Give Us Your Laugh was derived from Jim Hodges’s Give More Than You Take. We had an ongoing conversation with Jim that evolved into an exploration of universality through laughter. At our spring event, Double Take, we explored our concept both through Give Us Your Laugh and Make A Stranger Laugh. Both are exchanges between people in laughter that create a commonality. We attempted to embody Jim’s simplistic gestures with our thought provoking prompt “Give Us Your Laugh”. The materials were inspired by Jim’s A Diary of Flowers. The flowers were presented on random paper napkins using different colored inks. The seemingly ordinary materials carried a different kind of weight in Jim’s frame of mind. We wanted to replicate the notion of importance in the causal medium of napkins. A brief moment of passing by, a note on a napkin, a laugh, can be very impactful. We wanted to inspire contemplation about laughter, the fleeting moment that unifies. Describing your laugh visually or in words poses an unique challenge and demands a response from the participant.
(Featuring Ingrid Topp-Johnson)
Give Us Your Laugh was a surprising success. As we were taping butcher paper to tables, making signage, and drawing examples, I was struck with some degree of doubt as to whether people would participate. The commanding nature, I feared, would inspire defiance, and the abstract nature of the task would push people who would claim that they were “not creative enough” away. Nevertheless, we stood ready. We lined up the napkins, organized the pens, and called to passersby to give us their laugh. People flocked over in large groups, huddled around a table, debating the exact meaning of the prompt. Does it mean to write it out? To draw a picture? To describe? We tried to be both vague and encouraging: “however you think represents it best”. The boxes we had set up to deposit the laughs filled quickly, the stacks of napkins dwindling. Most teenagers did it gladly and without self-consciousness, but often older patrons needed more convincing. Some would lie to us “I’ve already done it!” when we both knew this wasn’t true. Some engaged us in conversation about the purpose of the project, suspicious of its integrity. A gaggle of older women wanted to talk about it for 15 minutes before ultimately deciding against contributing. “I don’t want you profiting off my laughter,” one said. As the sun set on Hennepin Ave. and the bustle in the hallway trickled down, we were left with boxes full of laughter and no idea what to do with it.
Check out a blog post for a related project entitled Make a Stranger Laugh here.