‘Happiness Fantasy’ fills an empty bank space with a fun jumble of art imagining the future

Some of the first works seen in the “Happiness Fantasy” exhibit by Harvard design students Pin Sangkaeo and Benson Joseph. (Photo: Claire Ogden)

In an exhibition called “Happiness Fantasy,” Harvard design students Pin Sangkaeo and Benson Joseph take over Harvard Square’s long-empty Santander bank building with an enigmatic exhibition of visions for the future, or “sociotechnical imaginaries,” as the duo calls it.

Sangkaeo and Joseph call themselves the “snobby institute,” which makes their work – a dizzying range of mediums and projects – feel unpretentious and welcoming.

Visitors entering the still-unfinished building are met with a mess of objects scattered across the floor in a bed of mulch. A television rests alongside plants in concrete cubes, playing a somewhat incoherent video riddled with religious references. Gorgeous and intricate architectural drawings wave listlessly on a white curtain zip-tied to the pipes above. In the next room, a set of recycled computer monitors display vertical video animations, and another set of drawings proposes a monument design for Harvard’s campus.

Drawings in “Happiness Fantasy” borrow from the visual language of Egyptian hieroglyphs, among many others. (Photo: Claire Ogden)

Much of the exhibition text is difficult to parse: It has the wild energy of an avant-garde manifesto, making impassioned pronouncements in a dozen different directions (“We are now faced with an existential threat that requires a major shift on how we cognitively inhabit the world! Who or what will foster in a new axial age?” and “How does the soul traverse the threshold between ‘here’ and ‘there?’”). The show argues that any utopia is inherently dystopian, but it’s not clear what alternatives the show proposes.

“Happiness Fantasy” is at its best in the drawings, when it breaks away from vagueness and settles into a rich and human specificity. One imagines a shopping mall of the future; a mess of advertisements crowd the space. Borrowing the visual language of Egyptian hieroglyphs among many others, the drawings are easy to get lost in.

While the exhibition at times feels overwhelming or conceptually disorganized, the images are thought-provoking and beautiful, each impressive on an individual level. It’s an ambitious first creative use of the space, the first of hopefully many.

“Happiness Fantasy” is open at 1420 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day through May 31.

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