”Erik Krikortz, Moderna Museet” - Review

Ronald Jones

”The day of individual happiness has passed” would be the perfect catchphrase for Erik Krikortz’s attempt to measure collective happiness, had it been he who said it, rather than Adolf Hitler. Happiness has long been a subject for deep thinkers and dark rulers. Aristotle called it a virtue; Hitler, something to be sacrified for the greater good. In his ongoing interactive project, ”Emotional Cities”, Krikortz invites his audience to log on to www.emotionalcities.com and register their day-to-day emotional states using a scale of seven faces, from frowning to smiley, each colored to represent a point on the spectrum from violet (sad) to red (happy). In the first two weeks of Krikortz’s recent exhibition at Moderna Museet, more than twenty thousand people clicked on the face that best summed up their emotional grade, and that number continues to grow. Anyone can take part, but the collective input of Stockholm-based respondents becomes a part of the project’s next phase: Their self-evaluations, averaged every second into one representative color, are currently still lighting up the facades of the five office buildings around Hötorget square, the closest thing to skyscrapers in central Stockholm. Checking out the ”Emotional Cities” webcam one snowy evening, I saw the office buildings awash in yellow; Stockholmers were on the whole mildly happy.

Krikortz’s scale might seem little more than pop psychology, too crude a means for creditably measuring the subtle shades of human emotion; but academic constructs such as the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS), created by researchers at Stanford University, and other similar instruments, use as few as four questions to quantify emotional well-being. But, of course, a measure of happiness is the measure of discontent, and if nothing else, ”Emotional Cities” is captivating in its attempt to visualize, on a mass scale, a Swedish state of mind. In the country where consensus is king, Stockholmers can look up at the Hötorget buildings to see if they are in emotional harmony with their fellow urbanities. Swedes are reputed to be a gloomy bunch, prone to suicide and depression; Krikortz’s random sampling suggests otherwise, and statistics back him up. Sweden’s suicide rate is not particularly high, and according to the Satisfaction with Life Index (created by social psychologists at the University of Leicester), its citizens rank seventh in the world in happiness. Knowing this prompts us to dissect myths about nationalities. Where did that yarn about suicidal Swedes come from? It seems to have taken hold after a 1960 speech by Dwight Eisenhower in which he alleged that ”sin, nudity, drunkenness, and suicide” were the direct result of welfare-state excess in Sweden. It was the rumor heard ’round the world.

At the Moderna Museet, Krikortz’s project is presented as a sort of advertisement for itself, with wall paintings featuring an urban skyline silhouette, the words HUR MÅR DU IDAG? (”How are you today?”), the seven colored emoticons, and the URL of the website; Internet terminals display the website, and a forty-two-inch plasma screen shows the current color of the light projection at the Hötorget skyscrapers. ”Advertising”, Krikortz writes, ”dominates the public space, points at our shortcomings, and tells us what we need in order to feel good. Our economy is an ’economy of deficiency’ based entirely on dissatisfaction.” With color-coded emotions flashed across the Hötorget buildings at sundown, Krikortz lets real – albeit averaged-out – emotion speak out over the rhetoric of deficiency. Happiness remains a virtue, just as Aristotle said. ”Emotional Cities”, so Krikortz claims, provides ”a psychological diagnosis of society.” While this is an overstatement – it’s more like taking society’s emotional temperature – Krikortz’s heart is in the right place.

The review was published in Artforum (January 2008).