A lot of my practice surrounds Victorian and Edwardian forms of entertainment such as illusionist stage shows, ventriloquism, arcades, wind-up toys, circus’ and freak shows. A lot of them have creepy aspects, their appearances of even children’s dolls is something I find amusing that you’d catch a child playing with something that looks like it would murder all the neighbourhood cats during the night. Dark humour is something that also heavily influences my own practice, using scary looking items or characters and placing them in ridiculous situations.
I like Black humour because it can take something sensitive that most people wouldn’t find funny or dare to joke about and shed light on it, relieving the tension that was once surrounding the subject. If you can’t joke about everything, then don’t joke about anything at all. Of course there are situations when you shouldn’t joke about things such as your uncles, cousins, girlfriends, pet’s funeral and then joking about turning their cat into a fresh batch of gumbo, then that’s something that would be frowned upon. Or should it, because it maybe a way for them to deal with the situation, a coping mechanism for that person to reduce stress or grieve.
A famed staple of British Dark humour would be Punch and Judy from the mid-17th century, from the first engravings and cartoons about the violent murderous Mr punch, has now become what we think is quite humorous and wonderful. A story of murdering everyone, and domestic abuse becoming slapstick comedy, is definitely of a dark sense of humour. It feels good to laugh about something so distressing and bad, that’s why it’s important to sometimes have dark topics being the central point of a joke, not everything should be doom and gloom.
Black Comedy/Dark humour is a genre of comedy that is seen to be dark because it uses satire to take topics that are usually treated seriously and treat it in a silly fashion whilst still keeping that negative element. I’ve used it in my practice when making things and researching topics surrounding ventriloquism, especially freak shows and Punch and Judy because of how controversial they have been throughout history. It’s commonly used for joking about traumatic events in history and in the media such as; mass murder, suicide, disease and terrorism.
The Holocaust always seems to be a low hanging fruit for those with an ‘edgy’ sense of humour, some comedians use dark humour as a tool for exploring these vulgar issues because it’s seen as one of the worst events in recent history that we do not want to be repeated again. Most of the time they are not joking about the victims of these events or trying to ridicule them but make a joke of how really bad it was.
One could argue that it is used to help keep the Holocaust in the public consciousness, to remind us why it was bad while shedding light on something so dark with their humour no matter how harsh the subject be. ‘The producers’ movie/musical by Mel Brooks, parodies Hitler and Nazism. In the film Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock produce a musical called; ‘Springtime for Hitler’ written by an escaped Nazi. What was meant to be an offensive flop of a show ended up being the opposite, “A satiric masterpiece, surprise smash, it was shocking, outrageous, insulting and I loved every minute of it.”- Max Bialystock (Reading Newspaper reviews of Springtime for Hitler).
Cattalen’s sculpture of Hitler on his knees is a good example of an evil figure in history being turned into something amusing. The 2001 piece; first from behind looks like a small child kneeling to prey, then the viewer comes face to face with Hitler. Cattelan’s goal was to disguise evil under a cloak of innocence. Hitler being the centre part to this piece is what makes it so controversial. Having him looking small, peaceful and behind child-like is what makes it seem so strange and unnerving to see. To see one of the evillest dictators in history represented in such an innocent looking manner is ironic and funny. Poking fun at the idea of a man with so much blood on his hand kneeling down maybe praying for forgiveness is ridiculous which I believe is the success behind this piece.
It is argued constantly where the line cannot be crossed with black comedy;
” The problem with crossing “the line” is that the line isn’t in one place. Maybe kids are off limits, because they’re across the line. Maybe only making rough jokes about those in positions of power is okay, because the weak are across the line. Maybe you’ll get really mad at a joke about killing cats, but not killing Rush Limbaugh. Cats are across your line.” – Eva Woods (2013) ‘In Defence of Offensive Comedy’.
It’s the context, content and intent of a joke that is important. If the comic is to purposely joke about a victim with no real positive outcome at the end of it, it’s not really a joke but more of an insult.
Maurizio Cattelan has been making controversial artwork since the 1980’s, he’s always trying to see how he can push the boundaries and shock new audiences. As you can see with ‘Him’, He has a macabre style, that he uses in a provocative way, purposely making these funny and offensive sculptures to gain notoriety and amuse his audience. I take interest in his practice not just because of my dark sense of humour but because he is very skilful in his practice, the detail and like-ness of the work really pulls the whole thing together and make the ‘joke’ a success.
Another artist I’d like to engage with is Richard Prince which people continuously argue about if he is a thief or simply making ready-mades, although it also depends on which of his artworks you’re looking at, Contemporary art involves an investigation where the viewer sometimes has to solve the rest, in this I think Richard Prince is one of those artists. I’m particularly taking interest in his monochromatic jokes. His satirical and dark humour shows through the monochromatic prints. Jokes become more than a light-hearted exchange as he uses dark humour to reveal attitudes and strains that are usually buried underneath the surface of social exchanges.
Parody is also something that shows up in modern art, all jokes come back as parodies, even the parodies get parodied. Work created to mock the original works of art or to mock everyday life, the media, politics and society, anything that influence’s the artist to spoof on something ironically or subtle satire so you’re not sure if it’s a joke or serious. Just like Duchamp’s work you’re left wondering; “Is this serious? A god damn toilet?” while he’s probably chuckling in his grave. Often the best parodies are mistaken for being genuine.