Imagine your fondest and most beloved memories. Now picture them collected and stitched together along with thousands of others’ happy thoughts, and attached to a three-dimensional map, revealing an entire nation’s most tender and sentimental recollections. Soppy, corny, but utterly and completely lovely, right?
Invisible Flock, an interactive arts trio based in Leeds, has constructed Bring the Happy, an ongoing installation, part digital map and performance, measuring the happiness of the UK and beyond. The project originated in Leeds in 2010, and what emerged was a portrait of the city and everyone in it: birthdays, marriages, chance encounters and first loves, death and birth intertwined into an authentic map looking at the location and measurement of happiness.
Beginning in an empty shop unit on Exeter’s Queen’s Street in March, Invisible Flock will be inviting the public to join the project with one objective: to discover their happiest memories. Willing participants will add a memory, with a rating out of ten, to the maps, linking their cherished thoughts to a precise location. Whilst collecting the patchwork of the past, Invisible Flock will mark each memory with a three-dimensional rod, the height correlating to each person’s happiness rating. The result? A magnificent, disorganised but wonderful measurement of nostalgia, emotion and happiness.
On 28 March, at The Met Office in Exeter, Invisible Flock will join forces with up-and-coming band Hope and Social, to turn its blueprint of joy into a live performance celebrating the happiness collected from the city. Bring the Happy Live will combine music, dance and festivity to create an evening of pure jubilation.
Determined to encourage people to reimagine their everyday, Invisible Flock began this project to fundamentally question what a ‘happy’ memory consists of, and what emerged was the true complexity of the term. When chatting to Catherine Baxendale, Invisible Flock’s Company Manager, it is obvious the monumental amount of memories that the company received translated into many different meanings of happiness.
Hi Catherine. What made Invisible Flock begin pondering the measurement and location of happiness; what were the initial steps of the project?
The company has a particular interest in ‘emotional geography’, which runs through much of our work, and is what initiated the thought process for this project. Leeds is where the company is based and where the project started in 2010, beginning as the mapping section of the project only, Bring the Happy Live was produced a year later! Our initial ambitions were to create a project that could very simply explore the happiness of Leeds, inviting people to participate directly and explore their city both geographically and emotionally.
As a company you strive to stir up emotion using technology and real life experiences – what were your initial expectations for the project?
There is a particular element of the unknown with Bring the Happy, especially when working with the public and gathering data this way. The project often surprises us, which we did not expect when starting out. Technology and the participatory nature of the work give us a tremendous amount of freedom in which to work.
Are there any particular happy themes or memories that stayed with you after you collected your material for Bring the Happy Live?
This project has highlighted the complexity surrounding the concept of happiness… by asking about past happiness there is a tendency towards nostalgia, but remembering moments gone by unearths the full spectrum of emotions, from love and babies being born through to the bittersweet memories of remembering loved ones no longer with us. I think it is often the short memories that say so much so simply that stayed in the company’s thoughts, but everyone has a different favourite! I think one of mine is no. 436, “The Christmas Grandma Lost her Marbles”.
Moving onto the second stage of the project… Turning everyone’s memories into a three-dimensional installation piece and map allowed you to create a celebration of the thousands of people involved – what do you want people to take away from the event?
Happiness runs through the core of Bring the Happy Live, we want everybody to have a good time, enjoy the experience and celebrate with us for the evening!
And how important was it for you to collaborate with a band like Hope and Social for the performance?
Hope and Social are essential collaborators for the live show, bringing their own unique approach to the participatory performance. They are also Leeds based like Invisible Flock, so that is very important to us as well.
Which was the most exciting element of your project for you – collecting the public’s happy memories or celebrating the culmination of everything you’d gathered?
I think the show is the most exciting because it is the pinnacle of the time spent in a town or city, where everything is pulled together and we get the opportunity to give something back to those who have shared their memories with us during the mapping.
And finally, do you see Bring the Happy continuing to expand in the future, possibly resulting in a global three-dimensional measurement of happiness?
Absolutely! We are taking the show to Limerick on our first international tour dates to the City of Culture. Hopefully Bring the Happy will continue to grow and grow!
Bring the Happy Live will be in Exeter on 28 and 29 March, and will be visiting Brighton and London later in the year. For more information, visit Invisible Flock’s website.