Medicine show

What do you do when you reach burnout, realising your work-life balance is way off-kilter? If you’re photographer Hege Sæbjørnsen, you rethink, start working with the Samaritans, take yourself off to Japan and read Oliver James’ book Affluenza about the ‘painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more’. Then, inspired by global social impact design festivals, you organise a new exhibition in collaboration with the Samaritans to tackle the ailment head on and encourage debate, and possible solutions through art and design. Sæbjørnsen and a panel of experts, including graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook and the Design Museum’s Michael Czerwinski, selected 40 pieces from more than 150 entries under the Affluenza umbrella, dealing with consumerism and emotional wellbeing. ‘The work is incredibly varied,’ says Sæbjørnsen. ‘We wanted it to be a colourful, multi-experiential exhibition. It’s really vibrant and something people can engage in.’ Exhibits include: The Happiest Book in the World, in which graphic designer Alex Otrowski documents a week spent in Denmark, apparently the ‘happiest country in the world’; Steve Price’s screenprinted take on the 1939 World War II poster, Keep Spending and Stay in Debt; artist Ina Otzko’s ‘Father, please forgive them for they do (not) know what they are doing’ neon sign; and new work from Barnbrook himself. Accompanying the exhibition are seminars for teenagers, a ‘Happy design for the future’ debate and talks by Bonfire of the Brands author Neil Boorman and Affluenza-discoverer James. The goal is to expand this year’s ‘pilot’ exhibition into a regular London fixture – surely a welcome dose of anti-Affluenza medicine that needs no sugar to go down.

Affluenza runs from 19-28 March in a vacant warehouse space at 187-211 St John Street, London EC1

Latest articles