Laughing to death
Some 31 works by 27 authors from 19 countries transform the sad event of death into a funny topic
1 July, 2017
Margarita Dorovska standing before Euthanasia Coaster by Julijonas Urbonas from Lithuania.
Miss Forever, Lubri, Bulgaria.
The Living Dead, Brian Lehmann, US.
Can one laugh to death? It is said that over a century ago Africa was plagued by an epidemic that caused people to laugh for moths at a time, with some ending up literally laughing to death.
A daring exhibition entitled Laughing to Death, curated by Marko Stamenkovic, has been opened at the 23rd Biennial of Humour and Satire in Art, traditionally held in Gabrovo. The 31 works by 27 authors from 19 countries on display at the Museum House of Humour and Satire - photos, collages and video installations - transform death from a sad into a funny theme, confusing visitors.
The man behind this project is Marko Stamenkovic. Born in south Serbia, he is an art historian, theorist, curator and a philosophically inclined person in general. He got his PhD from the University of Ghent, Belgium; his thesis was entitled Suicide Cultures: Theories and Practices of Radical Withdrawal. He is known for his penchant for difficult topics.
“Humour and especially satire are particularly valuable because they paint the dark sides of human life (and death) lighter despite conditions that are more bleak, grave and harsh than funny and entertaining,” Stamenkovic says.
“He treats humour as more than just a source of entertainment but a tool to get to know the world and acquire knowledge via unorthodox means,” explains Margarita Dorovska, director of the museum, adding that humour is not always funny. It has different manifestations and it often causes us pain rather than make us laugh. There are no universal truths or universal concepts about even the most universal of things like death, as it is viewed differently across cultures.
Euthanasia Coaster by Julijonas Urbonas from Lithuania fits the theme of the exhibition perfectly. It is a hypothetic death machine in the form of a rollercoaster, engineered to humanely - with elegance and euphoria - take the life of a human being. Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death.
And then there is the photo from The Living Dead series by US-born photojournalist Brian Lehmann, revealing the Indonesian tradition of not burying the deceased immediately but keeping them with the family for a month, a year, depending on how wealthy the relatives are. The corpse is treated like a living human being - the family helps change its clothes, seat it at the table and lay it to sleep.
Strikingly, the Mexicans too see life after death, as shown by Down to the Bone, an award-winning freeze frame short animation by Rene Castillo from Mexico. And then, what seems like an eye-specialist’s office at first bears the sign Kill, which makes viewers instantly stand on their toes before a work by Mladen Miljanovic from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The exhibition narrative continues with Miss Forever from the Last Garment series by Lubri, Bulgaria. Meanwhile, the drowning man in a Greek national costume depicted in Colias by Panos Kokkinias inevitably reminds viewers of the Greek crisis.
The exhibition is realised with the support of the Culture Programme of Gabrovo Municipality and may be viewed until 30 September.