Guggenheim

Esther Ferrer (b. 1937, Donostia-San Sebastián) is a pioneer of performance art in Spain, and one of its main representatives. Since the beginning of her career in the 1960s, she has developed various lines of thought through a wide variety of forms and materials.

Ferrer’s The Laughs of the World (1999/2018) was first set up for Intertwined Spaces (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2018), an aerial, transparent exhibition where visitors could move around and look at the works from different standpoints or perspectives.

“To me, art is the one existing space of liberty, and where I’ve permitted myself everything. And at the same time, what you expect from the viewers is that they exercise their freedom. You don’t offer them conclusions but questions, so that they can generate their own personal reflections and interpretations autonomously,” the artist observes.

When asked about the importance of laughter, Ferrer quotes other artists: “‘It is easier to make people cry than to make them laugh,’ a sentence attributed to Satie. It is a shame, for laughter has a lot of benefits. According to Freud, when we laugh we ‘release negative energy’, which is basically the same as Hippocrates’s conclusion about Democritus: ‘laughing is a way of preserving your mental health’. Philosophy teaches us to laugh at ourselves, thus alleviating suffering. Nietzsche saw it too when he wrote: ‘[The man] alone suffers so deeply to invent laughter.’”

The installation The Laughs of the World is, by no means, laughter therapy. Its main goal is to make the viewer laugh and, at the same time, “listen to the laughter of the world”: children, adults and old people from different countries and cultures laughing. For each culture, each language (some scholars believe that language developed out of laughter) gives shape to laughter in its own particular way.

Like Socrates, the only thing we can aspire to know is that we know nothing. But at the same time we have the power to comprehend the world around us through the simple method of constantly asking logical questions until arriving at the truth. Pythagoras and Plato thought that when we listen to music, we can vibrate once again with the entire universe, feeling and experiencing it. In Esther Ferrer’s case, her curiosity toward the noises, sounds, and vibrations of this world recalls John Cage’s remark that “the music never stops, we just stop listening.”