A book of contributions by artists and writers to the languages of self-help, and to Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995).
Safe stars Julianne Moore as Carol White, an affluent Californian housewife who becomes increasingly allergic to everyday domestic products and routine activities, eventually moving to an enclosed community in New Mexico.
Set in 1987, the film can be read as a reflection on the AIDS epidemic, environmental issues, sexual politics, and suburban disillusionment. Haynes has spoken about using it make a guarded interrogation of New Age retreats and philosophies, asking why people felt in need of such theories and gurus to comprehend their illness, unhappiness or uncertainties.
Taking the form of a self-help book, the various contributions in this volume do not amount to a parody of the genre, but instead use it as a starting point to consider dubious cures, structures of patriarchy and self blame, rhetorics of personal responsibility, biopolitics, medical and institutional control, vernacular modes of counselling, lifestyle advice, social etiquettes, invisible labour, and the problematics and conflations of symptom and cause.
This book is the second title in the Transactions of Desire series, commissioned by Sarah Perks to explore the relationship between the emotional, economic, physical, technological, social and political. It accompanied the exhibition Safe at HOME, Manchester (14 November 2015 – 3 January 2016) curated by Louise O’Hare and Sarah Perks. See more at Safe