The biggest chunk of the first quarter of 2014 will be taken up with a commission from Bedford Creative Arts. Their hometown was voted the unhappiest in Britain, and their director Dawn Giles approached me after seeing my work elsewhere and my talk to TEDx Bedford about placeshaking. Could I spend three months placeshaking, and making Bedford a happier place?
I started over Christmas, collecting information about happiness, data about where and when people are happiest, and looking at work by other artists who’ve explored the theme.
And I don’t think anyone else has quite got to where I want to be. There’s some great work, like Invisible Flock’s Bring The Happy and the 100 Happy Days project. But most of it is about remembering, capturing moments of past happiness, nostalgia and memory. I want to go further, and help people do things that make them happier now.
I don’t think that happiness is just contentment; it’s more than not being unhappy. It’s always temporary, not a permanent state. It generally comes from interaction and the social – it’s rarely solitary and self-contained. But it is also autonomous, something we do to ourselves: we can choose to be happy.
So I’m currently wrestling with plans for 25 workshops in Bedford. I genuinely want these workshops to bring people together to explore happiness, to be part of the process of discovery and to inform the end artwork; but (quite understandably) Bedford Creative Arts want more plan and structure, and to know what we’ll be making.
I know there’s going to be an event, a day of happiness, a game played across the town centre’s underused spaces. But what fills the spaces on that giant board game? That’s for the people I meet to decide.
The work starts this week, and while it’s not going to be an easy commission, it’s certainly going to be interesting.