by Gabriella Solti
My work, Geometric Laughter, is a spatialized immersive soundscape inspired by a short section in Robert Smithson’s essay, Entropy and The New Monuments. Smithson speculates that “laughter is in a sense of kind of entropic “verbalization”” and after analyzing the work of the Park Place artists of the 1960s (Mark di Suvero, Robert Grosnevor, Carl Andre among others) he concluded that “the order and disorder of the fourth dimension could be set between laughter and crystal-structural, as a device for unlimited speculation”. He paired the major laughter forms with the six major crystal structures (geometric forms).
My interest in Smithson’s “ha-ha crystal” concept stems from the possibility of representation in a multi sensory immersive environment, laughter being its primary material produced by live laughing performers (“the musicians”) at the vertices of the crystal that I recorded in the centre of the geometric form with binaural microphone during a thematic artist residency at the Banff Centre in the summer 2013. I was interested in the challenge in creating and communicating instructions visually or textually to ordinary performers in order to produce the desired laughter sound (ordinary laugh, giggle, titter, snicker, etc.)
Initially, I asked fellow participants in the residency to listen to a one minute segment of a person laughing (from a sound library recording) and draw the laughter. I asked them to do the same while listening to a giggling person. The resulting drawings were beautiful and showed many commonalities as well as clear differences between visual representation of ordinary laugh and giggle. Still, despite the commonalities I found, it was impossible for me to create an exact visual description (visual score) of laughter that would prompt everyone to produce the same sound if they only have a visual score/notation to rely on. This led me to look into what science has to say about laughter.
During my residency, I looked into recent research published in October 2012 on the physiology and neurological effect of laughter led by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, which suggests that laughter is a form of exercise. It inspired me to devise a set of breathing exercises (similar to those we do in the gym as warm up) that naturally produce various laughter sounds and were executed easily by the performers (fellow participants in the residency). In fact all of the performers reported it felt very natural for them doing the exercises and they felt they were really laughing as opposed to mere mimicking (mostly due to the fact that they found the whole situation (e.g. ‘laugh into your knees’) hilarious).
I also aim to actively engage a wider audience with my work as well as Robert Smithson’s ideas. For this I appropriated the usual look of the ‘Trainer to Go’ fitness cards commonly found in fitness magazines and created a ‘Laughter to Go’ card for free distribution in community centres, libraries and public spaces. I am also interested in engaging a diverse public (not just those who regularly visit galleries) on a more personal level by acting as a ‘Laughter Trainer’ giving ‘laughter workshops’ at various locations (community centre, student club, schools, etc.) based on the exercises I devised – a personal and communal experience. This gives me the opportunity to engage with and educate a diverse public (while they are also having fun) on Robert Smithson’s ideas, Minimalism (and minimalist artists’ fascination with crystals and crystal geometry), as well as my own practice and research relating to this project by embracing simultaneously the roles of laughter trainer, artist and community educator.