While the Gross National Happiness (GNH) of Bhutan has been criticised for being naïve and an attempt to deflect attention from the material poverty of its people, there is no doubt that its citizens have benefited from the emphasis on well-being and the environment their king has instituted. The advent of television and Internet has nevertheless raised questions of the fragility of this so called “Last Shangri-La”. Part of the success of the King’s GNH is based on the preservation of traditional customs and culture which the spectre of materialism inherent in both on-line and broadcast media threatens to unravel.
Grand Mutual Smiles is an installation that explored networked mediated happiness through an international smile exchange.The project captured the smiles of people and transmitted them across the Internet to display them in the city of Linz in Austria and Thimphu in Bhutan. Using cameras equipped with smile detection technology, installations in both cities progressively captured pictures of smiling people, displaying them both locally and remotely. In both cities the pictures of smiling Bhutanese and smiling Austrians were projected on video screens. The motivation was to encourage people from the respective countries to communicate with each other across the Internet in a non-verbal and humoristic way, by smiling.
Website & Photos
The project website can be found here: http://www.digitalstar.net/projects/grand_mutual_smiles/. The website describes the project in more depth and contains a large selection of smiles capture by the installations in both Austria and Bhutan.
Here is a video of the opening of the Grand Mutual Smiles installation in Clocktower square, Thimphu, Bhutan, on the 17th June 2009.
The proceedings were opened by Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck.