Thinking through humour
Catalogue essay for Avni Dauti and Tom Parsons, Seventh Gallery, Melbourne, 2014
Humour is a critical tool, a vehicle of thought and enquiry. It is no surprise that Avni Dauti and Tom Parsons equate studio practice with humour, as both are self-reflective endeavours. The comical has the potential to undermine dominant paradigms and debase naturalized assumptions. In fact, the very act of laughter is a form of criticality (to laugh at an ideal is to query its perceived value). Hilde Stroobants draws several links between reflection and humour in her essay On humour and reflection including but not limited to awareness, enquiry, alertness, exposition, scrutiny and more centrally the ability to mark previously unforseen connections. 1 In fact, the latter is evocative of the role of the artist in the studio, a parallel especially true to the second-degree artist dealing with pre-existing materials. Erratic Pattern operates in this modality, invoking humour to extend the discourse on The Patsy and thus activating new perspectives.
Avni Dauti’s and Tom Parsons’ first collaborative effort, Erratic Pattern, is a mixed media project dealing with slapstick in critical dialogue with The Patsy (1964) by Jerry Lewis. The borders between Dauti’s and Parsons’ individual practices are effectively blurred in this show, creating a sense of a third mind or a new force coming into play.
The artists summon the mathematics of humour with synchronicity in a myriad of ways, enunciating its mechanisms and ultimately exhausting its affect. Even though humour is commonly understood as an instinctual formulation, hilarity can be achieved through premeditated means. According to Michael Apter and Mitzi Desselles in their essay Disclosure humour and distortion humour, something becomes comical when “an observer, in a playful state of mind, perceives the same identity (person, object, statement, event) as having two incompatible attributes (meaning qualities), one of which diminishes that identity”. 1 This ambivalence sits at the essence of Jerry Lewis’ vase scene in The Patsy; in which Lewis is playing a clumsy dumb ass tripping over precious antiques. The vases are some of the most expensive objects in the room and of course, the central targets for his stupidity. However, every time they fall he catches them with precision and absolutely no failure. The joke is located in this tension between incoordination and superb physicality, the first “diminishing” the subject’s identity while the latter representing an “incompatible” attribute. Indeed, in the words of Apter and Deselles: “In disclosure humour, an identity is seen as having, or purporting to have, a certain characteristic. Then something discloses that this characteristic is only apparent and that an incompatible characteristic is what is real”. 2 The scene reveals that Jerry Lewis’ character possesses supernatural reflexes even though he was initially introduced as utterly inept. The works in Erratic Pattern feature this equation albeit in an abstracted form - banal objects are arranged to appear still and autonomous only to be disturbed by the artists. Even though the results are initially humorous the endless repetition of the gag transports the beholder to a more cerebral mode of contemplation.
Avni Dauti and Tom Parsons remind us that the strength of humour resides in its openness and ambivalence. Gestures such as substituting the valuable vases of the film for reject shop jars reveal a socio-political narrative and charge the The Patsy’s motif with a contemporaneous flare. But it is up to the viewer to unpack this network of ideas (let the art speak for itself ) and delve into the playful intellect of Erratic Pattern.
1 Michael J. Apter and Mitzi Desselles, “ Disclosure humor and distortion hu- mor: A reversal theory analysis”, Humor 25, no.4 (November 2012): 418.
2 Ibid. , 421
1 Hilde Stroobants, “On humour and reflection”, Reflective Practice 10, no. 1 (February 2009): 6-9.