Thursday, November 3, 2011

Balloons of Bhutan: Jonathan Harris does it again

Ever since the first time I ever heard about Jonathan Harris, via his We Feel Fine project while I was working one of the worst jobs of my life, I have been a massive fan of his work. Of the ideas in his work. The boundaries he pushed. The questions he raised. 

One of his newest projects is the Balloons of Bhutan project. I have to say, I think it's stunning. I just can't think of anyone pairing moving ideas with moving imagery the way Jonathan Harris is doing. Obviously, they practice a different sort of Buddhism in Bhutan than the Japanese form of Buddhism I grew up practicing. But I've got to hand it to a country so intrigued by happiness and what it's made out of. On the Balloons of Bhutan website intro, Jonathan says "instead of 'Gross National Product,' Bhutan uses 'Gross National Happiness' to measure its socio-economic prosperity." 

I'll let Jonathan explain the bridge between the anthropology part and the art part in his own words from the website:

Given the seriousness with which this topic is treated, I thought it would be fun to do something a little bit silly, so in late 2007, I traveled to Bhutan and spent two weeks handing out balloons.I asked people five questions pertaining to happiness: what makes them happy, what is their happiest memory, what is their favorite joke, what is their level of happiness between 1 and 10, and, if they could make one wish, what would it be. Based on each person's stated level of happiness, I inflated that number of balloons, so very happy people would be given 10 balloons and very sad people would be given only one (but hey, it's still a balloon). Then I wrote each person's wish onto a balloon of their favorite color. I repeated this process for 117 different people, from all different ages and backgrounds.On the final night, all 117 wish balloons were re-inflated and strung up at Dochula, a sacred mountain pass at 10,000 feet, leaving them to bob up and down in the wind, mingling with thousands of strands of prayer flags.Here's the finished story — enjoy!

He's gotten some flack lately in various articles about another project of his-- which I'm preparing a longer post about as we speak-- but I wanted to let you float away on this lovely thing and hope it carries you into Friday and a great weekend. 

All photos from the Balloons of Bhutan project website. 

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