For this exhibition, entitled By order from above (and we are all dutiful citizens), Isaac Soh Fujita Howell has shifted from the sci-fi imagery of his earlier paintings, focusing more directly on ideas around labor and self-formulation. In reflecting on these themes, he often referred to Henri Lefebvre's analysis of modern capitalism explored in his renowned text, Critique of Everyday Life.

Capitalist attitudes towards hyper-productivity and self-optimization have reduced the human being to a mechanical appendage of a larger labor apparatus. Under duress, we compromise our humanity for the sake of having enough food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof to live under – staying alive.

Through the ennui of the everyday, our wandering eyes watch seemingly exceptional individuals living lives more fully realized than our own. Beautiful people wear exquisite clothing in the company of interesting individuals against the backdrop of a constantly shifting landscape. We continue forth with perpetual expectations for something extraordinary, only to tug back and forth between being “ever-disappointed and ever-rekindled [in] hope” (Lefebvre, 1947). We fall into a cycle of unease, discontent with the most banal details of our quotidian experience.

Individualism seemingly offers an exit ramp. In the Age of Information, we can broadcast our escapes from the everyday – we brandish our new clothing, pose alongside our attractive peers, livestream our vacations. But as even our broadcasting becomes monetized (either through real or social capital), we are rewarded by amassing even more possessions, entering even more exclusive circles, traveling to ever more distant locations. We too, become a commodity.

How then do we contend with the sacrifice of our humanism and authentic experience in exchange for the preservation of our illusory appearances as exceptional individuals? How do we retain what makes us human without being subsumed into the deadness of machinehood?

Through this cycle of paintings, Howell endeavors to unravel the threads of societal estrangement and poses a visceral challenge to the forces that threaten to sever the bonds of our shared humanity. In these depicted scenarios, he confronts the pervasive ideologies that strip away the richness of our collective experience, leaving behind a barren landscape of isolation.