as a means to digest painful realities. Her work confronts the contradictions of the American Dream: the ever unreliable notion that hard work will lead to upward mobility and economic freedom. She has exhibited throughout the US and Europe, with solo exhibitions at The Museum of Arts & Design and Larrie in New York. Other venues include Abrons Art Center, the Jewish Museum, SculptureCenter, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the De Young Museum, and the WhitneyMuseum of American Art. Harris-Babou has been reviewed in the New Yorker, Artforum, and Art in America, among others. She holds an MFA in Visual Art from Columbia University, and a BA in Art from Yale University.

Rachel Jobe Reese is Director and Curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), the first ICA in the state of TN. From 2015-2019, Reese served as Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums in Savannah, GA where she organized over 20 special exhibitions, including the recent retrospective and accompanying catalogue for Suzanne Jackson: Five Decades(Telfair Books, 2019). Reese held prior positions at Atlanta Contemporary in Atlanta where she curated Pratfall Tramps (Atlanta Contemporary, 2015) with accompanying catalogue; Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia; and Deitch Projects, Petzel Gallery and Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York. Reese is an alumni of Independent Curators International; was a former editor of Burnaway magazine in Atlanta, and her writing and artist interviews have appeared in BOMB Daily, Temporary Art Review, TWELV Magazine, and Art Papers; she also published a free newsprint of artists’ writings called Possible Press from 2010–15. Reese has taught at PAFA in Philadelphia and Georgia State University in Atlanta, and currently teaches at UTC in the Department of Art. Reese holds an MFA from City College, CUNY, in New York.

Notes for Tomorrow is a traveling exhibition organized and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI) and initiated by Frances Wu Giarratano, Jordan Jones, Becky Nahom, Renaud Proch, and Monica Terrero. The exhibition was made possible with the generous support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, VIA Art Fund and ICI’s Board of Trustees and International Forum.

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