The work of Stefan Sagmeister has always tetered precariously on the fine line separating art and design, and the pieces in his latest exhibition are no different. His ten year exploration into the concept of happiness marks its completion with 'The Happy Show', an exhibition held at The ICA in Philadelphia.
I do believe that I can train my mind in the very same way I can train my body. By and large, the longer and harder I train, the better the results. Having said this, I do think it is impossible to reach permanent happiness
'The Happy Show' concentrates on Sagmeister’s own happiness and his attempts to manipulate it using different methods. The exhibition presents his findings through a mash-up of mediums; combining the social data of psychologists and anthropologists with film, print, sculpture, installation and infographics.
Dazed Digital: You have spent ten years exploring the concept of happiness, what inspired you to start the project?
Stefan Sagmeister: I had given a presentation on design and happiness for quite a long while at design conferences. I had found thinking about the topic helpful for my own practice as it forced me to consider the fundamentals and the feedback from the audience was always enthusiastic. Ultimately, most things I do in life have an increased well-being in mind, but I often take all sorts of detours to get there. I was interested to see if it was possible to take a direct route.
DD: You use a variety of mediums within this show, is this done for any particular reason?
Stefan Sagmeister: We chose many mediums simply because we have never worked in them before, so we are not adapted to them, and are not bored by the process. Makes us happy.
DD: You invite us to enter your mind as you attempt to alter its level of happiness through cognitive therapy and pharmaceutical drugs. Do you believe that happiness can increase artificially or that it is a natural state that must evolve independently?
Stefan Sagmeister: I do believe that I can train my mind in the very same way I can train my body. By and large, the longer and harder I train, the better the results. Having said this, I do think it is impossible to reach permanent happiness. UK psychologist Daniel Nettle thinks of happiness as a carrot on a stick, designed by evolution to show the right way, and also designed so that we will never permanently reach it. We likely would just sit around and eat sweet and fatty foods all day and that is simply not in the interest of evolution.
DD: In terms of your research, was your aim to ascertain a concrete definition of happiness?
Stefan Sagmeister: I am often bored with definitions, in this case though it is such an all encompassing term, that I do think it is helpful to distinguish three different levels of happiness according to time. There is short term happiness like bliss, joy and ecstasy, medium term happiness like satisfaction and well-being and long term happiness like "finding what you are put on this earth for".
The Happy Show will be open from April 4th – August 12 2012 at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia