Happiness is only real when shared is an exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery, conceived as a response to their 2019 opening exhibition We're Not Too Big To Care. The 2021 exhibition (currently open until May) explores modern capitalist desires and the collective human experience through three widely acclaimed artists. Across a series of mediums- a huge installation work that transforms the entrance and first gallery, to a 12 minute Kitty AI propaganda video, and a series of animated fables- the exhibition brings together a surrealist lens in which everything is not as it seems.
Mark Schroder Fortune Teller, 2021, mixed media
When you first arrive at the gallery, you are greeted with a fully immersive installation. Mark Schroder's Fortune Teller takes up the entirety of the Dome Gallery and presents the interior of a fiction business. Pre-fab style partitions demarcate the usually open air space and guide you around a maze of dilapidated office cubicles.
Mark Schroder is an immersive installation artist working in Tāmaki Makaurau. Schroder is well known for his installations that explore the dichotomy between work-life culture, aspiration-disappointment, failure-success and plays out these scenes within uncanny interpretations of familiar spaces. Inspired by the day-to-day life of a 9-5 office worker (Schroder is a lawyer by day, artist by night), Schroder uses his experience to generate ideas and critique the clogs that keeping our capitalist society churning.
The company that inhabits this space is called 'The Bureau of Happiness.' This fictional company "specialises in generating prototype employee value propositions, template corporate value statements and universal well-being programmes for government and corporate employer-clients." However, the messy, tightly packed working space provides an ironic juxtaposition between the 'well being' that the company educates employer-clients on, and the reality of their own working environment.
A mix of realism and surrealism, the artist plays with ceramics to recreate office paraphernalia. It becomes a game of iSpy where nothing is what it seems- identifying what's real and what's fake through a series of ceramic replicas that take the form of bananas, iPhones, calculators and computer mice to name a few. Every room has something to tell- a dreary PowerPoint to decide 'what values your company wants to represent,' and motivational postcards that don't quite deliver the right meaning.
On top of that, there is an unsettling atmosphere surrounding the workspace. I'm undecided on the root of the feeling but it could be the act of voyeurism-looking back on a snapshot in history, or if it's the almost nuclear effect where the staff seem to have abandoned the office in a hurry.
Having made your way through the cluttered office space, you can either view Kitty AI or the Fables. Choose Kitty AI and you'll observe a future in which human beings have failed to prevent contemporary disasters. Choose the Fables, and you'll see an animated manifestation of some of the capitalist and well-being concerns addressed in the Fortune Teller. I chose the former.
Pinar Yoldas, The Kitty AI: Artificial Intelligence for the Government (2016), posters, single-channel video, 12:40 minutes
Pinar Yoldas is a Turkish-American interdisciplinary artist, architect, and professor. In her artistic practice, Yoldas frequently explores technological and environmental concerns through a humourous yet critical lens. In the case of Kitty AI: Artificial Intelligence for the Government, Yoldas is positing a future experience as a means of engaging with what's happening in our world today.
When you enter the space, you are greeted with purple LED lights running around the edges of the room. To your left, is an eye-catching propaganda poster. Placed before you are three beanbags so that you can nestle in and absorb everything our Kitty governor is saying.
The video that plays out before you is "imagining the successful integration of artificial intelligence and governance in a near-future scenario." It consists of an animated kitten with a sweet but authoritarian voice. She is in fact the first AI governor, who delivers a speech on how the network of AI's can and have replaced politicians.
In the 12-minute propaganda presentation, Kitty AI elucidates how she came into power and what caused the rise of artificial intelligence. She addresses contemporary concerns such as human displacement and climate change alongside a host of crises that occur in this speculative future, namely one called R-Crisis EMEA. Humans have proved themselves inadequate and have been removed from politics; replaced by a robot that will not yield to corruption, greed and power.
The Kitty AI lives in your phone and is in charge of helping you out with your daily tasks- getting the kids to school, sorting the rubbish collection. She is not only your governor but a carer, 'capable of loving 3 million people at a time.' In an interview with Hyperallergic, Yoldas mentioned that she is busy working on a mobile app where you can chat with Kitty Ai, thus fully establishing the futuristic narrative.
I would be lying if I denied that my first response was: "Yeah, I would happily subscribe to her propaganda. Sounds great, sign me up."
Once you've met out future governor, it's time to catch up on some fables.
Wong Ping, Fables 1 & 2 (2018-19) two single-channel video animations with sound, 13:30 minutes
Wong Ping is an emerging Hong Kong-based artist, who worked in the post-production television world after university, before establishing his own one-man company called 'Wong Ping Animation Lab.' Through his animation studio, the artist explores the human condition. He tackles themes that are "both universal and relate specifically to the concrete jungle that is Hong Kong, a place where you can truly face your lust with no moral laws."
The artwork in question Wong Ping's Fable series has received international acclaim. In the last few years, it has been shown at the Guggenheim New York and the Camden Arts Centre in London, but this is the very first showing in Australasia. The exhibition's title "is taken from one of the stories from Fables 2 about a cow whose selfish pursuit of wealth sees it exploited by the system that helped it achieve success."
Fables is a series of 5 animations, detailing morality tales for the modern age. Inspired by the classics, Aesop and Brothers Grimm, the narratives are dark in nature. If it wasn't for the cartoon-caricature quality of the works, these grim parables might have erred on too confronting.
Each animation is comprised of bright and engaging colours, with endearing characters that are inevitably duped by life and their own misplaced actions. Reminiscent of 80s themed video games, the scenes juxtapose a playful and carefree nostalgia with the harshness of modern life. "They provide through their rawness a sense of comfort in that even our deepest and most private sentiments or acts are shared by others."
Nestled on a comfy, bright yellow beanbag, the scenes that play out are rooted in an almost unbelievable world. The situations the characters get themselves into are very much based in the present but are pushed to such an extreme that they seem unrealistic.
If you've seen any of Joan Cornella's illustrations, I think you're going to enjoy this one.
Happiness is only real when shared is open now at the Gus Fisher Gallery until the 8th of May.
Mark Schroder doesn't seem to have any social media