Artwork details

Laughing Gas // Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t
2016 // 2016
4-channel video installation, color, sound // Wall painting
6’59’’ loop // variable dimensions
Martine Syms

© Martine Syms. Courtesy of the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York.


Laughing Gas, 2016
The art of Martine Syms can be viewed in light of generations of American artists who have acknowledged the importance of the politics of identity in their art. Syms seeks to challenge stereotypes in society by exploring the history of minorities from a social, economic and cultural point of view. In Laughing Gas she investigates the portrayal of African American women in film history. The video is an interpretation of Edwin Porter’s silent film from 1907 in which the African American actress Bertha Regustus plays a woman who starts laughing hysterically after being treated with laughing gas by a dentist. Syms has rewritten the story to apply to herself in a situation in which she goes to the dentist to have a wisdom tooth removed, but is denied treatment because she lacks health insurance. She has, nonetheless, been treated with laughing gas, and is then sent out into the public space, where she laughs uncontrollably. Laughing unrestrainedly can be interpreted as being in a hysterical condition, and historically women were often diagnosed with hysteria. The work is both comic and surrealistic, while at the same time it underscores the condescending stereotyping of women and ethnic minorities.


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