Laurel Jay Carpenter transforms energy with laughter
I went to see the second to last in November’s Savoir Faire performance art series at Chelsea’s SOHO20 gallery last night. I got to the gallery much earlier than necessary and ended up wandering around Chelsea for a bit in the rain looking for a café. I didn’t find one and was in a restless mood, unwilling to settle for Dunkin Donuts. I was a little tired and cold but also excited and curious when the gallery opened its doors. I was the first spectator to arrive, and, before I go into my first impressions I must make it clear that I didn’t know jack about Laurel Jay Carpenter as an artist or a person. I still don’t truly know a lot but I can describe her powers. I watched her laugh continuously, with only the smallest ebbs in her euphoric flow where she attempted to catch her breath and/or seemingly grasp onto some semblance of control or focus, for about one hour. I overheard someone say that the performance was scheduled to last two hours.
The gallery doors opened a couple of minutes late. As I stood up from where I sat reading to walk in, I could hear the sound of a woman’s genuinely amused laughter. Further in I found the artist standing on a white pedestal which stood about three or four feet high. She wore a simple puke-yellow colored dress, long sleeved and hemmed above her knees. Attached to the upper back of the dress was a strip of the same yellow fabric which appeared to taper in size as it ascended to the upper right corner (from where I was standing) of the room where it was tied to a metal hook. This gave the viewer the sense that Laurel was some sort of a puppet (master unknown), something being hung up on display, or at the very least an entity connected by an obvious cord (related and attached to her) to this room, this space. A simple but potentially diversely meaningful prop and costume decision worked very well with an amazingly straight forward and uplifting performance.
Imagine you were me. Here’s how it works; at first you don’t know how to react. At first you don’t even know what’s going on. You think, she may have the giggles and it may be messing up her performance. Or maybe I (you) know as soon as I (you) see her that this is what it is. Either way, as we watch, sipping our dry red wine we feel like she is drawing us in to her happiness, her hilarity, her euphoria, her joke. At first we wondered how long this could go on for and we were utterly impressed with her ability to keep laughing- she is not at all forcing it, this is pure and natural joy!-but now we are entranced, we have lost all sense of time. It is amusing and mood altering to witness laughter like this. She knows what she is doing and yet she is completely lost in it. She is unself-conscious, she is a magician. She understands the secret healing powers of humor and she is healing us. Laurel seems to understand the power of simplicity in her art. She stands up on display and she laughs and laughs and laughs for us. I think she is meditating. I am no bio-chemist but I’m sure there must be some happy drugs that are produced in the brain when a person laughs like this. I’m sure she is exhausted afterward and probably also pretty high. What she is doing is very Zen-like (the laughing Buddha). She de-complicates performance in a way that is refreshing and thought provoking.
For my eight block walk to the train I was warmed even though it was chilly and drizzling outside. It turns out happiness is contagious, so thanks Laurel for the light-heart and great vibes.