A to joke about and shed light on it,

A lot of my practice surrounds Victorian and Edwardian forms of entertainment such as illusionist stage shows, ventriloquism, arcades, wind-up toys, circus’ and freak shows. A lot of them have creepy aspects, their appearances of even children’s dolls is something I find amusing that you’d catch a child playing with something that looks like it would murder all the neighbourhood cats during the night. Dark humour is something that also heavily influences my own practice, using scary looking items or characters and placing them in ridiculous situations.

I like Black humour because it can take something sensitive that most people wouldn’t find funny or dare to joke about and shed light on it, relieving the tension that was once surrounding the subject. If you can’t joke about everything, then don’t joke about anything at all. Of course there are situations when you shouldn’t joke about things such as your uncles, cousins, girlfriends, pet’s funeral and then joking about turning their cat into a fresh batch of gumbo, then that’s something that would be frowned upon. Or should it, because it maybe a way for them to deal with the situation, a coping mechanism for that person to reduce stress or grieve.

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Illustrated by George Cruikshank, (1827), From the Punch and Judy script.

A famed staple of British Dark humour would be Punch and Judy from the mid-17th century, from the first engravings and cartoons about the violent murderous Mr punch, has now become what we think is quite humorous and wonderful. A story of murdering everyone, and domestic abuse becoming slapstick comedy, is definitely of a dark sense of humour. It feels good to laugh about something so distressing and bad, that’s why it’s important to sometimes have dark topics being the central point of a joke, not everything should be doom and gloom.

2)     Say why the humour is ‘dark’. What does this mean? How have other people defined it? Use some quotes here.

Black Comedy/Dark humour is a genre of comedy that is seen to be dark because it uses satire to take topics that are usually treated seriously and treat it in a silly fashion whilst still keeping that negative element. I’ve used it in my practice when making things and researching topics surrounding ventriloquism, especially freak shows and Punch and Judy because of how controversial they have been throughout history. It’s commonly used for joking about traumatic events in history and in the media such as; mass murder, suicide, disease and terrorism.

The Holocaust always seems to be a low hanging fruit for those with an ‘edgy’ sense of humour, some comedians use dark humour as a tool for exploring these vulgar issues because it’s seen as one of the worst events in recent history that we do not want to be repeated again. Most of the time they are not joking about the victims of these events or trying to ridicule them but make a joke of how really bad it was.

One could argue that it is used to help keep the Holocaust in the public consciousness, to remind us why it was bad while shedding light on something so dark with their humour no matter how harsh the subject be. ‘The producers’ movie/musical by Mel Brooks, parodies Hitler and Nazism. In the film Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock produce a musical called; ‘Springtime for Hitler’ written by an escaped Nazi. What was meant to be an offensive flop of a show ended up being the opposite,

“A satiric masterpiece, surprise smash, it was shocking, outrageous, insulting and I loved every minute of it.”- Max Bialystock (Reading Newspaper reviews of Springtime for Hitler).

Maurizio Cattelan, ‘Him’, (2001), Polyester resin, wax, pigment, human hair and garment.

Cattalen’s sculpture of Hitler on his knees is a good example of an evil figure in history being turned into something amusing. The 2001 piece; first from behind looks like a small child kneeling to prey, then the viewer comes face to face with Hitler. Cattelan’s goal was to disguise evil under a cloak of innocence. Hitler being the centre part to this piece is what makes it so controversial. Having him looking small, and behind child-like is what makes it seem so strange and unnerving to see. To see one of the evillest dictators in history represented in such an innocent looking manner is ironic and funny. Poking fun at the idea of a man with so much blood on his hand kneeling down maybe praying for forgiveness is ridiculous which I believe is the success in this piece.

 It is argued constantly where the line cannot be crossed with black comedy;

” The problem with crossing “the line” is that the line isn’t in one place. Maybe kids are off limits, because they’re across the line. Maybe only making rough jokes about those in positions of power is okay, because the weak are across the line. Maybe you’ll get really mad at a joke about killing cats, but not killing Rush Limbaugh. Cats are across your line.” – Eva Woods (2013) ‘In Defence of Offensive Comedy’.

It’s the context, content and intent of a joke that is important. If the comic is to purposely joke about a victim with no real positive outcome at the end of it, it’s not really a joke but more of an insult. For instance, a simple “kill everyone wearing green” painted on a canvas wouldn’t be very welcoming when you walk into an art exhibition with you consequently sporting an elf outfit, although I will admit it would make me laugh. (Change this or get rid of it, it’s bad)

3)     What artists inform this way of working for you? Mention some artists you will engage with by way of example (Cattalan and Landers are good at this stage).

An artist I’d like to engage with is Richard Prince which people incessantly argue about if he is a thief or simply making ready-mades, although it also depends on which of his artworks you’re looking at, Contemporary art involves an investigation where the viewer sometimes has to solve the rest, in this I think Richard Prince is one of those artists. I’m particularly taking interest in his monochromatic jokes. His satirical and dark humour shows through the monochromatic prints. The Jokes become more than a light-hearted exchange as he uses dark humour to reveal attitudes and strains that are usually buried underneath the surface of social exchanges.

4)     Can we be more precise in our definition of humour in their work. Can we frame it in terms of parody. Define this notion. Ron English is a god example of parody in comtemporary art.

Parody is something that often shows up in contemporary art, all jokes come back as parodies, even the parodies get parodied. Work created to mock the original works of art or to mock everyday life, the media, politics and society, anything that influence’s the artist to spoof on something ironically or with subtle satire so you’re not sure if it’s a joke or serious. Just like Duchamp’s work you’re left wondering; “Is this serious? A god damn toilet?” while he’s probably chuckling in his grave. Often the best parodies are mistaken for being genuine.

5)     Now link parody to postmodernism. Say what postmodernism does (re-works, quotes from or comments upon an existing field of culture). Ok why is parody an appropriate mode of address for this kind of work. You need to end the introduction with a breakdown of the argument in each of your chapters.

1)Define Art jokes –

Art jokes are just a different medium of comedy whether it be in a video format, sculpture, painting or illustration it’s just a tool for the artist to get the humour or message out there. Whether it be slapstick, parody, black comedy, cringe comedy, deadpan, one liners, prop or surreal. It may not be as clear as a simple knock, knock joke but the gag is still there represented in a different way. This is why humour in art is useful It can undermine a situation and, in a brief moment, draw the viewer in or allow something new out.

1) jokes as release of suffering

Sigmund Freud

In Sigmund Freud’s essay on; ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious’, (1905), Freud gives a detailed explanation of what he notices to be different methods used in creating jokes. He believes that joking is a form of release for suppressed aggressions. He brings up pre-existing ideas from other famous names such as; the philosophers Theodor Vischer, Kuno Fischer and Theodor Lipps who had interesting views on the subject of jokes. Lipps was one of the main supporters of the unconscious, he believed that each state of consciousness has different levels and that laughter has buried negative traits and Fischer believed jokes to be part of our playful nature as humans. These authors suggested that jokes are used to expose topics thought to be taboo in civilization out into the open.

“Fischer (über den witz, 1889) illustrates the relation of jokes to the comic with the help of caricature, which in his account he places between them. The comic is concerned with ugly in one of its manifestations: ‘if it what I ugly is concealed, it must be uncovered in the light of the comic way of looking at things; if it is noticed only a little or scarcely at all, it must be brought forward and made obvious, so that it lies clear and open to the light of day… In this way caricature comes about’.” – Sigmund Freud, (1905), ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious’.

The ugly must be brought forward as a caricature to shed light on it; the Insecurities of society can hold the perfect caricature. Taking dark topics and making something humorous out of it. Fischer suggests the object is concealed ugliness of the world of thoughts.  

 “A favourite definition of joking has long been the ability to find similarity between dissimilar things – that is, hidden similarities” – Sigmund Freud, (1905), ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious’.

This is how word play and puns or the general construction of a joke works, through modification and word fusion. Thinking into something that isn’t usually matched up with another obscure topic and marrying them together in the form of a joke. Emil Kraepelin (German Psychiatrist) (1885) also shares this similar explanation;

“Definitions such as that of Kraepelin lay stress on contrasting ideas. A joke is, ‘the arbitrary connecting or linking, usually by means of a verbal association, of two ideas which in some way contrast with each other'” – Sigmund Freud, (1905), ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious’.

This similar description in the structure of a joke is also used in other publications when it comes to learning joke writing;

“Meaningless construction that unites two ideas or concepts that have nothing in common other than the fact that they share or have been allocated the same or similar sounding words … word-play or witticism however unites and often adds to the understanding of one or even both words.” – Tony Allen, (2002), ‘Wanna make something of it?’.

In Sigmund Freud’s later essay ‘Der Humor’ written in 1927, he addresses the topic of sick jokes. Freud argues how sick jokes are used as a coping mechanism. For some people it is a natural reaction to joke during suffering or after a traumatic event, it’s a way for most of us relieve the stress of the situation. Not letting a situation get the better of you. It can be considered ‘sick’ to joke about something traumatic or disturbing, but with natural disasters and terror attacks being broadcast to us frequently and us not having the power to do anything about it the only way out seems to be to crack a joke.

“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.” – Sigmund Freud, (1927), ‘Der Humor’.

This outlook on trauma and tragedy to some people comes across as insensitive as the quote from Dr Linda Papadopoulos would suggest;

“Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos worries that sick humour’s popularity is symptomatic of an unhealthy culture which has been desensitised to the suffering of others. ‘One of the reasons we laugh at tragedy is that it makes the enormity of the issue easier to deal with,’ she concedes.” – Dr Linda Papadopoulos (2011) ‘BBC News Magazine’.

But from my research I just believe that humour is our safety blanket to ease life’s awkward or serious mishaps, through the use of jokes we can weaken life’s biggest blows. Once we find laughter, whatever the situation maybe gets a hell of a lot easier to survive. There’s nothing that humour can’t touch, it’s limitless no matter how much one may dislike it, the quicker we accept it the more at peace we will be. Approaching offensive subjects with this outlook can be a very effective tool of satire as well as a form of therapy.

3) jokes as indication of a kind of groundlessness (lack/limit of significance)

“Humour is not resigned; it is rebellious, It signifies not only the triumph of the ego but also of the pleasure principal, which is able here to assert itself against the unkindness of the real circumstances.” – Sigmund Freud, (1927), ‘Der Humor’.


3)     How have they featured in art practices of the last 50 years (Bruce Nauman is a good reference point here).

For Last 50 years’ art jokes have popped up everywhere, through comics, street art, sculpture, illustration, nothing is off limits.

4)     Use Maurizio Cattalan as a case study. Choose two works. Compare them and say why he is making art jokes.

Maurizio Cattelan Case Study

Maurizio Cattelan is currently one of the contemporary art world’s most rebellious artist’s, he has been making controversial artwork since the 1980’s, always trying to see how he can push the boundaries with shock humour. As you can see with ‘Him’, He has a macabre way of getting his jokes across. His work is provocative, purposely making these funny and offensive sculptures to gain notoriety. I take interest in his practice not just because of my dark sense of humour but because he is very skilful in his practice, the detail and like-ness of the work really pulls the whole thing together and makes the ‘joke’ a triumph.  

A huge reason for Cattelan’s success is his ability to shock, provoke and make fun. He’s managed to strike a chord with the people of Milan in 2004 when his sculptures of three children hanging from a tree were forcibly removed prematurely by an angered man with ladders and a shear. He didn’t find the installation very humorous which immediately became a political issue within the city. The incident exposed worries about Milan’s reputation as a cultural magnet, as well striking a debate about censorship on contemporary art in the public space. I’m sure this type of response from the public encourages Cattelan to push the boundary further, it’s the type of reaction that gained him a lot of publicity helping push his message. It’s not just the three hanging children that made the piece so controversial, it was the tree in which they chose to hang them from; the tree was planted in Piazza XXIV Maggio in 1924 to honour the fatalities of World War I.

Maurizio Cattelan, ‘Untitled’,(2004), Piazza XXIV Maggio, Milan.

 “Unfitted (2004), three wide-eyed, waxwork child suicides hanging from a tree in a Milanese public square, we become implicated. Bad thoughts begin to roll in (‘why am I entertained by this piece? Who are the victims of my everyday pleasures?’), and the artist buys our blushing silence.” – Tom Morton, (2005), ‘Maurizio Cattelan : Infinite Jester’

The artwork is crude and hard to digest but you can’t help but be intrigued by something so grim. Cattelan manages to uncover the tensions and hysteria of the contemporary world by revealing the tragedy in history just like his sculpture of ‘Him’, Hitler looking like a child, or more recent in history works of ‘La Nona Ora’ Pope John Paul II hit by a meteor.

Maurizio Cattelan, ‘La Nona Ora ‘(The Ninth Hour), (1999); wax, clothing, polyester resin with metallic powder, volcanic rock, carpet, glass.

A slightly less dark piece of his nonetheless harsh is Pope John Paul II being stroke by a meteorite, it’s ridiculous yet hilarious. The title ‘La Nona Ora’ (The Ninth Hour) is a reference to the hour of the Catholic Church and the hour of Christ’s death. I find the joke to be the Pope is being hit by God himself, showing that John Paul II is mortal just like the rest of us and not to put him on a pedestal. Or a symbol of punishment on the church for their judgement on others. He jokes about a number of social norms in a dark and macabre way, using figurative puns in his sculptures. He is also known to twist what we know to be reality and myth, as he shows with ‘La Nona Ora’.

The artist has said;

 “I actually think that reality is far more provocative than my art” – Maurizio Cattelan, (2005), ‘Maurizio Cattelan: Infinite Fester’.

which is true, worse things are broadcasted on television every day and people seem more outraged by his inanimate artwork. His is work is after all taboo breaking.

“Read any text about Cattelan and it’s likely to describe him as a ‘clown’, the art world’s ‘court jester’. As careworn by repetition as this is, there’s some truth to it. The clown’s job, after all, is to hold up a mirror to our pomposities, foibles and fears, and this is something the artist does with aplomb.” – Tom Morton, (2005), ‘Maurizio Cattelan: Infinite Jester’.

I love some of the background information and stories behind his working ideas and piece’s, it just makes his practice a lot funnier although it can be borderline criminal if not entirely criminal, how has he not been arrested yet? Cattelan was invited to participate in a group exhibition in 1996 called ‘Crap Shoot’ in De Appel, Amsterdam, he ended up stealing work from another nearby exhibition at Galerie Bloom, he packed everything in boxes and bags, including miscellaneous items such as filing cabinets and fax machines then exhibited in the show with the name ‘Another Fucking Readymade’. It was an obvious parody of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, a step in the direction of post-modernism, by reframing an act of theft as an act of appropriation, something I will have to try out myself.

Matthew Collings documentary called ‘Hollow Laughter’ (1999) as part of series called ‘This is Modern Art’, it is an examination on the jokes used in modern art. He discusses, Marcel Duchamp and his No skill needed jokes, Sean Landers dumb jokes and Richard Prince’s paintings appropriating the common joke as artwork.

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’ (1917), Ceramic, glazed ceramic.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp’s art jokes are not all that funny, but to him they were. Duchamp said the first thing his art was about was that it should amuse him. The one that started it all was the ‘Fountain’ an ordinary urinal bought in a shop and signed ‘R.Mutt’, sent to a big exhibition in York in 1917, rejected, thrown away, then the next day raised from the ashes and now preserved in the minds of those still puzzled by its existence. Irony is at the heart of Duchamp’s output which shows in his series of ready-mades that were just bought from factories and shops, then called them art. The ready-mades weren’t from an art world but from an industrial world, the world of mass production. Which was just a joke at first then became a series of works that greatly impacted a change in 20th-century art.

Duchamp’s outlook on art was that anything could be art as-long as the artist said it was, he first thought this in 1913 which was the birth of Avant-Gardism;

“Avant-Gardism became a name in itself something to be pursued not alongside quality but absolutely instead of quality most of us kind of think art is quality, it’s the next step up, the highest that quality can get but with Duchamp quality suddenly has a whole new meaning, one that is infinitely movable.” – Matthew Collings, Hollow Laughter (1999).

A lot of modern art jokes are about the loss of quality in modern art. It was a protest against quality in artwork, the rich want elegant looking artwork with an aesthetically pleasing detailed image, something that shows obvious skill, Duchamp wanted to go against this whole idea. Duchamp’s message was that art was congested, in a painting and sculpture way and he wanted to decongest it, so it could be not just painting in sculpture but anything it needed to be.


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