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In this article, I explore two projects concerning artistic deployments of humour, starting with With

Humorous Intent symposium at Mostyn, North Wales, April 2012 and moving ontoThree Artists
Walk into A Bar.. Amsterdam, April 2012.
I begin with a note on the recent David Shrigley exhibition Brain Activity held at the Hayward
gallery in London by Mike Chavez-Dawson;
David Shrigley’s exhibition Brain Activity at the Hayward Gallery earlier this year presented the
first-ever extensive survey of his dynamic and prolific oeuvre; drawings, animations, sculptures and
installations that ebbed between traditional presentation and the interventional. These playfully
opened up further levels of engagement for those who might be familiar with David’s work and
mesmerized those who weren’t in equal measure especially with works such as: a neon sign with the
words it’s ‘Freezing In Here’ housed in a glass space outside the Royal Festival Hall entrance (first
observed by me on one of the coldest nights in history) accompanying music (‘Monkey’ & ‘I Live In
Your House’ - available as a 7inch vinyl record with the exhibition catalogue) in the lift to the first floor
for the exhibition, a nailed rich tea biscuit above the lift, the taxidermy rat under one of the galleries
skirting, a miniature stick figure out on the sculpture balcony beckoning you to join them, and the
mini cut away in one of the gallery walls for you to crawl through (and we did - in actual fact
someone got temporarily stuck, note to self always take rucksack off when crawling through a small
hole) to mention but a few.
David’s works have this innate knack of delicately splicing the obvious with the absurd and balancing
it with just the right amount of sentiment in its articulation, which highlights that humor is always
tittering on some kind of liminality, and it is with this sensitivity thatBrain Activity was curated, of
course, enhanced with Shrigley’s Midas touch.
Unfortunately I could not share Mike’s above experience of Shrigley’s exhibition due to a taxidermyphobia.
ʻMany contemporary exhibitions focus with grim earnestness on the difficulties of social justice,
environmental degradation or economic inequity. Adding humor to the equation dismantles the sense
of insistent authority and reminds us that we are all complicit in these inequities. Humour can offer
an astute as well as cathartic and even magical way to deal with big issues ʼ (Coblentz, 2009).
Embracing humour’s capacity to stimulate personal and social debate through artistic interventions
in the same spirit as the above words of Assistant Curator Cassandra Coblentz writing in the
exhibition catalogue of Seriously Funny held at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, USA, in
2009, With Humorous Intent was a symposium I organised, held in cooperation with Mostyn and
Loughborough University School of the Arts, in conjunction with Politicized Practice Research Group,
held over two days which interrogated current artistic deployments of the comic and the humorous to
coincide with Ha Ha Road, an exhibition at Mostyn exploring the use of humour in contemporary art
with artists including Bobby Baker, Yara El Sherbini, Ceal Floyer and Bedwyr Williams.
The impetus for With Humourous Intent was to allow me to interrogate my current research
interests concerning laughter, document and audience through the conceptual and practical

about how various environments affect our moods. a redundant language school to a previous Mexican Foreign Embassy and Foreign Press Association. improvisation and serendipity. in one fell swoop. Discussing the artist as a disruptive force against the . Marcus Coates.. Using laughter as a device to counter ‘ssshhh. a presentation of short films described as ʻslapstick theatricsʼ. Whereas Sherri Klein’s 2006 offering is almost elementary in its sophistication towards addressing the fundamental philosophical issues of this subject. albeit moderate research into this subject currently available in the public realm. Films by artists such as Harold Offeh. a pub. Doug Fishbone. my interest of using laughter within audience participatory encounters resides in Sherri Klein’s words in a chapter entitled ‘The Public Spectacle : Performance Art and Laughter’ in her 2006 book Art and Laughter . often generate humorous responses which relates to John Morreall’s ideas around ‘incongruity’ and Alfred Koestler’s 1960’s concept of ‘bisociation’.if humour has one characteristic. nevertheless suggests that interest is fertile and has the potential to be explored in far greater depth. The Netherlands and the USA. Jennifer Higgie’s The Artist’s Joke (2007) is one such critique of the subject which dispels any notion that serious attention is not already being paid to deployments of humour as a strategy within arts practices. feelings and behaviour. the absurd ‘out of place-ness‘ of artworks I have installed as an artist and curator in locations as diverse as a kitchen in a suburban house. a lecture hall in a library.’be quiet-ness’. Ralph Rugoff and endeavoured to highlight the incongruous nature of humour getting lost in translation and ‘cross-cultural misunderstanding’ whilst acting to ‘deflate’ and ‘punctuate’ one’s selfimportance’ (Katoaoka 2008:6). ‘Performance Art has tremendous potential as an art medium for the expression of humour because it relies on experimentation. there appears to be a relative dearth in both publication and public discussion by way of notable symposia etc.. a market. Candice Breitz. In environments such as the white cube art gallery which traditionally have demanded a somewhat formal and quiet contemplation of the artworks on show. In 2005. To any criticism that humour can be bracketed into various boxes. ‘. I curated All For Show. an empty warehouse. placing humour in an exciting liminal state of the place where it may choose to inhabit.. My current PhD studies and past initiated projects have attempted to remedy this. 2005:14) shown in various contemporary art spaces in New Zealand. it is to thumb it’s nose at pigeonholes (2007:12)’. all of which can result in the unexpected and the humourously incongruous (2006:121)’. Jake and Dinos Chapman and Kutlug Ataman. The previous.framework of contemporary Performance Art and provide a discursive public platform for Ha Ha Road. Higgie offers an abundance of essays by contemporary and historical theorists as well as practitioners addressing the key concepts of such a study. ʻawkward and macabre sense of humour ʼ and ʻcringingly funnyʼ (Lack. Germany. on the humour/art debate. Despite several notable group exhibitions such as Laughing in a foreign language held at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2008 which displayed an array of international artists include John Bock. Beagles and Ramsay and Doug Fishbone tested the acceptable limits of humour in the white cube gallery space. ID magazine critic Jessica Lack (2005:14) wrote ʻthese idiosyncratic films succeed in finding surreal quirks in the banalities of everyday lifeʼ. Inspired by Gaston Bachelard's ideas in Poetics of Space (1958). Higgie states.

my objectives consisted of bringing together artists. University of the Arts. . a form of personal and social catharsis to destabilise social norms of correctness. I aimed to set up an international platform for academics and practitioners to interrogate how humour may function within contemporary art practice. To achieve this. and transgressive act. humourous devices within artistic practice to shed light on John Morreall’s theories of humour as connected to ‘superiority’. Derby.Mostyn and QUAD. 2.Cambridge). Jennifer Jarman. The symposium was video recorded by James Alex Newman and Frog Morris. The image of art is ridiculed through the cliché of excess and through a humour that denatures art’s supposed ‘seriousness’’ (2009:443) when talking about the work of Paul McCarthy. disruptive. humour as an artistic methodology deployed both historically and in contemporary practice embracing fine art forms including painting and sculpture as well as performance-based art practices. theorists and academic researchers composed of invited guest speakers. Christchurch. Dave Ball. potentially the first of it’s kind to be held in the U. sick. 3. humour as an artistic. In developing With Humorous Intent. Eve Smith (Liverpool John Moores University). Simon Bell (Anglia Ruskin University. Dean Kenning states. Kicking off the presentations. ‘Is it possible to assess the application of humour as a set of methodological strategies within a range of contemporary art practices and if so how are these strategies deployed and their results judged?’ To answer this question.K. curators. Gary Stevens and Frog Morris who were joined by Andrew Paul Wood (University of Canterbury. Waldemar Pranckiewicz. and Dean Kelland (Central Saint Martins. London). ‘relief’ and ‘incongruity’ (John Morreall:1983) 4. in Art Relations and the Presence of Absence. Jonathan Roberts. ‘humour is one of the most effective means of puncturing pomposity’ (Barbara Pollack: 2004). In the next presentation. Steve Fossey (University of Northampton). Alison O’Connor (Oxford University). curator of Ha Ha Road.seriousness and pomposity of the art world. Hannah Ballou (Central School of Speech and Drama. Silly. Presenters were invited to interrogate four areas of enquiry: 1. Third Text (2009). Gillian Whiteley (aka bricolagekitchen). University of London). Shaun Belcher (Nottingham Trent University School of Art and Design). Dave Ball gave a paper entitled How to Curate an Exhibition that Doesn't Make Sense where he considered humour as a passage from the realm of normality or sense into the realm of abnormality or non-sense via artworks. New Zealand). traditional and contemporary perceptions of humour against the ‘serious’ backdrop of the art-world institution where humourous artistic endeavours seeking to poke fun at the art world if as Barbara Pollack has stated. I posed myself a question to reflect upon.

with their particularly offensive. aimed to. creating a counter-world in relation to Michel de Certeau’s The Practices of Everyday Life. political and cultural issues. Alison O’Connor interrogated what she referred to as the ‘redemptive capacity of stand-up comedy’ whilst Jennifer Jarman’s performative lecture drew parallels between the artist and ventriloquist and Hannah Ballou shared her research into the naked female comic body in performance praxis. Such stories supplied much of the narrative for banter throughout the symposium and made for witty conversation during evening drinks in the Palladiium-turned-Wetherspoons. The commitment to humour. she spoke about humour as a working class resistance and its ‘capacity to puncture and prick and disrupt the status quo’ in what she referred to as ‘ludic disruption’. From her own experience of socialising in working men’s clubs. often sexist and racist forms of humour. Both Waldermar Pranckiewicz’s analysis of Douglas Huebler’s photographs and written statements and my exploration of slapstick comedy and mechanical reproduction encouraged the audience to engage in a participatory activity which had humorous results.slick: the fall and rise of comedic art. This was followed by a question and answer session between speakers and audience members which was met with lively debate... Frog Morris searched for the elusive point where comedy ends and art begins. This format was repeated over the course of the two day symposium. theory and comedy including humour theorist Simon Critchley. I had set up an effective discursive platform where an eclectic range of viewpoints was shared. music and art whilst Jonny Roberts gave an introduction into how he explores guilty pleasure. in its capacity to bring subversive voices and unexpected perspectives to mainstream awareness’ . Presentations concluded with Dean Kelland’s research on Steptoe and Son. Gillian Whiteley considered humour as a strategy within contemporary art. The symposium became a convivial encounter where social badinage acted as a coping mechanism for some of the presenters who stayed in Llandudno’s version of ‘Fawlty Towers’. ‘use(ing) the quality of humour to test the potential of art as a critical instrument for the analysis of social. Answering my question. the presentations illustrated a diverse set of strategies towards the contemporary and historical use of humour within a range of artistic practices. Three Artists Walk into a Bar. professionals and a variety of publics. Amongst the other presenters. I was invited to present findings ofWith Humorous Intent and elements of my PhD research as part of a humour/art-based project initiated at De Appel in Amsterdam which staged a number of lectures and workshops by internationally renowned practitioners from the field of art. in order to subvert the absurdity of a perceived hierarchy. This group of presentations was concluded by Gary Stevens who suggested that the transgressive and subversive quality of humour often makes visual arts people uncomfortable. stemmed from a belief in its social quality. A month after the symposium. highlighting a series of solo and curatorial artistic projects combining elements of comedy. as it’s manifesto read. Steve Fossey questioned what is funny about piss as Simon Bell’s presentation asked whether Laibach and the Neue Slowenische Kunst are often misinterpreted as a comic turn and Shaun Belcher presented a comic dog. this project aimed to build a community of peers. formal parameters and hidden dialogues.

PhD by Practice Student at MIRIAD. September-November 2012. Rembrandt made lousy violins and Stradivarius was a terrible painter." Tommy Cooper. can provide a method to open up serious debate of a range of issues. I received an apt SMS message from Mr Chavez-Dawson: "I inherited a painting and a violin which turned out to be a Rembrandt and a Stradivarius. I believe in it’s ‘liminality’. Where it was fascinating for me to get feedback on my artistic deployment of humour from Giselinde. Alberta. humour.cornerhouse. To combat prejudices that humour is simplistic. Giselinde. Lee Campbell. Issues raised in both our presentations were later discussed in an informal workshop I gave around bodily slapstick and humour as being in-convivial. Canada.I was lucky enough to present alongside Giselinde Kuipers. Ha. PhD by Practice Student at Loughborough University School of the Arts will be presenting his School of Laughter at this year’s SUPERNORMAL Festival at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire for further detailshttp://www. Further information on my participation at the De Appel Three Artists Walk Into a Bar project can be found at http://www. as Mike ChavezDawson refers to asked the audience to consider how transgressive humour works ‘in practice’ and focused on how humour may be understood as a way of exploring social relations. Mike Chavez-Dawson.He will also be participating in Michael Portnoy’s ‘Experimental Comedy Training Camp’ at the Banff Centre. teachers and guests of a ‘Basil Fawlty’ alike..threeartistswalkintoabar. discussions about the deployment of comedy and slapstick in the classroom became the subject of a lively conversation between myself and workshop participant/Three Artists. who I must thank for encouraging me to explore laughter through the lens of a sociolinguist. non-academic or . having the capacity of revealing itself in the most unlikeliest of places. social On near completion of this article. artist Robert Wittendorp as both of us drew on our teaching experiences of how we believe humour may operate in the classroom. Associate Professor of Cultural Sociology at the University of Amsterdam and Editor-in-chief of Humor International journal of humor research. 2012 for further info: http://www. is currently working with David Shrigley on his forthcoming show ‘HOW ARE YOU FEELING?’ at Cornerhouse which opens on the 6th October. Artist. Humour can act as communicative interlocutor between artists.supernormalfestival. a social scientist. Unfortunately.

B. KATAOKA. J. Third Text 23: 44 435-446 (2009) KLEIN. 2008. COBLENTZ. In Art Relations and the Presence of Absence. 1983. S. J. B. 2 I would like to remark that despite an artist’s disruptive potential against the art world... Funny Peculiar I-D Magazine London. p118-9 1 However. The Artist’s Joke.References. Art and laughter.. Laughing in a foreign language... 2009. Seriously Funny [Publication of an exhibition held at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art 2009] Ed. Tauris. A 2009 SMoCA HIGGIE. Albany POLLACK. On the one hand.. J. LACK. September 2004. Lee Campbell Art & Humour JUNE 26.. I am unconvinced that all performance art practices necessarily ‘rely’ on such factors as improvisation and serendipity. 2006. there appears to be a case of ‘the hand that feeds the mouth’.Taking Laughter Seriously. July 2005 KENNING. C. i.. It is indeed how the performance protagonist wishes to control both the performance and his respective audience that dictates the importance of improvisatory elements and the possibility for serendipitous moments to occur during the performance. the artist wants to expose the art world but then also needs it to validate his/her actions.. 2012by Nathaniel Mellors . The MIT Press. London : Hayward Publishing MORREALL. The Elephant in the Room in ARTNews. State University of New York Press. London I. 2007. M..e to give the action symbolic importance. D. Ann Neff R.

less popular but richer and stronger in other ways. small shifts in perception or just plain weird effect than big-belly laughs. Art historian John C. It is a thing in itself. then how serious is it? And if Breton can coin ‘Black Humour’ then can I suggest some other colours? This week.’ Which sounds great and articulates one of the finest characteristics of art: it can be anything – it has this potential for new forms. So at what point does comedy become art and what happens when art takes on comedy? Is laughter necessarily lost along the way? Is humour really something ‘beyond language’. semantics. which follows from all sorts of things that we can’t analyze with words. As an artist working with humour. as part of the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Wide Open School Programme’ I’m giving a talk titled Art & Humour – What Could Be & . the artist’s joke has been partly mired in the realm of the unfunny – the conventional view would be that art is more concerned with semiotics. ever since. the work takes on a more autonomous form. as Duchamp suggests? Is there an intersection of function for these divergent forms and. According to Duchamp. a new feeling so to speak. if so. I’ve noticed that some of my favourite comedic artists’ work has plotted a darkening trajectory as it has evolved into something more ‘artful’ (the third series of The League of Gentleman. Reeves & Mortimer’s Bang Bang It’s… and Catterick.Reeves & Mortimer’s ‘Masterchef’ sketch André Breton introduced the term ‘Black Humour’ in 1940 and. ‘new feelings’. and as a fan of both art and comedy. Welchman has drawn on a 1960 interview with Marcel Duchamp to elaborate on Breton’s concept. ‘There’s a humour that is black which doesn’t aspire to laughter and doesn’t please at all. Lenny Bruce’s whole career) – less funny.

Performance Art & Horror: Reeves & Mortimer’s ‘Masterchef’ v. Marshall McLuhan had that theory all stitched up. . these environments have enabled a kind of transferable cultural nous in a class-crossing setting which can be explosively productive. It’s great that in comedy we can accept combinations of clashing forms and ideas that might otherwise be dismissed as pretentious. Mediation: The Kids in the Hall My sister. and in doing so emphasizes our basic interdependency – it feels generous. it seems VERY clear to me that this Is it my cabbage head? sketch is about the difficulty of gender relations in a world beset by political correctness and that these pretend-French fur-trappers are rowing their way through a skit addressing the confluence of post-imperialism and capitalism… While this routine is evidently about language as a subjectively constructed. mediating technology.b. Vic Reeves studied painting. and John Lennon talked about how – rather than simply being a musician – the art-school education helped the Beatles conceive of the band as a broader tool. and was busy programming the video recorder when it was shown on late night UK TV in the early 1990s. thinking back. Contemporary art is popularly perceived as quite humourless and it’s interesting in that respect that so many British musicians and comics went through the art-college experience: Richard Hamilton taught Bryan Ferry. Now. 2. semantics and pragmatics. rather than a general human characteristic. Adam Ant’s fashion and graphic design skills found their apotheosis in his holistic inception(s) of the Antz. got really hooked on The Kids in The Hall. 3. which can be quite reductive.What Is in which I plan to elaborate on a particularly brown chromatic.a. Cultural Cannibalism: Reeves & Mortimer’s ‘Masterchef’ v.1 When I first saw this sketch it slightly frightened me at the same time as making me laugh. This routine demonstrates the enormous range of three people in a chance encounter. By way of introduction. a Canadian comedy group. celebratory and necessary. Maybe this touches on something which is peculiar to Britain as much as the history of the art college. There’s also no obvious social target – unless you consider idiocy to be a social group. there’s no underestimation of the audience’s intelligence here. Semiotics: Jimmy James This routine is a series of linguistic projections and inferences from a blank ‘MacGuffin’ – what could be inside the box? Anything could – and what we get is a joyful reticulation of surrealism and association. 3. In contrast with a lot of contemporary comedy (and art).2 More recently. At their best. Reeves and Mortimer have returned to their Masterchef-parody format and used it to harpoon a mutant Peter Kaye (played by Vic Reeves). Holly. but still got subpoenaed for his crimes by a comic. here are some sketches (funny) linked to popular tropes of contemporary art (not funny): 1.

Vic and Bob have picked the perfect show to address this cannibal condition because it goes to the heart of consumerism. BAD COPY' at Salle de Bains. It’s as if we are flirting with a permanent cultural present. pointing out already interesting things. Kaye is serving up ‘things people had previously known but had forgotten they were aware of’. in November 2012. UK.I feel bad for Peter Kaye here because we have been in the grip of an economy of nostalgia for some time. Italy. France. the Netherlands. Rome. In ‘Masterchef’. reassuring to the intellect. What do we want to eat? About the author  Nathaniel Mellors is an artist and musician. Amsterdam. Forthcoming solo exhibitions include Malmö Konsthall / C-salen. and in that respect he seems like such a nominal target. There are swathes of other artists. and an advisor at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten. inherently conservative and excellently profitable – we always ‘get it’. musicians. Sweden and MONITOR. Related articles  Tino Sehgal at Jan Mot Gallery – or not? by Jörg Heiser  Remembering Tony Hart by Sam Thorne  Music & Theory by Simon Reynolds . He lives and works in Amsterdam and London. Familiarity can be patronising. He is a co-founder of Junior Aspirin Records. In Bob Mortimer’s words. novelists and comics doing what Kaye is nailed for – turning the familiar into an emotive quick-fix. a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art Practice at Leeds Metropolitan University. This de-historicizing economy is amplified through the web and digital communications media. He is currently exhibiting 'Ourhouse Episode 3 feat. an amnesiac reality which we are all perpetuating – this blog-with-YouTube format is perfectly attuned to it. Lyon.