fold #03 on Happiness
Design by Jinhye Lee
November 2021 – March 2022
on Happiness Ambassador
Ivetta Sunyoung Kang
November 2021 – March 2022
Residency Alex Farrar (UK)
Notes on Happiness
with Alex Farrar
February 2022 – March 2022
Residency Miradonna Sirkka (FI)
25.02 – 27.03.2022
Living Like There is No Tomorrow
Performance Miradonna Sirkka
Physicality of Happiness
Open Call for one Minute on happiness
in collaboration with
The One Minutes Foundation
with Alex Farrar, Scott Cloutier
and Chantal Rens
CANCELLED due to Covid
February – April 2022
commission Chantal Rens
Find the full reading list on happiness here.
According to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report *1, The Netherlands are the 5th happiest country in the world. This was determined by studying financial wealth, social cohesion, life expectancy, and freedom of choice worldwide. Surely, these are circumstances that offer citizens happiness, to a certain extent, through comfort and safety. Yet the world’s current state of affairs – defined by economic distress, climate disasters, racial injustice and disease – is no laughing matter. Moreover, as depression rates rise and therapy waiting lists get longer, it becomes clear that happiness is not easily measurable, and that it hardly allows for a comprehensive, singular definition.
The happiness market
Happiness these days seems to have ‘emancipated’ into a more scientific and simplified notion of a chemical balance. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are considered the ‘happiness’ chemicals triggered by elements of reward, mood stabilisation, affection and pain relief. As such, many self-help books and social media influencers have capitalised on the possibility of ‘hacking’ our hormones through promoting essential oils or decluttering methods. This excessive focus on positivity and how to find efficient ways of eventually increasing our productivity can be seen as commodification. Together with the viral happiness indexes and quality-of-life rankings, they are a part of a political agenda of happiness, and a new form of market whose most decisive asset is ‘affect’*2.
The ideology on happiness is connected to much more than just the individual. Architecture, city and landscape are all contested surfaces unto which ‘well-being’ is reflected. According to the ancient Greeks, happiness could be measured by the functioning of the polis*3. It would be the appropriate ideal for society, and structural property of the collective as a whole, rather than a narrow notion of individual enjoyment. Along these lines, happiness would not just mean ‘euphoria’, ‘enjoyment’ or delight in one’s own existence. Instead, it would designate a social harmony.
The link between art and happiness
Perhaps happiness is not something that can be reached, as a status, but is more like a feeling that comes and goes in moments of flow or acceptance. It might not even be possible to be aware of this transient state until it is gone. Nevertheless, it can be argued that getting to such states requires an amount of privilege and specific circumstances or means. Research into psychological wellbeing has shown that cultural experiences such as theatre, concerts and gallery/museum visits were the second most important determinants, topped by the incidence of disease*4. They were seen as more important than factors such as job, income and education. This strongly suggests that the link between art and happiness is true for many people besides artists.
Next to this research, brain-mapping experiments have demonstrated almost immediate surges of dopamine into the brain’s frontal cortex whilst viewing works of art, resulting in feelings of pleasure and satisfaction*5. Viewing and making art include the capacity of invention, based in evolutionary biology to ensure survival through innovation. Also the ability to get pleasure and relaxation from creating useful, yet aesthetic objects are a form of rejuvenation that is not only practical but also health-enhancing.
Artists on happiness
Throughout the history of art, artists and art theorists have approached an ideal of aesthetic harmony. In earlier centuries much art sought to create an ideal, of a lost paradise or a perfect landscape. From the seventeenth century, perfect happiness began to be found in modern life, particularly the well-ordered home. Contemporary art finds solace in chaotic structures and mixed media. Whether an imitation of nature or a celebration of artifice, the power of art for happiness and sustainability could lie in reacting to what one sees in the world, and working with the material towards this sense of harmony. Whether individual or collective, activist or rather autonomous. The question remains what should be the new emancipatory vision going forward. Is there still a way to disentangle ourselves from a global order that shapes our politics as well as our imagination?
Sustainability and art
The more collective notion of happiness, as an ideal and measure for the society plus its citizens, might give impulse towards an agenda of sustainability. When happiness is generated through social harmony, the fruits of the collective might produce better ways of living and caring for the environment. With movements such as deep ecology and dark ecology, thinkers like Donna Haraway emphasise ‘response-ability’ as a way going forward for humans as well as nonhumans*6. The inner and cultural dimensions of sustainability are a vital focus for us to be able to deal with change. Accordingly, the desire to make a difference in our interrelations is a prime breeding ground for artists. Sustainability might be defined through the materials used response-ably, or that the art encourages conversation and social awareness.
The programme is born out of a conviction that artists’ perspectives have an important role to play in the framing of international, national and institutional responses to threat and conflict. We believe that the capacity of the arts to effectively influence policy development has not been systematically explored, exploited or applied. The world is at a crossroads as humans have tapped natural resources of our world that by far exceeds the rate of nature’s ability to recover. The ecological crisis is overwhelmingly the result of human action, and at the same time, humans must find ways to sustain our species. Over the span of 2020, we presented artists/artist collectives in a virtual vitrine that brought us closer to the specific focus of diverse practices which we saw as crucial in addressing sustainability. The #sea_youhere virtual vitrine started as a showcase of artistic practices and developed into an open-ended research programme.
The ambassador for fold #03 on Happiness is Ivetta Sunyoung Kang. She is an interdisciplinary artist. Her artistic practice encompasses archive, video installation, text, performative work and participation. Her interest is directed towards unsettling language(s) linked to therapeutic approaches on how or where a new language can be found or created. She leans into personal stories and non-binary psychological on groups of multi/mixed cultures she alleviates and builds on human emotional struggles. In addition triggering questions on what an imaginative way of contemporary living would?
*1: The rankings in Figure 2.1 of World Happiness Report 2021 use data that come from the Gallup World Poll surveys from 2018 to 2020.
*2: Our Happy Life: Architecture and Well-Being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism, edited by Francesco Garutti, Sternberg Press Montréal, 2019.
*3: ‘The Work of Art and the Promise of Happiness in Adorno’, by James Gordon Finlayson, European Journal of Philosophy 23 (3), 2015.
*4: Researcher at the London School of Economics George MacKerron set up the Mappiness Project in 2010. Through continuous surveys via an iPhone app, 1,500 people were asked to rate their mood after various activities, according to a system of points relative to intensity of happiness.
*5: In a 2011 study, researchers at University College London conducted a series of brain-mapping experiments, led by neurobiologist and Professor Semir Zeki. Volunteers underwent brain scanning whilst viewing 28 pieces of art, among which by Boticelli, Turner and Cézanne.
*6: When Species Meet, by Donna Haraway, University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
World Happiness report. Accessed January 15 2022
Art and Happiness: New research indicates 4 out of 6 happiest activities are arts-related, Arts Journal. Accessed January 28 2022
Semir Zeki: Beauty is in the brain of the beholder, EarthSky. Accessed January 28 2022
For all suggested reading resources please visit the Happiness reading list.