[In 1996 Susan Kealey and I curated a two-person exhibition at YYZ. Kealey wrote a piece for Toronto painter (and future Free Parking founder) Anda Kubis. I wrote the other text for Laurel Woodcock.]


Pink Noise: Laurel Woodcock


Forget hysteria, now we have erotomania.

Its been said that the mental illness of the 20th century (and its close enough to the end that I feel justified in repeating such a pronouncement) is not schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder, but erotomania.

Erotomania, in the classic Freudian sense, was linked to the repression of homosexual urges. The erotomaniac, unable to say I love x but x doesn't love me, instead said x loves me and this attention is unwelcome. Of course it is psychically helpful if x is a famous person — the delusion could continue with little chance of resolution. But now, in the last half of the 20th century, the repression need not be homosexual. Instead the erotomaniac represses the shameful fact that they are not fabulous enough to have their own tv show. So it's more of a class thing than a sexual identity thing.

The waiting room in Loser Central is populated by a particular type of erotomaniac: the celebrity stalker. They mostly watch video tapes of their particular star and then write long letters demanding to know why the star has become obsessed with them. They eat a lot of jelly donuts and smell faintly of sweat, or urine.

Clearly we do not want to become celebrity stalkers, but the danger is always imminent. Every Thursday I watch Geraldo's "Celebrity Week in Review." (You may prefer the glibness of Entertainment Tonight but I appreciate the unbridled schadenfreude of Geraldo's assembled panel of gossip columnists.) And every Thursday I wonder why I am so hungry to hear the latest rumour or innuendo about Michael Jackson, or Madonna, or even David Caruso. (I don't even know who David Caruso is, but I feel confident that it was a career-killing mistake for him to leave his tv show — whatever it was — and pursue film work.) I may be blathering now, but it's to avoid pronouncing the awful truth: this behaviour is on a continuum with erotomania and any day now (it need not be a Thursday) I will become a celebrity stalker. I can only assume you are in a similar position.

Laurel Woodcock's pink noise consists of five small pink vintage television sets symmetrically arranged on a white mantel attached to the gallery wall. A spotlight defines a circle on the floor in front of the mantel that serves to situate the viewer. Each monitor plays a video loop, a slow-mo appropriation of Roseanne with her head thrown back in laughter. These are taken from the opening credits of the first five years of the sitcom. While the opening sequence is updated every year, the basic concept remained the same until the show's final season, 1995/96: the camera makes a circular pan around the Connor's kitchen table as they share a meal, always stopping at Roseanne, who throws her head back in hysterical laughter.[1]

Roseanne, the fictional character, is informed (I could almost say inhabited) by Roseanne, the more-or-less actual person, to such an extent that the figures tend to conflate. I would suggest that the point of absolute conflation occurs when Roseanne (not to mention Roseanne) laughs. The laughter, whether scripted or not, issues equally from both Roseannes.

Roseanne's laughter both attracts and repels. It creates a zone where the doppelganger Roseannes collide, matter and anti-matter vibrating slightly out of phase. These dual Roseannes are monstrous. The stars of eponymous sit-coms often play off the tension between their characters and off-screen personae — with Roseanne things are different. The relationship is more complex, each Roseanne being simultaneously self-aware and out of control. This can only be disturbing to all of us budding erotomaniacs. Woodcock would have us stand in the spotlight and subject ourselves to the tortuously slowed down spectacle of the Roseannes' laughter. We will be left not knowing who to love.


1. Woodcock's previous work — elegantly pared-down photo-based installations — have presented a subject, or body, caught between silence and enunciation. Psychoanalysis will have us believe that there can be no subject-formation without language. It sometimes links a yearning to regress to the pre-verbal with the death drive, telling us that silence really does equal death. Because we are already caught in the trap of language and unable to stop the constant flow of words streaming out of and into us, we can't really test this hypothesis, but a break from this constant barrage of subject-forming language seems like a good idea, a vacation from ourselves and everyone else.

Of course, Woodcock has set for herself (as the most interesting artists tend) an impossible task. This is not simply because the condition of pre-verbal silence is barely imaginable. Her work itself is a very careful enunciation, and one cannot enunciate silence. But one can enunciate noise.

In pink noise Woodcock uses laughter, which is not silence or language. The laughter of Roseanne is culturally ambient, omnipresent. It obliterates both language and silence, if only momentarily.