Shiyuan, Liu b.1985 / From “Happiness” to “Whatever”
Additional images
Shiyuan, Liu b.1985 / From “Happiness” to “Whatever”Shiyuan, Liu b.1985 / From “Happiness” to “Whatever”Shiyuan, Liu b.1985 / From “Happiness” to “Whatever”Shiyuan, Liu b.1985 / From “Happiness” to “Whatever”
about this work

In this installation the artist creates an open-ended room covering the ceiling, the floor and the walls with a patchwork of carpets in various colours and patterns.

The room is filled with the sound from an 18:38 minute looped recording of the radio station “From Happiness to Whatever”. The Radio station consists of four main segments and a main host, that each in their own way, or given their specific context, deals with the concepts of happiness, success and human perfection.

Each segment is patched together by sentences borrowed from either commercials, infomercials, political speeches, or self-help instruction programs. The original sentences have thus been liberated from their original contexts and purposes, in order to synthesize the purer language of success, happiness and perfection, without the trivial mentioning of product names or boring facts.

In this work, the artist raises a line of questions on the relations between the psychosocial valuation versus the expectations to be happy, and the constant perfecting of the individual. It is on this backdrop that this work establishes multiple planes of valuation; the internal and the external cultivation of mankind, the actual feeling of personal happiness and success versus the mere communication of it, a valuation of the first world freedom to succeed, when followed by an expectation not to fail etc. Perhaps the biggest question at stake in this work, is whether personal success and happiness, effectively has come to constitute the sacrifice of the self, for human or extra-human perfection?

Inspirational quote

'In class society, the self’s hostility to sacrifice included a sacrifice of the self, since it was paid for by a denial of nature in the human being for the sake of mastery over extra-human nature and over other human beings. This very denial, the core of all civilizing rationality, is the germ cell of proliferation mythical irrationality: with the denial of nature in human beings, not only the telos of the external mastery of nature but also the telos of one’s own life becomes confused and opaque. At the moment when human beings cut themselves off from the consciousness of themselves as nature, all the purposes for which they keep themselves alive – social progress, the heightening of material and intellectual forces, indeed, consciousness itself – becomes void, and the enthronement of the means as the end, which in late capitalism is taking on the character of overt madness, is already detectable in the earliest history of subjectivity'. [Horkheimer & Adorno - Dialectics of Enlightenment: 42-43]

"As you step into this temporary meditation room, you are bowled over by the tightly knit wool carpets in different patterns covering the entire surface from floor to ceiling. Before your eyes adjust to the environment, you may feelthat the space is about to collapse in on you the very next second. And you are also struck by how sensitive your hearing has become, due to the absorption of sound by the carpets. A radio programme called From Happiness to Whatever is playing, recorded by Liu Shiyuan and her husband Kristian Mondruo Nielsen, a jazz drummer and music producer. The sound installation seems to reproduce the everyday scene of a Danish family listening to the radio. This radio show, broadcast in a country consistently topping world happiness rankings,, seems to advocate a positive culture and ideology. As these words of happiness float in the air, putting you into a meditative state, you are awakened by the artist's whispers, alerting you to the danger of being lulled into a false sense of security. 

The radio show’s scripts seem like a set of courses on positive psychology. The programme brings to mind those amateur broadcasters who attract people’s attention imitating TV shopping channels. “Moon Letter”, the first part of the sound installation, comes from a speech that was never given in public. It was drafted by White House spin doctors for Richard Nixon in the event that the Apollo 11 astronauts failed to return from the moon. This inspiring speech shows how a disaster can turned into a triumph of will. Certainly, this is a very human mechanism, manipulating results to make a failure look like a victory.

The second part, entitled “Brain Spa” is designed to induce a state of relaxation through hypnosis, during which deeper realms of the mind become more accessible. By following the prompts, the exercise helps you to “free your mind from all limits, bringing you to greater satisfaction and hinting at ways to fulfil your potential and become all you can be”. This self-actualisation approach obviously imposes its own values. The popularity of psychotherapy confirms the mainstream desire for happiness: you need to be happy. Only those able to adjust themselves can fit in, while those full of dread and remorse are considered morbid and to be shunned.

Just then, a cut-in piece breaks the soothing meditative atmosphere, an advertisement in the form of a poem, read with Chinese accent, sound strange and ridiculous. For this, Liu Shiyuan collected advertising slogans for household items from Chinese TV commercials and translated them into English using Google Translate. The asymmetry between the information communicated in the two languages, devoid of the original context, helps us to better understand how advertisements use words to guide our behaviour as consumers.”

(Sasha Zhao, Bentu, Fondation Louis Vuitton (Catalogue), January 2016)

Liu Shiyuan (b.1985, China)

From “Happiness” to “Whatever”, 2015

Carpets, speaker, iPod player (Variable dimensions)
Edition: 2/3
Variable dimensions:
Variable dimensions:
Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai, China Current Location:
Hong Kong - BRINK'S HK InstallationFar East


Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France
January 2016 - April 2016

From "Happiness" To "Whatever"
Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai, China
September 2015 - October 2015


Fondation Louis Vuitton, Bentu: Chinese Artists in a Time of Turbolence and Tansformation
Hazaan (Catalogue), January 2016, pp.90-93

related works / Far East / Installation