Monday, October 20, 2008

Review: Exercises in Happiness

Created and presented by Panther: Sarah Rodigari and Madeleine Hodge
Until Saturday 25th October

Both Madeleine Hodge and Sarah Rodigari are friends of mine. They, as far as I know, don't know that I write this. This happened once before after I reviewed Tom Holloway's 'Red Sky Morning', Tom read it and the jig was up. He didn't, you see, know that I was writing a blog. More correctly, I hadn't told him. Then he read it. I was embarrassed.
'Exercises in Happiness' occurs in a gallery-like space. I was there Saturday evening. It was hot and it was crowded. I found myself informally queueing in order to complete the exercises. It made me cross. 
As has been written by others this is a diverting installation / intervention, and it is quite submersive. I think this misses the point though. Or it does to me at least. 
What I got, and this really might be more revealing psychologically than I would like it to be, was the absolute flimsiness and futility of a search for happiness alone - as a means to an end. You potter about in a garden, something I usually love doing, and all I was thinking about was the drainage of a container within a gallery and how the plants really don't stand a chance. You make awkward conversation with a stranger using topics from a little glass bowl, while eating trifle and rather than begin a conversation, it halted one that I was already having with a stranger. I sat for about 20 minutes trying to tune up a left-handed electric guitar and when I finished, I had to start again because the tuning had not held. I went into the video room, pressed 'next' on the computer screen after I had recorded my first answer, nothing seemed to happen, I got impatient and clicked it again and missed the next question and had to record my response to the second question where my response to the third one should have been.  I read people's responses to 'One Thing You'd Like To Do before You Die' and got despondent because zero population growth is really not going to happen.
There was an activity (actually a couple) that I didn't get to due to aforementioned overcrowding, which I wanted to get to because it alluded to something that I like exploring. The activity was watching porn. The reason I liked its inclusion is because porn, by its very nature, is generally somewhat exploitative. And I believe that our desire for happiness, our belief that it is a birth right, comes at a cost to others, to society, to the earth, to ourselves. 
Now, and I'm going to tread carefully here, I do not believe that happiness itself comes as a cost, just the pursuit of it on its own. Happiness isn't an endpoint, its a byproduct. It doesn't come at a cost when it's achieved as a byproduct, but by god we exploit many things in order for us to happy. And in presenting that exploitation, that flimsiness, futility and emptiness, I believe, lies the success of this piece.   


Anonymous said...

SO, did you get yer five bucks worth? That would've made me happy I reckon.


Martin White said...

I most certainly did. A fiver's worth of futility, frustration and flimsiness. I recommend it thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

I walked to carlton with my sunday afternoon to see this. Sat for fifteen minutes till they were ready for us. Then aswered the survey - last question "do you live alone" - well yes i do - so i raised my hand and then was informed that i was not able to complete the tasks and come and sit in this seat and write down notes of how you think other people are going. There was another guy in the seats who told me to "get used to it - you'll be here for a while. I've been here 45 minutes". At this point i was already pretty upset - looking around a room of people doing child-like little tasks and being excluded obviously tok you back to being a child and being excluded. The guy's girlfriend came up and said - "lets go honey - i haven't done a few of them but i don't want you to wait anymore." I started to feel that choke in the throught which could lead to tears so i told my mum - who i'd dragged with me - that i couldn't stay. As we were walking down swanston st we were outraging at how our sunday afternoon was ruined and mum says "who wants to do their stupid tasks anyway" - i say - "i did" and burst into tears. I'm almost a proper, grown up woman but the connection that living alone means your responses aren't wanted because you are probably a loner or some such malarky realy got to me, encouraging and feeding fears rather than even dealing with those fears in a responsible or vaguely interesting way. Anyway i found the whole thing horrid and i'm sure they can mark that in their research as "yeah - we wanted that to happen - you can't have happiness without unhappiness" which makes it even more horrid and irresponsible. Anyway - at the very least it is a big waste of a lot of people's time.

Anonymous said...

I found Panther's Exercise in Happiness to be one of the most incredibly depressing ways to spend a saturday afternoon- and felt all the richer for it! It provoked in me such an interesting meditation on notions of happiness, and our (futile?) search for it. The longer I spent carrying out these pointless tasks, the more depressed I became. It made me question what it is that actually makes me happy, and why one constantly strives for happiness, rather than allowing the reality of a particular moment to register. Very interesting stuff.

In terms of people not being allowed to take part in the project- it is completely set up as an experiment. Generally in an experiment there is a group of non-variables, where the original material does not take part in the experiment. This is used to compare with the materials that are used. At least, that's my non-scientific understanding. Of course, I can say that with the full smug knowledge that I wasn't one of the people told that I wasn't allowed to participate.

Martin White said...

Hi Anon - I can imagine only imagine the frustration brought about by your experience and the memories invoked of our somewhat atavistic childhood interactions, so thoroughly based around status and belonging as they inevitably were. And whilst I agree that perhaps living alone should not have been a signifier of an individual's unsuitability for the tasks I would suggest that you had a powerful experience brought about by art nonetheless. Panther state that they create artistic interventions. I reckon that this is what you experienced, an intervention - such a powerful one that it brought you to tears.
But I do agree that they, perhaps, are not equipped to respond to that within the parameters of the exercise.
Your experience of the piece is incredibly valid, and one of the stronger ones I have heard.
Tom C, we had a very similar experience. The 'Lab' notion is one that I take some issue with however, as it really is a ruse, a veneer. I see it as a way of prompting people to examine the tasks and undertake them with some degree of rigor and intent. There can really be no scientific credence to the data they are collecting.
I think the notion of people sitting out is, in fact, an element I had overlooked as there was no one sitting out in the session I went to. I would actually posit that it was a way to emphasise our happiness being contingent upon others misery or displacement. Or even, perhaps, that knowing that we are engaged in a privileged activity, one that others are being excluded from, makes us (the people undertaking the activity) happier.