Sjoerd Houben (b. 1990, NL) is an artist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Graduated at KASK Ghent, Belgium. His work mainly explores structural cracks in societal systems. Using various research methods Houben builds up a complex web of subjects and connects a multitude of subjects to the core subject and core concept. Houben is interested in what the medium of photography has to offer in terms of concept forming and visual substance. He questions how the photographic medium deals with abstract concepts and the way these concepts find their way back into the image.
No Pleasure Cruise (2018) Using the ‘World Happiness Report’ as a starting point for this project. Houben started this project by questioning the legitimacy of man’s search to control happiness. The project touches various subjects, but still keeps the concept of happiness at its core. While examining the concept of happiness, Houben comes to several different lines of questions; “How do people try to be happy?”, “How do people conduct their search for happiness?”, “How do people show that they’re happy?”, “Can happiness be physically and visually be represented (without being merely an illustration)?”. While governments and advertising try to push forward the idea of happiness as being a linear concept, something that has a cause and effect relationship with various factors, for example wealth, consumerism and beauty.
Even if a linear view can provide us with an image of happiness, or rather an illustration (the current image culture around happiness is one that is of a linear character), it can never embody happiness in its totality. What happens if it is seen as a non-linear concept. Houben chooses to see it as a rhizome. Simply said; an ever changing web of variables each connected to each other at any given time always in motion. There is no one single way to be happy, each person’s happiness is a different combination of variables, these variables might be stable for a short time, but will eventually change according to the context. It is only than that one can accept happiness as something that can not be attained through a cause and effect way of doing and thinking. When seeing happiness as a linear concept, trying to reach it by following fixed pre-determined steps, a human being can never be happy. Using the concept of the rhizome as a guide to photograph, Houben takes a look at beauty, the body building culture, the concept of the happiest country on earth, a happiness workshop, happiness in art, and many other things. Houben doesn’t directly try to steer the viewer to a way of seeing happiness, but rather sees the goal of the work to make the viewer reflect upon the images and the meaning of gestures, colors and emotions used as a means to visualize happiness.
The project is a research into what the medium of photography has to offer in terms of concept forming and visual substance. Houben questions how the photographic medium deals with abstract concepts and the way these concepts find their way back into the image. The final outcome of the work is a book called No Pleasure Cruise, again using the rhizome as the main guiding principle the book consists out of 76 images (and an accompanying text booklet with two texts and an images index with the titles of the images). All the images are printed as full bleed images, so there is no obvious hierarchy at work. The book is not bound, but an elastic band is used, so it can be taken apart at any time, shifting the meaning of the images and creating a different experience every time. Using the ‘World Happiness Report’ as a starting point for this project. Houben started this project by questioning the legitimacy of man’s search to control happiness. Rather than seeing happiness as something linear. Houben chooses to see happiness as a rhizome. An everchanging web of variables each connected to each other at any given time always in motion. Houben makes the viewer reflect on the meaning of gestures, colors and emotions used to visualize happiness. The project is a study into what the medium of photography has to offer in terms of concept forming, visual substance, the way it handles abstract concepts and how these abstract concepts appear into the image.