How Art Helps to Manipulate Minds in Severance

John Turturro as Irving and Christopher Walken as Burt Goodman in Severance, Season 1, Episode 2, “Half Loop” (2022) (picture courtesy Apple Television+)

Severance, the Apple Tv sci-fi thriller established to return for a second period just after premiering in February, is eerily shut to our operating globe. In Dan Erickson’s environment, alternatively of minimizing the 45-hour work 7 days, 1 enterprise, Lumon, finds it less difficult to operate on their staff, separating their memory involving do the job and dwelling. 

By working with the Apple font in Severance’s title sequence, we are reminded that the tech firm whose screens we rely on is commenting on the really side of culture it contributes to, an irony that is not lost on the production staff. This is only the beginning of the show’s aesthetic intentions, as through Severance’s art-motivated sets, we acquire hints of Lumon’s fantastic strategies and subliminal manipulation of its workforce.

Britt Reduced as Helly in Severance, Period 1, Episode 1, “Good Information About Hell” (2022) (impression courtesy Apple Tv set+)

The series opens in Lumon’s offices, as Helly (Britt Reduced) wakes up on a meeting desk, with no memory of herself. This room, with its mid-century furnishings, is centered on the operate of architect Eero Saarinen, and its inexperienced hues, reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” (1942). Hopper’s lonely city reverberates all over Severance, with its stark fluorescent lighting and broad destructive room. We have an understanding of why the Lumon workforce opted for the treatment, as small about their isolating fact is truly worth remembering.

Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks” (1942), oil on canvas, 33 1/8 x 60 inches (impression via Wikimedia Commons)
Christopher Walken as Burt Goodman, John Turturro as Irving, and Zach Cherry as Dylan in Severance, Time 1, Episode 5, “The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design” (2022) (impression courtesy Apple Television set+)

Some of production designer Jeremy Hindle’s references are so small that if you blink, you miss out on them. The map created by ex-employee Petey (Yul Vazquez) attributes a nod to Basquiat: a crude scribble of a crowned head bearing its enamel. Like the artist who railed against modern society, Petey has revolted against Lumon. Regardless of undergoing the long term course of action, the employees’ minds hold echoes of creative riot that seep into their doing work lives.

A painting in Severance, Period 1, Episode 4, “The You You Are” recalls Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” (1818). (screenshot Billie Walker/Hyperallergic)
Caspar David Friedrich, “Wanderer earlier mentioned the Sea of Fog” (1818), oil on canvas, 37 3/10 x 29 2/5 inches (image by means of Wikimedia Commons)
Francisco Goya, “Saturn Devouring His Son” (1819–1823), blended media mural transferred to canvas, 56 1/2 x 32 inches (impression by using Wikimedia Commons)

Lumon makes its own artwork historical past, with will work that pay out homage to Caravaggio and Caspar David Friedrich. Even for people unfamiliar with art background, these paintings or some reference to them exist in the peripheries of our cultural collective. By placing Kier, the corporation founder, at its visual centre, the staff members are confident of a bigger objective.

The very same propaganda that is made use of to inspire the workforce is utilized to different them. The personnel that are separated into two departments — MDR (Macro Knowledge Refinement) and O&D (Optics and Design and style) — have been correctly isolated by their shared belief that the other personnel are perilous — a greatly held rumor stored alive by the circulation of two versions of the similar painting, where raiders donning section lanyards tear into their victims. A great deal like the black paintings of Francisco Goya, these mysterious parts evoke horror at the monstrosity humanity is capable of. In every single model, the raiders wear distinct lanyards to incite anxiety in the related office, since Lumon understands that a workforce divided is less capable of revolt than one particular united.

Petey’s map in Severance, Year 1, Episode 3, “In Perpetuity” (screenshot Billie Walker/Hyperallergic)
The Macrodata Refinement Calamity portray in Severance, Period 1, Episode 5, “The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design” (screenshot Billie Walker/Hyperallergic)

Despite the crumbling, naïve, and manipulated minds of Lumon’s staff members, Severance’s meticulous focus to depth provides a entire world not soon overlooked with cautiously chosen subliminal references lurking in the murky waters of our subconscious. We can be selected that this dedication to visual earth-creating continues when Severance returns.