Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hysterical Literature?
Women are seated with a book at a table, filmed in austere black and white against a black background. They have chosen what to read and how to dress. When the camera begins recording, they introduce themselves, and begin reading. Under the table, outside of the subject's control, an unseen assistant distracts them with a vibrator. The subjects stop reading when they're too distracted or fatigued to continue, at which point they restate their name, and what they've just read. The pieces vary in length based on the response time of the subjects.
Where did the idea for Hysterical Literature come from?
The project is an extension and refinement of earlier video works I was doing that explored the concept of distraction and fatigue in the poses of portrait sitters. Today, everyone has a well-practiced pose for "selfies" and social media, and I was interested in how I might make a portrait that makes it impossible for the sitter to maintain this pose. So I did a video series called "Long Portraits" which filmed subjects just sitting making eye contact with the lens for five minutes or longer.
But this series, as much as I liked it, and as popular it became, was in many ways too anonymous for me. What did it really say about the sitter? It was interesting, but it was mute. And it was conceptual ground already traveled by Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests." I had also created an earlier video piece called "Hitachi Magic Interview" where I interviewed a woman while she was being distracted by a vibrator. It was also interesting, but it felt too close to an interrogation, and I wanted to remove myself from the process as much as possible.
So I asked, what if the women could in some way have a conversation with themselves, through the reading of a passage from their favorite book? This would allow self-expression, without the pressure to pose or sound a certain way in a formal portrait or an interview. It would also remove me from the on-screen experience, make for a fascinating battle between the mind and the body, and create a conceptual contrast by blending two areas that society tends to want to view through different lenses: art, and sex.
So I put the art on the table and the sex under the table. That's how Hysterical Literature was born.
What are you trying to say with Hysterical Literature?
The series examines the battle between the mind and the body. It also explores the cultural contrast between art and sex, particularly how people react to the mixture of the two, and the battle over female sexuality and society's concepts of shame.
Why is it called "Hysterical Literature?"
The title references the ancient concept of "female hysteria," especially the Victorian-era medical treatments meant to "cure" it. At the time it was a catch-all diagnosis for almost any "disruptive" behavior in women, and a variety of treatments were used to cure it, from isolation, to hydrotherapy, to early electric vibrators. The past's confusion and shame attached to female behavior, especially female pleasure, was something I wanted to explore in a modern context, so referencing it was natural. That the word could also mean "funny" was lagniappe, since the videos are quite funny, and many of the subjects laugh at some point in their reading.