This project was abbreviated: limited studies were made shortly before the artist experienced the ailment which inspired the Needles series.
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The Laughing Women project began with the idea of pure mirth. The ambiguities of laughter absent from its social contexts—the seeming aggression of teeth bared, microexpressions 1 captured or neglected—all gave appealing dimensions of complexity to the creation of the preliminary static image.
Thinking first through drawing and painting, it seemed obvious that when a painting is effective its contemplation creates an experience outside of time - a nonlinear temporal moment in an otherwise static field. Similarly, biologically, during moments of laughter and contemplation mirror neurons 2 become active in the human brain. I become preoccupied with the question of whether I could create a hand-made image that would trigger mirror neuron activity. Could I make an image of a person laughing that would make someone else feel happy inside?
During my previous studies for PHARMA (a series thinking through the then-unpublicized opiate epidemic in the USA) the biological cascade of laughter 3 became a healthful mirror to the documented cascade of physical dependence and concurrent addiction 4 within the human organism—and by extension that greater organism, society itself.
In this way, during a prolonged instance of magical thinking, women's laughter became a talisman against the dark.
The treatment and status of female-identified demographics are an easy metric for the values of the society in which they live: like an indicator species in an ecosphere, this hidden knowledge tells us about the overall health of a political and social system. Women make up roughly half the global population 5, and yet worldwide this parity in population does not bring commensurate parity in treatment by those in positions of power and authority.
Women's laughter, in this context, becomes a proxy for hope.
In July of 2014, a full year after I began this series, the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Bülent Arinç, went on the record with the following:
Laughter is itself a power position - its politicality is functionally implied. Such moments of emphasis reify the nature of the work, as this sentiment echoes familiar rhetoric regarding who is allowed to inhabit public spaces. Our culture is littered with such examples, a call and response across the corridor of time. As recently as 2017, Desiree Fairooz was arrested for laughing during the Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing.
Women's laughter, in this way, becomes resistance.
The first question asked of me with this work has often been: "What is she laughing at?" The question has come exclusively from men. Oddly, as of this writing, it has not presented itself in any other gender.
1. Constants Across Cultures In The Face & Emotion, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 1971, Vol 17, No. 2, 124-129.
2. Universal Connection through Art: Role of Mirror Neurons in Art Production and Reception. Behav Sci (Basel). 2017 Jun; 7(2): 29. Published online 2017 May 5.
3. Neuroendocrine and Stress Hormone Changes During Mirthful Laughter. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences Volume 298, Issue 6, December 1989, Pages 390-396.
4. The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Thomas R. Kosten, M.D. and Tony P. George, M.D. Sci Pract Perspect. 2002 Jul; 1(1): 13–20.
5. Women make up 49.6% of the global population. 2017, The World Bank
Woman faces up to a year in prison for laughing during Jeff Sessions hearing. Christopher Mele, Boston Globe
Turkish deputy prime minister says women should not laugh out loud. Agence France-Presse in Istanbul, The Guardian
Turkish Women Defy Deputy PM with Laughter.Constanze Letsch, The Guardian
Fair Play: More Equal Laws Boost Female Labor Force Participation. Christian Gonzales, Sonali Jain-Chandra, Kalpana Kochhar and Monique Newiak, IMF
The Mind's Mirror: A new type of neuron--called a mirror neuron--could help explain how we learn through mimicry and why we empathize with others. . Lea Winerman, American Psychological Association
Empowering Women Is Smart Economics. Ana Revenga and Sudhir Shetty, IMF