I have begun a working collaborative practice, where we have begun deconstructing the physical symptoms of hysteria in order to abstract them, and excavate them within the body, in order to re-appropriate and privilege them. We have done this through researching the history or (hyster-y) of hysteria. Tracing back from Jean-Martin Charcot (the grandfather of hysteria), whose work in hysteria at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris turned him into a medical celebrity, where he exploited the theatrical nature of hysteria, putting on lectures (performances) in which he would hypnotize his female patients into a hysteric state, and have the woman “perform” for an audience of male neurologists coming to learn (watch a performance) about the hysterical women being researched at the hospital. Charcot’s famous case studies, most notably, hysteria celebrities, Blanche Wittmann, Augustine Gleizes and Geneviève Legrand, were documented in the Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière, published in 1888. One of Charcot’s students, became fascinated with his study of hysteria, but felt his work was lacking in an understanding of the whole picture, only privileging the physical symptoms caused by neurological complications. This student was Sigmund Freud (the father of hysteria) (and avid lover of cocaine). Freud wanted to look more deeply into the past trauma and repressed sexual desires of these women, which was resulting in these counter-normative physical manifestations Freud, along with Josef Breuer published Studies on Hysteria in 1895, which pays specific attention to case study Anna O, where they introduced the “talking cure”. Aka, hypnotizing a woman, and shockingly, allowing her speak about her life and feelings. What a real progressive feminist, that Freud was. Freud went on to publish Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and ‘Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora)’ 1905. Both Charcot and Freud laid the groundwork for what we know of today as hysteria.
Image of Charcot giving one of his weekly Lectures
With these historical accounts, case studies, and images, I have begun to identify and abstract the physical symptoms of hysteria: sweating, shaking, laughing, screaming, moaning, convulsing, releasing the pelvis, etc). By engaging in a physical practice with these physical actions, I am trying to remove the context, by only looking at the potentiality of the action itself. If we really strip all connotations away, what can we derive from shaking? What else comes to the surface as a result? What happens when we strip meaning away from am action and allow the action itself to derive an emotional state? Rather than telling someone to perform being anxious– which they will probably then start convulsing, shaking, or hyperventilating–I am interested in the inverse. What emotional states can emerge when one is only focused on shaking for an extended period of time. What other physical states begin to emerge? For example, we have found in this practice, that it is almost impossible to exclusively practice one operation. If you are told you engage in the physical operation of shaking for 30 minutes, you will inevitably begin hyperventilating, sweating, getting flushed in the cheeks, become dizzy, experience tightness of chest, etc. Where is the moment of climax and release within all of these actions? And what happens when we continue past the point of climax? What happens in the space before and after the climax of the bodily expulsion? By removing emotional context, and deconstructing the actions, I am allowing myself to enter into a space of seeing more clearly and more wholly the potential of these actions, in order to re-appropriate them into a new practice of futurity and physical liberation.
Research with Lia Beuchat, Żaneta Kęsik, and Chiara Leonardi