With the Happiness Machine, twenty female, European artists question our current economic system. As an innovative, Pan European project, ten women animators and ten women composers have been brought together to crafting of new work. Invited to participate by Austrian music ensemble Klangforum Wien and Tricky Women Animation Festival, the contributors were asked to consider our current economic system in light of the Economy for the Common Good social movement, which was founded by Austrian Economist Christian Felber in 2010. The films reflect on various aspects of this movement – its opportunities and challenges, and its theory and practice.
Here are the resulting ten animations and original compositions. They explore themes of consumption, greed, solidarity, equality, responsibility, and revolt. They consider how the machine we operate within can be destroyed and rebuilt. Ranging from the abstract and experimental, to fairy tales, documentary approaches, and the satirising of society, this collection brings together an incredible variety of voices and techniques.
The projects were completed in spring 2019 with the ambition to tour internationally as music concert performances or as film screening events. Happiness Machine premiered as part of a live performance by Klangforum Wien at the ECLAT Festival of Contemporary Music in Stuttgart, followed by a cinema screening at Tricky Women Animation Festival 2019. The project’s overarching title references the term coined by in 1928 by US President Herbert Hoover in an address to advertising and PR executives where he said:
“You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress.”
In the Economy for the Common Good, the emphasis is on democracy and value – placing human dignity, cooperation, sustainability, social justice and transparency as a priority over profitability. The negative impacts of our current economic system, as embodied by the quote form President Hoover, is a theme that runs through many of the works in the programme.
The programme begins with The Flounder, a collaboration between British Director Elizabeth Hobbs and German Composer Carola Bauckholt. Inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s classic fairytale The Fisherman and his Wife, the film is a cautionary tale of greed and ensuing environmental destruction. Elizabeth Hobbs’ employs ink and paint to great effect in creating an everyman and everywoman grotesquely transformed by their avarice and a dazzling underwater world contaminated by the toll of consumerism.
In The Happiness Machine by Serbian Director Ana Nedeljkovic and her partner Nikola Majdak Jr, made in collaboration with Swedish Composer Hanna Hartmann, the machine is evoked through the simulation of a vivid video game where we as the viewer appear to be controlling the workers in a generic office. With every choice we appear to make to increase our profits the workers suffering magnifies and their happiness levels decrease. In this dystopian Claymation universe, as the misery increases a sinister black substance pervades into every element of the world. The film demonstrates how a relentless pursuit of wealth can often be to the detriment of those being exploited in the process, and asks us to reassess this way of working.
Pantopos by Austrian Director Eni Brandner and Japanese born/France based Composer Misato Mochizuki also takes a wry look at excessive consumption and the need to change the way we live. Pixelation, photogrammetery, 3D and 2D graphics are employed to create two very different worlds, where the main protagonist much like Alice in Wonderland steps from a world of decadence into a more altruistic alternate world that seems to be within his conscience. Having experienced a world of collaboration, can Mr Everhungry now resist his life of excess?
Cooperation, equality, employment, and care for our fellow humans is very much at the heart of Bloomers by British Director Samantha Moore and Swedish Composer Malin Bång. A portrait of the workers at Manchester based lingerie factory Headen & Quarmby, the piece combines their voices, a score inspired by the sounds of the sewing room, and observational drawings of the workroom are brought to life through a process of printing images onto various materials that the workers handle on a daily basis. The film ends with the provocation “what do you pay for your knickers?”, asking us to consider on how we champion our local economy and look to support more ethically minded companies that treat their employees with respect.
In Measuring the Distance by Austrian Director Susanne Jirkuff and Germany based, British Composer Joanna Bailie, the subject focuses on the more marginalised members of society. Isolating and imposing urban housing estates that are found on the outskirts of major cities are rendered in stark black and white drawings, creating a sense of dislocation and isolation for those who are not seen to fit within the ideals of capitalist society.
Denmark based Director Michelle Kranot working with her partner Uri Kranot and German Composer Iris ter Schiphorst, have collaborated to create Suggestion of Least Resistance, a poetic piece that manipulates archive material depicting the July Revolt of 1927 that took place in Vienna, Austria’s capital city. The vibrant, rhythmic animation presents both a memorial to an iconic historical moment where inequality led to rioting and many people were gunned down in the street, and the more abstract suggestion that human life can be compared to burning paper cascading from broken windows in the breeze. The individual needs to be valued and properly cared for within a society, else history repeats itself.
Questioning how people and the environment can be controlled is evident in surreal and satirical Lickalike by German Director Rebecca Blöcher and Austrian Composer Eva Reiter. The characters are corralled or rewarded by disembodied hands as they try to move about their ever changing, ever reorganised world. We see how everything in the world is connected, the need for everyone to cooperate to keep the system moving and to keep everything in balance, else we will all fall down.
Music Box by Slovakian Director Joanna Kozuch and Germany based, Chinese Composer Ying Wang similarly shows the idea of the external controls societal groups are subject to in its representation of how one can deal with an impaired person. In the film when one acrobat in a human pyramid is injured and can no longer perform three different solutions are presented. Here again the controlling force is seen to be manipulating the subjects, and we are asked to consider which is the best way of dealing with a situation so that everyone is able to cooperate to the best of their ability.
Generator/Operator by Swiss Director Andrea Schneider and Germany based, Greek Composer Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, is an abstract representation of the principles at the heart of the Economy for the Common Good – the need for cooperation, trust, sharing and solidarity. Each principle is shown operating in an unceasing loop of collaged mechanical elements, natural materials and disembodied hands. For the soundtrack, the composer made special instrumental devices that create a sound that drives forward the movement of the piece.
And finally, in Hierarchy Glitch by Bulgarian Director Vessela Dantcheva and Austrian Composer Electric Indigo, the idea of subverting the hierarchy of the current economic system is shown through an abstract visual pattern of hand drawn shapes. The shapes are at first constrained by the hierarchical structure they are within, but a glitch in the system causes disorder and connections are lost leading the individual components to autonomously chose to connect and to create a more resilient collective. It gives hope that change can come from chaos.
Together the ten films are designed to be provocations. Take the Happiness Machine as a starting point for discussions around what could make our world a better place for us all and a first step to improving society.
For more information on the Happiness Machine project: find out more
The Happiness Machine screens at Barbican 3rd Dec 18:30 book tickets