For happiness
and the ability to create
2 August 2014
 Atanas Totlyakov
This text is written for the inclusion of the platform URBAN SHORTCUT in Happy-Nes(t)s Project

From personal point of view

Atanas Totlyakov

Happiness - Feeling and a state of complete contentment, satisfaction with life.
(dictionary of the Bulgarian language)

The Maltese thinker Edward de Bono, born in 1933, developed the concept of happiness as a total human aspiration, but his idea did not fall within the conventional framework of psychological emotional state. For De Bono, happiness was focused process in which creativity was the key factor for a lasting experience. He did not rule out hedonism and ephemeral sense, only graded the levels and the opportunities of the individual to be happy, when finding an “internal” source - the ability to create. We can definitely state that art is one of human activities with the highest degree of creativity. And here pleasure has its place - as an aesthetic experience. French theorist of art Agnes Lontrade develops the theme of aesthetic pleasure. For her the relation art-pleasure is a constant in the history of aesthetics, but in terms of art it cannot be assumed as exceptional. Art and contemporary art works are not necessarily designed to bring aesthetic pleasure. She argues that “if custom-made art creates a concept (equal with the surrounding beauty) and entertainment arts excite the senses, only the fine arts belong to the real aesthetic pleasure, situated midway between sensory affinity and conceptual predestination.”*. Lontrade distinguishes aesthetic pleasure from the work of art, because aesthetic pleasure would not be a sufficient condition for art.** This does not preclude the artist to be happy while creating a work of art that is not intended to have an effect on the public by aesthetic satisfaction. The opposite statement is also true - the artist can be suppressed and oppressed, although producing a work subjected to the beauty and sense perception. All statements discussed linking happiness and creativity, are addressed to the very creative person, but we should not forget the impact of the environment, i.e. the conditions in which the artist resides physically, economically and socially. On the domestic level, even in material deprivation, one can have creative way of thinking, but lack of funding would result in the impossibility for the physical realization of the ideas (see: “Art replacement therapy or how an artist could be happy in economically poor country”). In this regard, we can find and the main tool binding the creative personality, the work of art and the emotional state. The works may exist as such only in contact with the recipients, usually defined as public. The sociological approach, based on which we can analyze the relationship artist - public usually does not examine the aesthetic qualities of the work, in this case a mediator between the parties. On the other hand, art history studies also the socio-economic conditions in which an artist has realized his/her ideas. Maybe the answers are in the course “Psychology of Art” as an intermediate unit, determining the boundaries between aesthetics and theory of art, or is it necessary to give up the search for the answer. Science gives only partial solutions remaining insufficient compared to the personal experience of the artist. To the question when an artist feels happy, the only answer is: when he works in an environment of people accepting his ideas and his works reach qualified audience. Since creative art is of a process character and it develops in an extended period of time, following the implemented intentions in a given context, presents the vector of the emotional state of the artist. Here again we come to the difficulty in defining “happiness” because it is a personal feeling, and only the individual can determine his/her condition. I would assume this approach too.

Personally: “I feel happy because I continue to develop the idea of art based on the senses and discover the context in which it is important for others too”

In proof of this self-determination, I will include the description of several interrelated creative projects implemented in the period 2011 – 2014.


Prospective research of the senses as a basis for knowledge, creativity, innovation and cultural practice was carried out in 2011 by an international team in partnership with the Regional Centre for Culture FabriKata, Bulgaria, as a leading organization; International Council of Cultural Centres, Bulgaria, ESDi Barcelona (Eskola Superior de Disseny), Spain and Cultura21Nordic, Denmark. The project’s title was TOUCH and it was implemented with the support of the European Cultural Foundation as follows: Atanas Totlyakov - author of the concept, visual artist, Carlos Jimenez - researcher and designer, Nadezhda Savova - researcher and lecturer on cultural anthropology, Oleg Kyofyod - philosopher, researcher in the area of social sciences, Mariana Prodanova - project manager, director of RCC FabriKata. The project involved more than 200 people (blind and with proper sight) - students, teachers, researchers, designers, artists and professionals from other branches nut to creative one. After the project execution its ideas were continued by new artists and artistic groups. Among them are students who were not directly involved in the project TOUCH, but are stimulated the work on the project to go on.


The visual-tactile-verbal relation was the subject of study in the Point of Contact Project involving creative experimentation, artistic and research practices (see: Totlyakov, At., Point of Contact, b-ruf/beneficiaries/bp_38 /). The project was implemented in several stages during 2012 – 2013. It was started initially as an idea for original art installation, supported by Gaudenz B. Ruf Award “Award for New Bulgarian Art” (author Atanas Totlyakov). During the execution of the initial idea a group was formed to investigate the reactions of the audience. The idea was a situation to be created in which, through purposeful artistic provocation of the sense of touch, one to look “inward” to his own thoughts and feelings. Both visual and tactile elements were used in the installation, summarized in the following groups:
- visual: lit up and dark space, black object of wood, black material, colour digital print on canvass, acryl;
- tactile (sense of temperature, sense of touch, sense of body movement): smooth and rough surface, solid objects, soft material, varied temperature in the separate installation spaces.
The core element of the project is a wooden pentahedral box that is 19 cm high and with sides of 70, 16, 68, 16, 70 cm, respectively. The interior space is divided in two. There are two openings at the front used to reach into the interior and to a screen of specific shape and textured surface. The low relief of the engraved surface is explored relying upon the sensitivity of the fingertips. The protuberant and concave shapes lead to a small opening, inside which the fingers of both hands meet. The person touching will experience tactile images and a sense of encountering the body, the self.
Comparison of different surfaces by touch:
The outer and inner surface of the wooden box is solid and smoothly polished. The thin screen is with relief on both sides and relatively elastic.
The wooden box is placed at a height of 90 cm from the ground surface. It is in a completely dark space. Shading is done by black cloth and a system of ropes for hanging. The dark part represents a narrow corridor leading to the tactile box. Both parts of the installation – the lit one and the unlit one have different air temperature. The presentation of the installation in February provides a natural environment for the sense of coldness. Thus the illuminated space is without heating and the dark one is warm. This is achieved by a small heater in the dark part close to the tactile box.
The dark corridor is accessed through the illuminated and cold space of the gallery. Print on canvass 200 cm/70 cm is displayed in the illuminated part. That print shows multifold enlarged image of the elastic and engraved element inside the box.
In the action plan of the Point of Contact Project tests were performed of the tactile box for ergonomics and stability towards the human body. For this purpose, a scale-model was made of the object and there was a group to study the reactions of audience with members: Deyan Boev, Denitsa Milusheva, Dimitar Terziev, Kiril Georgiev, Mila Petrova - sophomore students majoring in Sculpture, at St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo. Later Iskra Ivanova, third year student, the same speciality joined the group. The conditions of the experiment were specified, which was carried out as a public event - a workshop for tactile art at Taralezh Club for Cultural Initiatives, Veliko Tarnovo in November 2012. The team aimed to study the hands movement in the tactile box, the time to reach the location of the opening as well as the sectors where the audience stopped most often and paid more attention. The scale-model was a panel with low relief corresponding to the exact dimensions of the tactile box. The partitions inside ware transformed into details with a height between 5 mm and 15 mm. Each participant in the experiment had two identical black markers. The participants were blindfolded and reached the horizontally placed scale-model with the help of an assistant. The task was the surface to be explored only with the tops of black markers. The low partitions did not allow the marker to pass in a field that in the actual object is separated by a vertical screen. A series of 13 graphic symbols were added to the lines of each participant so that they could be discerned.
The sequence was as follows: oral presentation of the conditions; a volunteer from the audience stood at a distance 4 m from the place of work; two assistants blindfolded him and accompanied him to the table with the scale- model, helping him to sit; two identical markers were placed in his hands (the identity of the touched object with the left and the right hand was of importance); the volunteer - participant moved the markers guided by the sense of touch, pressure and vibration; vision is excluded as a means of control; the time was determined by the participant; after he removed the blindfold, and the assistants from the experiment team applied pre-selected graphic sign along the whole line; the process was repeated with another volunteer.
Conclusions primarily associated to the cognitive processes of the audience and its ability for perceiving of a specific object, were made based on the experiment. The first conclusion was related to the concepts of time and space. In a situation of isolation vision as a means of control, perception of time and space was greatly modified.
The participants reported that their sense of time during which they were working on the surface of the scale-model was very long, and the space they covered was huge. In fact, the longest period of working blindfolded did not exceed two minutes and distance was about 50 cm. The volunteers defined it as a feeling of “concentration”, much more tension, anxiety, but also as a form of dance and curiosity about their own reactions. Although the direction set by the relief barriers, many of the volunteers moved their hands in the first third of the scale-model. There was also the greatest number of traces from the black markers. In the other part the traces were relatively uniform, as many of the participants reach the place where the left and right hand could meet. In the real tactile box there was another factor having an effect on the ability to reach this place. The third dimension-height was neglected in the scale-model while the point of contact in the box was about 7 cm vertically. The experiment confirms that the sensitivity to a given dynamics require some preliminary perceptual and motor attitudes.
The continuation of the experiment Point of Contact was carried out on 15 February, 2013, during the presentation of the final installation of the project. The audience attending the event had a different preparation for perception of the object by touch. It consisted of people who had been involved in the creative workshop for tactile art and people who were first introduced to the idea. People entered a dark room, waling on their own, unaccompanied to reach and touch the main tactile object - a wooden box with interior space corresponding to the bent elbows hands. The audience experiences were documented on video, as well as they were also interviewed about their personal experience of the feeling of touch, walking in the dark space and the time spent in an isolated environment. Responses ranged from frank surprise to anticipated analysis, from refusal of sharing to a thorough introspection. Several people shared their sense of change in temperature in the separated dark place, others imagined the structure of the object, and some had difficulties to reach the tactile box, so they tried again after talking to those who had found the way to the place. The personal reactions were documented by the team for monitoring the audience. One of the visiting ladies says:
“I put my hands into the openings of the object and following the walls felt rough areas, lines, various forms that I set my mind to explore. Absorbed and lost in these lines and rough areas I suddenly felt different matter that had nothing to do with the material, which I was exploring to that time. It was something soft, smooth, warm and unfamiliar. That feeling continued for seconds and I even cried with fear and worry, what it was that I was touching ... in the next moment I realized that I actually had touched my fingers through the opening deliberately carved into the object. I was very surprised that I did not know myself, my own body, and my own hands with which I was touching every day. The experience for me was strong and very useful. I got to know myself in a new, very interesting and surprising way.”
Part of the respondents had constructed in their mind an idea associated with the visual: “At one point, you just freeze and try to build an image out of the touch.”
Others indulge entirely in tactile sensations:
“You have no idea where you are and what you should do, but you don’t care because you feel like in a dream, leaving to the imagination to lead you. The moment I touched the relief and it intrigued me I started to “play around”, touching it with the different parts of the palm. And when I touched my fingers, I was surprised, although I knew about this moment.”
As in the first experiment, the impressions of the sense of time and space were shared:
“The sense of time and space changes, time stops. You feel lost and you cane get oriented only by touch. Although hearing the voices of those beyond the curtains, the feeling is that you're somewhere else. You feel the warmth of your fingers, but they feel as foreign.”
Many respondents used phrases such as “strange” and “confusion”:
“It is interesting how one gets confused and mixes his senses. Completely disoriented and worried about what awaits me, I was startled when I touched my fingers. At first I did not realize that I was touching part of me.”
“It was very strange. I did not expect to touch my fingers, I realized that I was touching them, but it was strange ... I can not explain it.”
Some visitors experienced a sense of fear:
“I did not put my hands deep inside because I was afraid of what awaits me there. The whole time I thought that there would be something disgusting and I just refused to put his hands deeper.”

Based on the realized experiments, the members of the group set up to study the problem reconsidered their position from observers into artists generating new ideas corresponding to the interaction between vision and touch in the perception of art.


The author’s installation Point of Contact, 2013 initiated a process of creating a series of works using a similar strategy for the public. In 2014 they were united in a curatorial exhibition titled “Point of Contact – Tactile and the Feeler”. The implementation team included: Deyan Boev, Dimitar Terziev and Denitsa Milusheva, curated by Atanas Totlyakov. The exhibition was presented in Rafael Mihaylov Art Gallery, Veliko Tarnovo in the period 22 April, 2014 – 05 May, 2014. Each participant had an individual date for presentation and work with the audience. Three main trends to experiment with the tactile characteristics of objects were outlined – redefining of everyday objects (Deyan Boev), targeted modelling of objects focusing the attention on tactility (Dimitar Terziev), work in open urban space (Denitsa Milusheva). Unlike the Point of Contact, 2013 in the project continuation the eye contact between audience and artwork was not terminated. The hall is well illuminated and each detail could be examined. Verbal and visual information approaches were used to redirect the attention of those present in the exhibition space to the tactile aspects of the works. Before being announced that all objects can be touched, there was a brief talk about the role of tactile and thermal perceptive modalities in our existence. A scenario was worked out for the sequence of touching the objects for the respective day when the specific author would present his/her works. The design of the exhibition space was organized so that it caused reactions while passing through certain sections. That was achieved by placing a strip of protective folio film with bubbles on the floor. When stepping on them there was popping sound. The role of the senses in our everyday walking as pedestrians was explained to the surprised public.
Deyan Boev’s work represents an installation called Emotional Limit, made of a spatial object of plastic foam and foil compared to the printed images on vinyl of multifold enlarged details of the object. As the author emphasizes in the text to the installation by touching the surface, isolated with nylon, the tactile experimenter is unable to feel directly the softness. Abstract representation of everyday situations, seen through the tactile experience was sought. Different household items in softness, elasticity and surface structure (household sponges for cleaning) were presented to the attention of the public. Everyone from the audience was free to touch and explore the objects in a new environment of known household forms, to rethink their existence by the intellectual and emotional distance of the exhibition space.
Dimitar Terziev involved a certain game element in his work Tactile Labyrinth. Terziev designed and constructed a tetrahedral pyramid of wood with a soft cushion fitted to its apex where the face is placed. On the object’s walls there are triangular openings through which the base of the pyramid could be reached with hands. Helically wound strip of carved linoleum and spherical soft body were positioned inside. The aim was the recipients of the work to follow with their fingers the purposefully modelled relief. Their senses are provoked by comparing the tangible distinct surfaces and objects as the used tactile means were: smooth and rough surfaces; hard, soft and elastic materials. In addition to the touch sensors on the palms of the hands it was also included the effect on them in the facial area.
Thus the most sensitive areas of the human body are attacked simultaneously. Photographs showing how to implement the action were on display on the left and right of the pyramid.
Denitsa Milusheva worked out her Map of Tactile Attractions in Porto and presented a series of photographs of various locations in the urban space. In the text enclosed to them Milusheva shared her artistic aspirations:
“Porto is a tourist town with different types of sites. In guidebooks for Porto sites related to history, music or art could be found.
In this project I try to create a tourist guide with tactile landmarks. These are small, inconspicuous places, but interesting with their natural form. I do not change the places that I find I just add a small relief sign. Each town has its own small places that are not associated with a historic event, but revised through the concept of tactile perception they become landmark. These are places that might not be beautiful, but when touched bring a new message with their relief and structure.”
The attempt of Denitsa Milusheva to focus the audience’s attention to the hidden from the sight, but visible places in the urban space, extended the scope of the idea by mentally connecting sights at great distance, united by a small embossed symbol. That concept was developed by the team for different locations in Veliko Tarnovo, as the implementation of new artistic performances had been intended.
On the basis of the carried out experiments and studies of the public reactions it could be concluded that the involvement of the sense of touch in the context of the work of art is a return to the theme of experience, peculiar psychological mode for reactivation of the emotions. The starting point is the distance from the immediate tactile experience through deliberate manipulation of objects and situations in favour of a moment of hesitation and doubt. The inclusion of the sense of touch as an artistic practice is possible in remodelling of the tangible to break with the primary apparentness.

Conclusion: Looking for direct comparison between art and happiness in terms of the theory of art is untenable to a certain degree. What matters is just the judgment of the artist or the viewer (listener, reader). Feeling of satisfaction from creative work is ephemeral, and the brief moments of happiness could be looked for only in the creation of new works and accepting challenges for their public presentation.
If that happens in a social environment, among a circle of people who perceive the ideas positively, the artist and his audience would feel happy. And that’s a constantly advancing process.

* Lontrade, A., Art and pleasure, a necessary pair?, Dictionary in Art Aesthetics and Philosophy, River, 2012, p. 543
** Idem, p. 545
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