Feel Tank Chicago

Feel Tank Chicago is a Chicago-based group composed of activists, artists, and academics that engages both in critical research and political activism. It originally began as a cell in larger project called Feminism Unfinished: the cell was called Public Feelings, and has grown in other locales as well, notably Austin, Texas and New York City. The group refers to itself as a feel tank rather than a think tank, only partly as a joke. The feel tank is organized around the thought that public spheres are affect worlds at least as much as they are effects of rationality, rationalization, and institutions.

The project studies theoretical, historical, and aesthetic materials engaged with political affects and emotions. They have focused on collecting the negative political emotions, arguing that many U.S. citizens and occupants have been left without optimism for the kind of transformative agency that might/ought to have been a provided by participation in the political public sphere. Among the emotions they're interested in are detachment, discontent, coolness, hopelessness, and ambivalence.

Their goal is to view these emotions not as a disconnection from politics, but as a particular critical perspective, and as a form of attachment, rather than detachment. They try to think about this perspective as an aesthetic perspective, without implying uplift, progress, or errancy. They describe themselves as "restless, angry, mournful, and strangely optimistic activists of the U.S. political sphere."

Its founders are Lauren Berlant, an English professor at the University of Chicago who focuses on publics and affects; Vanalyne Green, a professor in Fine Art at the University of Leeds; Debbie Gould, a sociologist of political feelings at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Mary Patten, a writer and video artist at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Rebecca Zorach, an art historian at the University of Chicago. Berlant narrates the origins and practices of Feel Tank Chicago briefly in her statement for the 2003 Critical Inquiry symposium, titled "Critical Inquiry, Affirmative Culture," which was then included in the Winter 2004 issue of Critical Inquiry.

Feel Tank Chicago has organized three Annual International Parades of the Politically Depressed in Chicago (on May 1, 2003; May 1, 2004; and July 4, 2007). This event, which they describe as a "depress-in" (in the tradition of a sit-in), consists primarily of a demonstration. Those attending the demonstration were instructed to show up in their bathrobe and slippers, bring their meds, and also bring any legal form of self-medication they have. Their slogan for the event was "Depressed? It Might Be Political," which also adorns their t-shirts. They organized the "Depression: What is it Good For?" conference at the University of Chicago and the exhibition and event series Pathogeographies, Or, Other People's Baggage. They've also been involved in projects at the Version Festival, Pilot TV, and the 2007 conference Anxiety, Urgency, Outrage, Hope . . . A Conference on Political Feeling, among other conferences and events.

As part of Pathogeographies, Feel Tank Chicago is produced a political feelings Keywords project. The Feel Kit is a toolkit to help others start their own feeltanks, and to brainstorm about the feelings of politics/the politics of feelings.

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