'Tranquility' and 'Joy' at the Wellcome Collection review
Time Out says
Happiness isn’t hip. We like tortured artists, not happy ones. Think of the countless millions of sad songs about loneliness, heartbreak and misery. Then think of the happy ones. It’s ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and that’s it.
Well, the Wellcome Collection doesn’t care, it absolutely loves Katrina and the Waves, and its new shows are all about happiness. ‘Tranquility’ comes first and you’re immediately confronted by Jasleen Kaur’s yoga-critical installation made of giant crystals and palo santo, taking aim at the exploitative, culturally insensitive practices of the wellness industry.
It’s followed by old Taoist, Buddhist and German images of quiet, contemplative isolation, and sci fi master Octavia E Butler’s notes to self, filled with pleas of empowerment, before you find a thirteenth century book about centering the body that reads like it’s straight out of a 2018 juice bar.
You then get to sit silently in Chrystel Lebas’ immersive installation of photographs of ancient forests as the sound of a river burbles by. It’s forest bathing as photography. It’s calm, tranquil, but you can’t help thinking: do we really need an artist’s recreation of a forest when we can just, you know, go to a forest?
Upstairs, the ‘Joy’ exhibition tackles ideas of ecstatic happiness. Harold Offeh’s dancers in yellow are isolated but trying to lose themselves. David Shrigley does his usual wry, sardonic thing with drawings of rants and skulls and thumbs. Then there are ancient illustrations of whirling dervishes and holi celebrations. The usual Wellcome mix of contemporary art, archive imagery and science.
‘Joy’ doesn’t work as well as the ‘Tranquilty’ portion of the show. The problem is that by trying to depict joy, most of this art codifies it, and rips the actual joy away in the process.
But maybe that’s the point. Because happiness is actually pretty boring. It’s life without problems, and without problems there’s not a lot to make art about. Instead, this show takes a critical and often cynical look at happiness. It might not be joyful or tranquil, but at least it’s interesting.