Curatorial > FriendsWithYou | Happy World: On a Cloud

This multisensory installation by artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III centers around the concept of Happy World, a place where nature and friendship are at the forefront of the experience. The artists have refined the cloud motif over the course of their careers, and here the inflatable sculpture Little Cloud welcomes guests to Newfields with a message of hope and admiration for nature’s wonders. Waves of natural and synthetic sound wash over the entrance pavilion, adding to the sense of immersion and drawing attention to the acoustics of this shared space. As an interactive element, guests will also periodically encounter two of the many peaceful and playful characters who call Happy World their home—the altruistic Hug Bug and the fun-loving Peanut Butter.

Borkson and Sandoval began collaborating under the name FriendsWithYou in 2002. Formed with the intention of inspiring joy, kindness, and love through acts of culture creation, FriendsWithYou produces artworks that highlight our collective experiences by referencing popular culture and natural environments.


Co-curated with Dr. Michael Vetter.

FriendsWithYou, artist collective (founded 2002), Little Cloud, 2021, Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Photos by Eric Lubrick, Samantha Veach, & Chris Reising. Video by Jeremiah Nickerson. courtesy of Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

This exhibition was made possible by the Efroymson Contemporary Art Fund.

Michael Vetter, PhD, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art & Bryn Jackson, Assistant Curator of Audience Engagement and Performance | August 04, 2021, 09:00 am

Little Cloud, a protective figure-- a friend, really welcomes you inside the Indianapolis Museum of Art in the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion these days. Newfields is excited to welcome L.A.-based collective FriendsWithYou, composed of artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III. The duo presents a newly commissioned work titled Happy World: On a Cloud, which combines a site-specific installation with custom costumes and live performances from June 11, 2021 through May 29, 2022.

The first component of this experience is the oversized inflatable sculpture Little Cloud, which depicts one of the group’s most iconic characters, or “friends.” The personified cloud taps into humans' delight in recognizing another human face. The welcoming smile is a symbol of joy and friendship, much like the peace sign. Little Cloud was the featured friend for the collective’s appearance in the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Partly inspired by the films of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and his animated worlds full of highly stylized and expressive nature spirits, Little Cloud is described by the artists as a compassionate figure who symbolizes nature’s nurturing and regenerative powers. Happy World: On a Cloud also includes a specially designed audio soundtrack (composed by FriendsWithYou’s longtime collaborator Norman Bambi), transforming the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion space into a multisensory environment.

In addition to the Little Cloud sculpture that is on view for the full length of the exhibition, Happy World: On a Cloud includes intermittent performances featuring two of the collective’s other friends—the welcoming Hug Bug and the fun-loving Peanut Butter. Central figures within FriendsWithYou’s larger world of characters, Hug Bug and Peanut Butter are forest spirits and best friends who have a comical, buddy relationship. For the exhibition at Newfields, FriendsWithYou produced newly designed Hug Bug and Peanut Butter costumes that are worn by specially trained artists from the NoExit Performance collective in Indianapolis. These performances take place alongside Little Cloud in the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion as well as in the galleries and gardens.

Drawing on the example of Pop Art and more recent artists such as Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama, FriendsWithYou takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources outside the world of fine art including cartoons and Japanese kawaii culture. Similarly, their materials and processes have moved beyond the traditional categories of painting and sculpture to include large-scale inflatables and immersive environments. Happy World: On a Cloud will be one of the group’s most boundary-breaking works to date, combining multiple artistic practices into a holistic mythology and all-encompassing aesthetic universe.