Presentation of the curatorial concept :: 08.04.2017 :: 18:00

Marko Stamenkovic

Presentation of the curatorial concept of a contemporary art exhibition in the framework of the 23rd International Biennial of Humor and Satire in Art
19 May – 30 September 2017, Museum “House of Humor and Satire” – Gabrovo, BULGARIA

The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain, or irony
Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950)

Where does our laughter arise from? “… From the view of things incongruous, united in the same assemblage”. This is how the Scottish poet and moral philosopher James Beattie expressed his views back in the eighteenth century in his “Essay on Laughter and Ludicrous Composition” (1779). Today, in the 21st century, one burning question is facing us anew: Can we imagine laughter and death together within a single picture? According to the Australian artist Shane Haseman (2009), “all comedy is tragic, just as all comedy is essentially ‘black’. Laughter is largely the social recognition of social conflict, and the expression of a guiltless pleasure taken from the misfortune of others”. The Mexican view of death, for instance, is unique and it reinforces both Beattie’s and Haseman’s claims: “Mexicans accept death stoically; Europeans, by contrast, cannot easily or bravely confront the prospect of dying… Mexicans not only blur the familiar European distinction between life and death, but they also embrace death, as if it were some sort of welcome friend.” (Brandes, 2006)


Humor is a tool for acquiring knowledge, not only for gaining or expressing pleasure: it is able to turn common sense upside down and, in accordance with this inversion of rationality, to teach us a new ‘lesson in difference’ about humanity as a complex system of thoughts, beliefs, rituals and ways of life. What is ‘reasonable’ and ‘normal’ in one society is not necessarily so in another.

Drawing from a selection of visual materials from contemporary art across the globe, the exhibition TO DIE OUT LAUGHING addresses historically and culturally diverse interactions of seemingly unrelated phenomena with the aim to contest what is considered legitimate forms of knowledge. Additionally, the intention is to stimulate a public discussion about how humor and death jointly enter this ‘incongruous assemblage of things’ through the exhibition-format. Starting from a curatorial research that considers manifold roles of humor and satire in contemporary visual communication through a supposedly inappropriate prism of human death and mortality, TO DIE OUT LAUGHING  puts forward one central idea – that critical perception of the world, as we live it today, is inevitably shaped by many and varied options through which artists can challenge the insufficiencies of normative perspectives and conservative mindsets; at the same time, they propose their own life-visions by calling upon images and the power of the visual by which to challenge the normativity of people’s viewpoints  while encouraging them to accept humankind’s differences and the ‘irrational’ rationality of the Other. After all, what is the purpose of exhibition making if not the ‘irrational’ exercise of freedom and critical reasoning that brings together things incongruous, united in the same assemblage?

TO DIE OUT LAUGHING is part of the project Curatorial Exhibition and Educational Program at the 23. International Biennial of Humor and Satire in Art” organized by the Museum “House of Humor and Satire” and financed by the Gabrovo Municipality’s Program “Culture - Priority II – Travel into the World of Comedy.”


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