Laugh it off

Paul Chan, Law & Order still

I don’t find myself visiting Cobb much after winter-quarter classes end. The coffee shop closes, there are no more discussion sections to attend, and the building becomes nearly desolate. But even though it’s reading period, on Thursday night a few dozen students, myself included, plodded our way to Cobb’s fourth floor to attend a laughter-yoga study break sponsored by the Wrens, the student group affiliated with the Renaissance Society.

Walking into Paul Chan’s exhibit My Laws Are My Whores was slightly unsettling—and not just because of the detailed pen-and-ink drawings of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices, smiling serenely and staring down at me from 15 feet up the gallery’s wall. Coats, bags laden with course books, and shoes were strewn in the corner of the gallery, and students gathered in the corner of the exhibit. As students continued to trickle in, curator Hamza Walker, AB’88, introduced both the Renaissance Society and the exhibition.

Paul Chan, My Laws Are WhoresWalker characterized Chan as a “post-medium” artist. The huge drawings of Chan’s “fonts” were on display on the back wall of the gallery. In his opening talk March 1, Chan emphasized the thought process that went into each font. Some of them speak in the voices of characters from the Marquis de Sade, while others echo historical or literary figures: Dr. Ebing and Gertrude Stein. Chan coyly noted in his talk that the fonts “say what you really meant to type.” Walker explained how Chan had used the fonts to subtitle an episode of “Law and Order,” emphasizing the themes of law, sex, and power that provide the structures for the show. He had stripped out most of the audio track, leaving only the characteristic menacing music, which intermittently descended upon the gallery.

After Walker finished, Ricardo Rivera, ’10, lead laughter-yoga exercises by directing the students to form straight lines. Walker turned the “Law and Order” music down, and the group began stretching. The purpose of laughter yoga (aside from providing a pleasant study-break opportunity) is to elicit unconditional laughter and combine it with Yogic breathing techniques. More extensive poses and exercises that stretched both the body and the diaphragm followed. The laughter-yoga exercises continue next week—this time away from the kind smiles of the Supreme Court. The Wrens are hosting daily study breaks on Bartlett quadrangles, weather permitting.

Rose Schapiro, ’09

Video still from Paul Chan's "The Mother of All Episodes," 2009; detail from Paul Chan's My Laws Are My Whores, 2008.

Images courtesy the Renaissance Society

March 13, 2009