Laughter & Art

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Laughter & Art Research Project 2005-2010

How many types of laughter are there, how many adjectives attached to laughter as descriptors? It is as if there was a laughter for all occasions that becomes a vessel for all kind of passion, emotion or understanding. Perhaps, then it is at the extremes, where the contrary aspects of laughter can be isolated and the affect magnified, literally put to the test, that new theoretical and practical insights emerge: through fake laughter, non laughter, in perverse, artistic, unlikely and extreme laughter situations. How performative practice, through an expanded understanding of cultural context, and the aesthetics of a socially engaged art, might interfere with and/or consolidate contemporary understandings of laughter. By focusing on how laughter performs and is performed, precisely as an affective knowledge; an approach that understands laughter primarily as a performed passion, an emotional response; as an example of human culture in action, a social language that can disrupt the flow of life with a ‘real’ and powerful presence, making of laughter, a key emotion of encounter (Bayly 2002; Kear 2004).

What was most significant in the research was the manner in which performances produced evidence (as residue), of the many contrary ways that this corporeal response could effect the external situation of the laughing subject. How the performance practice became a journey, as an immersion in laughter phenomenon, that proceeded from a position of almost naive ignorance, not knowing, and charted a course, from a partial subjective knowledge, through to a state of knowing uncertainty – a particular synthesis of body and mind – suspended and given a temporary form through the ambiguous meaning of laughter. This allowed for a certain play with, drifting into and intervening in laughter affects, through this subjective embodied knowledge. Creating a laughter situology as an everyday and highly susceptible laboratory, to examine human sense, understanding and conscience – an experimental site for revealing every aspect of our existence – as the human is undone through laughter.

But because we know how to laugh, can we say that we truly understand the laughable? It does not appear so, if we refer to the history of philosophical works on laughter. It is, in sum, the story of an insoluble problem. (Bataille 2001: 133)

As Nancy has recently argued:Laughter has never really found its place in the erotico-aesthetic dialectic of philosophy. … laughter that passes through all aesthetic, psychological or metaphysical categories without yielding to any of them, the laughter that takes on anguish and joy alike –  this laughter remains in the margins’. (Nancy 1997: 372) This is a laughter at the very edge of sense, reveling in the non-sensical, bursting ‘at the multiple limit of the senses and of language, uncertain of the sense to which it is offered… laughter is the joy of the senses, and of sense, at their limit’ (Nancy 1993: 390). Yet more than this, laughter comes to embody a form of knowledge, ‘laughter knowledge’, that reveals or (un)founds truth. This landscape pockmarked with laughter: resistant, creative, demonstrative, free, stupid and always dancing. What possible mystery – in the magic of emotion – lies buried deep within the insoluble problem of laughter?

So what appears finally, exposed in the practices and argument assembled in these laughter situations (as research), is a potential social art practice, forged from all that is ambiguous and contingent in the state of laughter. This is an engagement with laughter where everyone present is invited to make and be taken over by her own poetic moment (in the micro-performance of laughter). An argument for an avant-garde practice of laughter, a tactical movement as a guerrilla street gesture that is part situationist intervention and part therapeutic exchange. A gestural intervention that forges, from out of the ambiguity and paradoxes within laughter exchange, a social art practice, that both confronts and performs (its) uncertainty; so the slough of knowledge and of meaning dissolves into a dis-authoritative state of inconsistency, a well of non-knowledge.[1]


[1] See Francois Laruelle’s A summary of Non-philosophy. Pli 8 Philosophies of Nature 1999.

Leap in a Void – Laughing Bear in Beirut, Cosmicmegbrain 2008

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