Bernshammar, April 26, 2023
When we met in your studio at the beginning of April we talked about many things: locker room scenes in Hollywood movies, Hegel, the eternal battle between good and evil, and class blindness. We also talked about emotions and how they are conveyed in the language of logotypes, sticker pictures, movie posters, and emojis.
You have dealt with many different emotions in your works: fear, sadness, anxiety, happiness ... I forgot to ask about your favourite emotion. Historically, melancholy had its heydays during Romanticism, angst has been fashionable from time to time, and in recent years, right wing-populism has put anger, bitterness and hatred on the agenda. Anyway, it's obvious that happiness by far is the most popular emotion of all. Already Plato regarded happiness as the supreme aim. But he stresses that you need certain virtues and skills, especially self-control, to get there.
Something peculiar happens when emotions like happiness are represented visually. Take the Smiley face for example. It is not as innocent as it appears. It is an attempt to depict a pure emotion (happiness as a platonic form), disconnected from time and everything that goes on around it. It is a perfect representation of the high-demand commodity that happiness has become: unambiguous, independent, fixed.
When I grew up, I had a friend who always looked happy. Maybe it was because he and his family were faithful Christians. We both liked heavy metal, and his main problem in life was that at home he only could listen to Christian heavy metal bands with names like Jerusalem. Once, I think I was 11, we played football on his street, and one of his neighbours–a woman with baby in a stroller–came by and started chatting to him. She was beautiful, and looked warm and friendly. Suddenly, she turned to me and said: ”Why do you look so grumpy?” Her comment surprised and embarrassed me. I didn't feel grumpy at all. I didn't know what to reply, so instead I tried to smile, in the same natural and carefree way as my friend.
The woman's comment made me self-aware. I decided to improve my facial expression. It was however, more challenging than I thought to smile and look happy all the time. After a while I gave up. Still, I didn't want to look grumpy. Maybe, the solution wasn't to look happy, but to become happy? Next Sunday, I joined my friend and his family to visit their church.
My encounter with the church was disastrous. I was overwhelmed by the collective joy and the huge number of smiling faces and singing voices. Surrounded by happy people, I felt more miserable than ever. I didn't even try to smile, and I never went back there again.
Ok Felix, here is a summary of what I've learned about happiness the last couple of days: Happiness studies are boring and will make readers unhappy; It is great to be happy, but we shouldn't strive for it; either one is happy or one is not, or as Ludwig Wittgenstein more beautifully put it: ”Die Welt des Glücklichen ist eine andere als die des Unglücklichen.”
Letter from Jens Soneryd to Felix Kultau. Mad Honey Mountain. 28 April–3 June, 2023. Åplus, Berlin.