Session IV – Panel B

SESSION IV, March 2, 9:00-10:30AM

Panel B: Beyond Mirth
Moderator: Amberle Tannahill
Room: University College 225A

Natalie Doonan (Concordia University) – le/the Sensorium: Humour as Aesthetic and Political Proposal

In this paper presentation, I will focus on two works presented through my collaborative project le/the Sensorium: Miriam Simun’s The Lady Cheese Shop and Amanda Marya White’s Botanical Animal.  I founded le/the Sensorium in 2011, and have been inviting an ongoing series of performance artists to create participatory performance events in Montreal.  The aim of these events is to encourage conversation about food ethics, by engaging participants on a visceral level through humour and play.

The first performance presented by le/the Sensorium involved a tasting of cheeses made from human breast milk, served in a bar.  Approximately sixty people of various ages and occupations attended the event, motivated largely by curiosity, humour and disgust.  Although the performance aimed to generate conversation about food ethics, there was no need to verbally direct this debate.  Participants were appealed to through the senses, and questions emerged in direct reaction to the potency of the substance presented to taste.  Participants who found themselves disgusted by the proposal to ingest human dairy were suddenly confronted with difficult questions.  For example, if their disgust was connected to fear of disease or the provenance of the milk, why did cow or goat products never generate this same hesitation?

In Botanical Animal, White introduced her closed-loop tomato harvesting system, during a canning event.  White used humour and laughter to initiate conversation about food sovereignty, while engaging participants in a convivial activity.  Drawings, photographs, audio and video depicted her process of aligning her own body with seasonal rhythms in the production and consumption of food. Participants became physically involved by converting tomatoes to salsa and chutney together, each taking home some winter preserves.

The website ( is an archive for the conversations that emerge from these events, thus serving as alternative narratives of place.  Participants are encouraged to add to this archive, as well as to the project’s Facebook page.

Natalie Doonan is a multimedia and performance artist, writer and teacher, currently pursuing a PhD Humanities in the areas of Sensory Studies, Performance and Urban Studies at Concordia University.  Natalie has exhibited inside and outside of institutions, nationally and internationally. Her research interests include pedagogy, public art, and collaboration.

Julia Polyck-O’Neill (Brock University) – Homage in Blue: General Idea’s Shut the Fuck Up

In 1985, Canadian art collective General Idea produced a three part video piece featuring what appears to be a parody of Yves Klein’s Anthropometries, his infamous paintings created by the performative act of smearing nude female models (or as he deemed then, “living paintbrushes”) with International Klein Blue paint, and creating imprints of their bodies on canvas and paper. General Idea’s Shut the Fuck Up brackets footage of Klein’s performance, appropriated from the Italian documentary film Mondo Cane (1962), with video images of their performance-installation piece XXX (Blue) (1984). Their work notably mimics Klein’s performance, but upon closer consideration, is also generating a provocative critique of the art institution and the mediatized atmosphere it engenders.

This paper endeavours to examine how the parodic elements of General Idea’s work serve to highlight both the subtle and explicit ways that cultural discourse and popular media exploits visual artists, with a particular emphasis on General Idea’s stratified approach to the issue. In exposing how the points of intersection outweigh the instances of contrast between the dominant theoretical concerns of General Idea and Yves Klein, it is revealed that their reiteration of Klein’s performance work is, in fact, a delicately wrought homage, and the humorous elements are, indeed, pointing to a greater discursive engagement, often taken up by postmodern artists: cultural criticism.

Born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon; BFA (Vis. Art)/Concentration in English, University of Ottawa. Research interests: postmodern art and literature. Current research project: the visual art and literary works of Douglas Coupland.  Graduate Student Affiliate of the Brock Humanities Research Institute; Program Representative on the Graduate Student Association

Olympia Kiriakou (University of Toronto) – Carole Lombard as a Transcendental Comic

My paper entitled “Carole Lombard as a Transcendental Comic,” examines Carole Lombard’s performances in screwball comedy, and the ways in which her heroines challenge conventional notions of screwball femininity. Though a largely overlooked figure in film scholarship, Carole Lombard is an integral figure in the development of screwball comedy, and many of her performances remain the quintessential examples of screwball. More importantly, Lombard pre-figures feminist politics, particularly in the way that her physical comedy transgressed gender mores. In her screwball films, Lombard frequently tests the boundaries of commonly accepted behavior, as well as the expectations and demands placed upon Depression-era American women. In my paper, I argue that through a combination of physical comedy, disguise and her social consciousness, Carole Lombard departed from the traditional image of femininity in screwball comedy. Through an analysis of key films including My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred, and True Confession, I view Lombard as a transcendental comic, as she was able to use comedy in order to challenge the patriarchal structure of Depression-era American society.

Drawing from Freud’s concept of the hostile joke and Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, I examine how Lombard’s physical comedy represents an escape from the patriarchal oppression that women frequently experienced during the Depression. In addition, I argue that her physical comedy allows her to temporarily transcend gender boundaries, and to momentarily be viewed as an equal to her male counterparts.

Similar to her use of physical comedy, the Lombard heroine often employed disguises as a means of escaping the banality of her everyday life. Applying Henri Bergson’s theory of the comic, I explore how Lombard’s disguises act as a way for her to withdraw from the regimentation and mechanization of modern society.

Carole Lombard also transcends both gender and class boundaries through her social consciousness. Departing from Bergson’s characterization of a comic, I explore how Lombard’s conscience allows her to remain critically distant from other characters in her films, which enables audiences to view her as an outsider figure. As a relatively isolated character, the Lombard heroine is able to act according to her own rules, frequently adjusting social conventions to fit her own needs. It is for these reasons that Carole Lombard easily transcends social and gender boundaries, which makes her an unconventional screwball comedienne.

Olympia Kiriakou graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a BA, Honors in Multimedia Studies. Aside from Carole Lombard, her interests include: Orson Welles and authorship, Frankfurt School theory, star studies, and early American film history. She is currently completing her master’s degree in Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto.

%d bloggers like this: