‘The Constantly Moving Happiness Machine’ & ‘Play for Free‘
(ArtOmi, 2017) Both pieces manifest as a sort of game, which the artist seduces the participant into playing. The interactor gratifies their desire in participating, but at the same time is unknowingly enacting something more sinister. The participant is part of a wider machine, allowing their subconscious to be colonized and utilized. These pieces explore our role – particularly the grey area of consent – as consumers.
The Constantly Moving Happiness Machine
(2017) Ayn Rand Novels, wood, fishing wire, gears and bike chain.
The participant turns the crank and is charmed by the resulting motion of pleasing objects. On closer inspection these appealing jiggling organic-like entities are constructed from Ayn Rand texts – a seductive yet toxic manifesto for sociopathy. I’m fascinated by the tacit consent we give to our subconscious being manipulated by advertising and PR, shaping us into compliant consumers. In essence, the artist is tricking the participant to take part in a consensual colonization of their subconscious. There is something creepily Randian about the self-motivation of the crank, whilst there are also resonances with Marxist ideas about productivity and surplus labour.
I started to research the moment around the ‘20s where a deliberate and cynical decision was made to use the ideas of Freud to manipulate us into subconsciously attaching desires to objects we didn’t need, in order to create a consumer-driven economy:
President Hoover, 1928, addressing a group of ad men and PR men:
“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”
Paul Mazur, Lehman Brothers (bank), 1927: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. we must shape a new mentality in America – man’s desires must overshadow his needs”
Freud’s Nephew, Edward Bernays, coined the term ‘Public Relations’: “I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. (And) Propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it, so what I did was try to find some other words so we found the words ‘Counsel on Public Relations’”.
Play For Free
(2017) Ayn Rand Novels, mixed leaves, card, glue, wood, magnets, steel
A game in which participants are invited to knock over pins with wrecking balls. On closer inspection, the pins are a fragile symbiosis between man and nature, manifested by carefully balanced leaves delicately coaxed into the man-made shape of a cube; whilst the wrecking bricks are the texts of Ayn Rand, a blunt tool whose greed-is-good tenets underpin consumerism. The gratification we receive overrides more careful consideration of consequences that may not be obvious; just as our behaviour as consumers is a sort of irrational destructive addiction. Sometimes it’s not all fun and games.
With huge thanks to Adam Curtis