In Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau recognized: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It was a simple, serene statement on the muted tragedy of life — the longer we are here, the more wore down we become. Not just by our own experiences, but those we observe about the world in which we live and the nature of the system.

We learn to temper expectation, adjust our desires, forsake our dreams, yet we never quite escape the burning rage these needless sacrifices demand. We start to mutate, distend, distort, delude, deny, demand, deform. “It is not measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote — and yet many do their very best to pretend it is so.

But as we see everywhere all around us, from the devastation of the earth to the horrors that befall the innocent, the human ability to adapt is a tool of survival, though that does not make it a good, or even moral thing in and of itself. Instead, we simply comport and compose ourselves, hoping that what gets lost will disappear, rarely realizing that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, until it is too late.

In the new exhibition, This Desperate Society of Ours, on view at Rusart from November 15–19, 2019, Armenian artist Karén Khachaturov visualizes the twenty first century state of mind. Here, faceless beings don masks or other identity obliterating guides that suggest we are one of many: interchangeable, replaceable, mass produced, and ultimately meaningless.

In his artist statement, Khachaturov writes, “Wow, it’s been a long time I create images day by day, not knowing the answer why I am doing this. It’s like a mixture of utopia and dystopia.” The statement is titled, “Monologue after therapy.”

Khachaturov’s figures don’t do much, but what they do is strangely familiar: they sit, a lot. Sometimes they stand, other times lie down, often in pairs and groups, though rarely interacting despite the proximity. They are alone together, the perfect illustrations of our alienated state. You could just as easily imagine them with a phone in their hands, and then everything would make sense.

But Khachaturov’s photographs are strangely appealing, their soft pastel palettes suggesting: Everything is just fine. It’s actually quite lovely, normal even. Don’t pay these people any mind. You’ll like it here. 

The rough, jagged edges of life fade away. Why deal with the root of the epic tragedy of the human condition cause when you can obliterate the symptoms that cause discomfort? You don’t have to feel, or think, or deal. You can escape it all. But just remember the price for this bargain is your soul.

All images: © Karén Khachaturov