The priviledge of beeing happy
Happiness and well-being have a high social status. Many pictures and videos in the social networks show this very clearly, and in the meantime a capitalist-oriented industry has developed that is only geared towards selling happiness. In your performance you radically question this compulsion to be happy. How did you come to this topic?
Luigi Guerrieri: What intrigues me is the paradox of wanting to standardise, quantify and consequently commodify something highly ephemeral and subjective like wellbeing and happiness. As you mentioned in the question, we can see signs of this process almost everywhere, from social media to blockbuster Hollywood movies, TikTok videos and so on. But these are somehow only the most visible signs of a discourse that, to reach its profit goal, involves the social, cultural and political sphere at different levels. To create and maintain a dominant narrative which says: we must be happy!, all actors need to play their role. Different kind of institutions, multinationals and individual citizens, we all produce and reproduce the same discourse where, at the end of the story, we all want to be happy and are capable of doing anything to succeed.
All these mechanisms of a huge and well established system are not stranger to us, we swim into them having a strong active role in their legitimisation, they are embodied in our real flesh, we deal daily, consciously or not, with this paradox. This is the general context, but even before all of that, the two main origins of FLOWERS are: the personal realisation, at a certain point of my life, that I cared more about accepting to be, to exist than being happy and a strong curiosity towards the literal application of common sayings like “to jump for joy”.
Why have you decided to work with flowers? What do the symbolize for you?
Luigi Guerrieri: Although I acknowledge the importance and strong presence of symbols in our lives, I have to admit that I have difficulties in dealing with them, especially during the creation process. Therefore, flowers don’t symbolise anything in particular in the performance. I decided to work with them because of a sentence that, in different forms, I often met during my online researches about wellbeing: “just when you are really grounded, you can allow yourself to blossom like a flower”. So, they are for me more a similitude rather than a metaphor or a symbol. Again I am working with a paradox and the literal application of a saying. In the performance I excessively blossom and bloom in order to become a flower, to be a flower. In the attempt to achieve this impossible task, I surround and cover myself with flowers. In addition to that, my mother had a flowers stand for long time, so I grew up between them selling, loving and hating them.
You work together with a Research Group formed by two architects, two performers, one florist, one musician and a visual artist gardener. Why did you gather these people around you and how can we imagine your collaboration?
Luigi Guerrieri: The main goal of the Research Group is to gain new and different perspectives on the topic, which I believe to be a matter that, somehow, affects almost everybody. Furthermore, this kind of approach surely comes from my background in Anthropology and Ethnography. I am always extremely curious to discover the vision of other people regarding the topic that I am working on. The share and exchange with other artists from the same field as mine or not is something really precious to me and involving people from other fields and with different expertises and backgrounds is enormously enriching. It allows the constructive challenge of the topic, the project itself and, of course, my own positions. The work of the research group has different forms: meetings, discussions, feedback sessions, workshops, open rehearsals. This process is also visible in the final performance in one of the text that I speak, where each member of the group wrote some lines and in a chorus made with their voices.
You write in the announcement text that you illuminate the privilege of happiness from the scratch. What does this mean for your work on the performance and in the performance itself?
Luigi Guerrieri: I strongly believe that, in approaching a topic like wellbeing, it is crucial to position myself towards it. As I mentioned before, I think that this subject affects more or less everybody, but of course at different levels. I am doing a performance reflecting critically about the topic, someone else is taking yoga classes, others are attending an online self-help course and so on. But there are also people that do not even have the time and the material resources to approach or question their personal wellbeing, because have other bigger matters to take care of. So, it is essential to not forget, that the pursuit of happiness or wellbeing is often a privilege itself. Having this in mind, I have to approach the topic in a disenchanted way, trying to take the right distance from it, laughing about it and about myself, being naif but also radical.