Liz Magic Laser, Convulsive States, Exorcise / Courtesy of the artist
Liz Magic Laser: Convulsive States
Mar 27 – May 26, 2024
STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound
Leuven, Belgium

In her exhibition Convulsive States American based video and performance artist Liz Magic Laser explores the shaking body as both a symptom and a remedy for psychic distress. The installation traces the lineage of psychosomatic disorders from historical hysteria to contemporary diagnoses such as ‘psychogenic non-epileptic seizures’ and spirit possession. On view are two video installations: Exorcise 1 through 8 (2023), eight interactive videos displayed on mirrored monitors, and Convulsive States (2023), a hallucinatory film essay about Paris’s Salpêtrière Hospital, widely considered the birthplace of modern psychology and neurology. Part of the same aural space, the two pieces, like a diptych, function as one.

Convulsive States, developed over nine years of intense conversation and friendship with poet Ariana Reines, was commissioned by Pioneer Works and is the subject of Laser’s first solo exhibition in Belgium.

Entering the exhibition, the visitor is invited into a corridor formed by two rows of four films shown on mirrored monitors. In Exorcise 1 through 8 the reflections of visitors become superimposed onto the pulsating bodies of somatic practitioners. Through diverging practices from varying backgrounds and origins such as qigong, holotropic breathwork, kundalini yoga and GYROKINESIS®, the guides all use movement as vehicles by which individuals can reach euphoric and meditative states. Amongst them is Wendy Osserman – Laser’s mother, choreographer and Authentic Movement practitioner. By placing the mirrors across from one another, Laser creates an infinity effect, encouraging the visitor to playfully engage with the instructors.

In the documentary-style film bearing the same title as the overall installation, Laser – as artist-turned-journalist – interviews doctors, historians, artists, clergy and dance therapists in and around the Salpêtrière Hospital. The Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital became a celebrated neuropsychiatric teaching center in the 19th century under the direction of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot. His classroom presentations of patients demonstrating fits of hysteria became popular spectacles for the Parisian socialites alongside writers and students such as Sigmund Freud). Filmed in collaboration with French journalist Laura Geisswiller, Convulsive States interweaves conversations with meditative footage that spirals around the sculptures and images of the hospital rendering visible the history of hysteria. Laser links the continued relevance of Charcot’s Hysteria studies to recent events, such as outbreaks of TikTok tics spread via social media. Gradually, the film moves from seemingly ‘objective journalism’ towards personal essay and auto-fiction as Laser includes her own experiences of the psychosomatic condition she set out to study. Ultimately, Convulsive States raises questions about the derogatory origins of hysteria as a female malady and our current cultural appetite for ‘somatic therapies’ as the cure for trauma.

On the occasion of this exhibition, Liz Magic Laser and STUK present a research room connecting the history of ‘shaking’ to the history of (neuro)psychology, the use of photography and film to document pathologies, and its impact on the development of a contemporary dance vocabulary in Belgium.

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