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Toxic laughter, an insight in a head that is going crazy.

This work aims to evoke the feeling of losing one’s mind. The combination of the audio and video, which both impersonate multiple “voices” inside the mind of one person, give the viewer/listener an insight in how hard it is to stay sane when there are so many different feelings, opinions and thoughts passing by. The laughter evokes the feeling of going crazy whilst at the same time, laughter confusingly is the perfect mask to hide feelings behind.

An uncontrollable laughter, as heard in the audio, is often what comes out when feelings get too overwhelming and a person is not able to deal with the overwhelming emotions. Laughter is also a way to express happiness, which makes laughter a tricky, unpredictable expression.

This work is a multi-layered piece as it evokes multiple feelings, which is exactly it’s intent.

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Disconnected - Essay

Why did we teach ourselves to hide our feelings? Of course, from a biological, evolutionary approach this is easy to declare. Showing emotions requires a certain vulnerability that, when being hunted by predatory animals, or enemy tribes, is not the most convenient way to survive. The least vulnerable, a.k.a. the strongest survived and thus the surviving tribe of humans were the ones who were masters at hiding their emotions (think fear, sadness in dangerous situations.) Makes sense. However, we have not been hunted by animals for a long (really long…) time.

So why are we stubbornly holding on to the note that showing emotions is weak?

When looking at a less long-ago history, we can see the development of showing emotions has also changed very often. We have gone through times of spiritual awakening (think hippies) where emotions were the main source of the resulting acts. We have gone through digital and industrial revolutions where efficiency and tempo were priorities, and emotions were pushed aside (again.) Not only does this change in time, it also differs per place. Compare big cities such as Amsterdam, Vienna and New York to smaller cities like Maastricht, or even small towns and villages. The tempo and priorities are extremely different. In “cities that never sleep” showing emotions, makes you run behind the rest of the people in the city. If you want to survive, you have to run with the rest, or you are left behind. The weakest link, just as in prehistoric times.

The notion that showing emotions is a weakness also tends to be one of the arguments used by anti-feminists who say that women are not capable of handling tough jobs, since they are more often in contact with their emotions. Strange, if you ask me, that being a “good” and “strong” leader of people (with emotions) seems to require to be a robot-like figure without empathic capacity. I say that women might not be the perfect fit for these high positions if and only if it requires them to become emotionally numb. However, I do not think this is the weakness of the women, I think it is their strength. And it is the problem of an outdated patriarch system where the wrong qualities are expected of leaders.

In this work I focused on hiding feelings, because I noticed my own behavior towards this. When I visited museum Dr. Guislain (Gent, Belgium), I walked into a room full of puppets staring at me. All the eyes that were looking at me did something to me. There was no-one in the room, and no-one near the room, so I felt free to experience the room the way I wanted. I started laughing, loud and uncontrollably. I then started moving a bit, not wild enough to call it dancing, but it was a movement that came from my feelings. The laughter was my way of dealing with fear. I experienced other moments in my life, where I was mentally in a bad place, where I had to laugh out loud, simply because I could not find any other way to give room to my emotions. This moment reminded me of that.

I thought about my coping mechanisms afterwards because it intrigued me. What had happened? Why had I not felt the need to share that space with anyone else to offer me comfort? Why had I started laughing to express my fear? Would I have shown that emotion (in the same way) if I would have been with someone else? And if not, why not? A lot of questions came to me. Right then and there I became aware of the invisible mask I was wearing when there were people around.

When one is almost always surrounded by people, it is hard to notice sometimes, but in that moment the mask became abundantly visible to me.

It was interesting to notice that my mask, apparently, is to laugh; to express myself exuberantly. Another way to hide emotions is to stay silent and say nothing at all. People seem to think quite often that I am an extrovert, but they are just looking at my mask. Whenever I feel comfortable with someone, I am quite silent. Silence, for me means absolute safety. I will never be silent around someone I do not feel safe with. It is also interesting to see how masks are interpreted by different people. For example, it is widely known that clowns act happy to hide their emptiness and sadness. My one-line drawing mask reminded some people of that sentiment. However, there were also people who interpreted the mask as simply an aesthetically pleasing product. They did not read anything else in it. 

The quarantine (covid-19) we are currently in, offers us a completely new perspective on the human capacity to deal with emotions. Some jobs completely stand still, others are limited to what can be done from home. People have started making daily walks, meditating, going to bed earlier, closing their laptops when they are feeling overwhelmed with screen time. Since we are not in contact with other people, we only have ourselves to measure ourselves to. Which is a beautiful thing. People start listening to their feelings, they start helping each other, taking time for each other, appreciating the people who are there for them. It is an incredible change. It seems that we are healing from our drive to make and be more and bigger.

These past years our hang towards “becoming the best” has caused us to strive (me included) to positions that we think are good for us because we based our worth, success and happiness on our achievements compared to that of others. Whilst doing this, we completely lost touch with what is actually good for ourselves. Our passions, our feelings and our family, friends and loved ones were all pushed aside for a “bigger goal”.

Another reason to hide one’s feelings, is if the person does not want to feel the feelings. This is one that I am absolutely guilty of. And with me all the addicts, workaholics, eating disorder patients, and also a lot of other people without (mental) health conditions. Interesting to note that the word “workaholic” has the connotation of a hard working (wo)man with success and the word “alcoholic” has the connotation of a failure. Strange if you ask me, since both are addictions that kill a person. Both physically an emotionally.

I think it is time for us to design a new system. One where there is space for personal and emotional development. Where there is time to stand still and simply enjoy and appreciate love and little sparks of happiness. A system that is based on humanity, sympathy, happiness instead of achievements, quality instead of quantity, honesty instead of tricking others so you can win. A system wherein we do not need masks because openness, safety and appreciation are our main values.

Let us create a world where there is no need to hide ourselves.

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