Rabea Ridlhammer: What Happens When the Laughter Stops, Mate?: Approaching the “Non-Serious"


Advisor/tutor: Marina Vishmidt
Arnhem, June 2018


How can we change our relation to that which is not taken seriously in art? What are some of the binary categories of judgement that may lead us to seek connections between form and meaning where they do not necessarily exist? This thesis proposes to question the concept of seriousness in order to find value in practices whose form does not immediately demand our close attention. By tracing comedic art and some of its issues, this thesis argues that comedic strategies can be utilized in artistic practice to achieve a subversive effect. Exceeding entertainment, such strategies test contemporary art conventions, as well as our attachment to seemingly clear-cut categories, genres and disciplines – in art and beyond.

This thesis draws on a range of theories and written material, ranging from cultural theory and art criticism, to queer studies and theorizations about humor and comedy, and connects resulting thoughts to contemporary art practices and their public reception. I begin by outlining what this thesis calls the “non-serious” in art, the adequacy of our understanding of seriousness as a term and whether it can be applied to more ambiguous practices is tested through presenting a spectrum of opinions on the subject. Through Ann Pellegrini’s notion of “Camp Sincerity,” a critical potential is brought to light in spaces where we might not suspect it. In the second part, this thesis investigates the comedic in art as a form of “non-seriousness.” Through the example of Erin Markey’s comedy, it establishes the possibility of an ambiguous effect beyond entertainment in comedic practice. It further determines the experience of incongruity at the core of comedy as one of the crucial elements that can make comedic strategy valuable outside of its known contexts. That it may be divorced from the goal of instigating laughter is demonstrated through the example of Olav Westphalen’s artistic research project on “dysfunctional comedy.” “Non-seriousness” as a useful category is furthermore dismissed and a more complex understanding of the concept of comedic art is outlined.