- © 2011, Simone Leigh & Liz Magic Laser
- Credit Line
- Museum purchase through the Samuel and Blanche Koffler Acquisition Fund
- Mediums Description
- single-channel digital video, color, sound; 09:00 minutes
- Object Number
Leigh, who is best known as a sculptor, and Laser, whose practice often turns public and political speech into performance scripts, decided to creatively collaborate when they discovered a shared interest in the depictions of "female hysteria" in popular media. For the initial score for Breakdown, they gathered scenes from soap operas, plays, movies, and reality television shows featuring characters expressing psychological crisis. The artists then worked with Alicia Hall Moran, the renowned mezzo-soprano, to interpret direct quotes and poses from this research material, which developed into the final libretto and choreography for the video.
In her tour-de-force performance, Moran's artistic range and improvisational ability transform the repetitive phrases and shrill cries of hysteria into musical layers that are associated with gravitas, heroism, and history. The overall operatic style aligns this Black woman's emotional release with a traditionally elitist European high-art form, raising questions about which expressive displays are valued or criticized, and whose personal dramas are legitimized or dismissed. The performance also includes touches of the blues, jazz, and gospel hymns--African American musical forms that are themselves creatives balms for the psychological and spiritual impacts of racial inequity and violence.
Though alone in a balcony, Moran points through the screen to us, her imagined audience. What role does our witnessing play when personal pain is presented for public consumption?
Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies, 2023