Following the exhibition’s opening at Pioneer Works, performance artist Liz Magic Laser and curator Gabriel Florenz delineate the words and sounds that shaped it

Tucked into a corner of Pioneer Works is a pitch-dark void, constructed to host Liz Magic Laser’s Convulsive States. Inside, a wide hallway is lined with movement guides, situated on monitors that simultaneously reflect the visitors who indulge in (or carefully dodge) semi-public interactions with them. Titled Exorcise 1 through 8, each guide offers distinctive demonstrations of a methodology—from holotropic breathwork to GYROKINESIS®. It’s a more artistic but equally-unsettling take on the fitness mirror.

Past this hall of digital somatic practitioners is a screening room that features the exhibition’s titular piece. Filmed in collaboration with French journalist Laura Geisswiller, Convulsive States features Liz Magic Laser’s examinations of artworks, incidents, and art therapies uncovered at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. The video occupies a strange space, equal parts investigative and imaginative, rendering choreographies and ruminations from research.

On the whole, the Convulsive States surveys the shaking body in various forms—traversing its technical, psychological, emotional, and neurological sources, and obscuring the distinctions between them. Following the show’s opening, Liz Magic Laser and curator Gabriel Florenz delineate the words and sounds that shaped it.

Liz Magic Laser

“Pre-Uhtceare” by Gobby
“Gobby synthesizes the aural experience of ancient hymns and neoliberal malls, haunting our minds. He created music for Convulsive States, the centerpiece of my video installation at Pioneer Works, in tandem with sound designer Jared Arnold. I literally laughed out loud when he would send me tracks with apt, cheeky working titles like, ‘Liz Lululemon 4 Brainwind.’ Similarly, in his most recent album, Ancient Moods, he titled the first track ‘Pre-Uhtceare,’ based on the old English word uhtceare, which means to lie awake anxiously before dawn. Both his vernacular and auditory vibrations were a perfect match for my cinematic meditations on acts of physical shaking that haunt and heal us.”

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines
“Ariana’s A Sand Book completely rearranged my understanding of synchronicity and spiritual experience. In one poem, God accosts her in a beam of light while sitting on a bench on the Lower East Side. Ariana’s writing, teachings, and presence in my life have opened a portal to transcending and experiencing the boundary between the sacred and the profane. God speaks to Ariana via the sun, ‘entering me through the part of my head I sometimes call ‘my antenna,’ where my first white hairs grow, where my hair fell out while my mother was incarcerated on Riker’s Island, & where, when a truck drove into me near Leogane, Haiti in 2010 I developed a bump, even though by all accounts it seemed I should have died.’

When I met Ariana nine years ago, we immediately bonded over a mutual fascination with curative products that draw us in despite our critical mind’s warnings. For instance, I am haunted by the slogan of a luxury apartment building: ‘Living, working, shopping, experiencing.’ This slogan triggers our yearning to return to a communal living scenario, rebranded as a techno-utopian luxury product. I can be so critical of it, and yet, I now desire the fantasy it dangles before me, hook, line, and sinker. My internal hypocrisy only exacerbates my desires.

The freaky feelings I get from succumbing to advertised neoliberal fantasies are encapsulated by Ariana’s notion of Snake Oil—a shape-shifting moniker she invoked for her public offerings of perfume, astrological readings, and educational courses via her Invisible College project.”

“My internal hypocrisy only exacerbates my desires.”

“Fever Seizure” by Anand Wilder
“‘We get to the hospital and they bring us inside […] He laughs and tells me it’s the first in a life of scares […] There’s nothing to do and everything will be alright, everything will be alright.’ A song about the helplessness and fear we experience when the body of another malfunctions, especially when convulsions attack the body of a child. Anand weaves dialogue with an EMT together with voices racing through the mind in a midnight emergency scenario.

When the body is under the spell of involuntary spasmodic movement, we are confronted with the gruesome contradiction of being both vulnerable animals and machine-like electrical entities. The melodic flow of this track is superbly dissonant with the scene described––the freak-out and simultaneous calm endowed by the state of shock that allows us to go through the necessary motions to rescue another.

Anand’s ruminations reverberate with my investigation of the divide between spaces sanctioned for medical, visceral, and spiritual experience. Convulsive States explores Paris’s Salpêtrière Hospital, which is regarded as the birthplace of modern neurology and psychology.”

Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris by Asti Hustvedt
“This book was invaluable to my research on Jean-Martin Charcot, recognized as the forefather of modern neurology and psychology. I was especially informed by Asti’s insight that trauma has imparted empathic sensitivities to women who have been portrayed as spirit mediums to be revered, or madwomen to be incarcerated, depending on the historical context. Asti’s work as a historian, and her generous conversations with me, facilitated my understanding that the histories of hysteria and spirit possession are one and the same.”

Gabriel Florenz

Possession by Andrzej Żuławski
“One of the initial titles of this exhibition was Possession, so it would be a sin to leave out Andrzej Żuławski’s masterwork. It’s still as completely disturbing and beautiful as it ever was—and will never cease to be. I watched it recently for the first time in 15 years, and it seems to be one of those rare films that only gets more horrifying as you get older. Recommended viewing with your romantic partner…”

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren
“Filmed by Deren between 1947 and 1954, and completed 20 years after her death in 1981, this work is, for many in the Western world, the entrance into spirit possession and dance—showing us the blurry line between those two spaces. Both the film and the book are a must for anyone interested in the possibility that we can tap into the other side. It was one of the very first references in the proposal for this project, and even though Convulsive States traveled very far from the initial proposal, it is [still] no doubt within it.”

When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté
“This cut deeply for me when looking into books about the links between stress and illness. It makes you understand the mind-body connection in a more clinical way, rather than a spiritual one—which is the only way many of us can believe how connected and inseparable they are. It helped me immensely in solidifying things I felt, but didn’t have the information to fully believe.”

“It makes you understand the mind-body connection in a more clinical way, rather than a spiritual one—which is the only way many of us can believe how connected and inseparable they are.”

Mother Earth’s Plantasia by Mort Garson
“When prompted to select a song around this project, I guess there wasn’t much of a direct reference for me—but the thing that came to mind immediately was Plantasia. Pioneer Works just presented a tribute to it at Green-Wood Cemetery, so it has been on repeat in my life in these past months. I think it holds some sort of somatic feeling. The subtitle [alone], ‘Warm Earth Music For Plants And The People Who Love Them,’ gives me a kind of therapeutic reaction.”

“Marconi Union” by Weightless
“I was thinking about music that relieves anxiety, and thought to look up the music that has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety the most. Marconi Union’s ‘Weightless’ came up. Not something I have listened to much, but this study that Mindlab did found that ‘the 8-minute version of ‘Weightless’ reduced stress and anxiety levels by 65 percent,’ and ‘produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date.’ I am not sure if I agree, but choose to for the sake of my own anxiety.”

“Love Will Find a Way Home” by PAT featuring Jacolby Satterwhite
“When thinking of creative practice, mental illness, and transcending our circumstances through expression, nothing connects more for me than Jacolby Satterwhite and Nick Wiess’s project PAT. [Pioneer Works] released it alongside our exhibition with Jacolby, You’re at home. The singer on the album is Jacolby’s mother Patricia, who suffered from schizophrenia and died in 2016, leaving behind hundreds of acapella recordings of her voice on cassette tapes. From those recordings, they created an Electronic Dance Opus that I endlessly go to for escape and healing.”

Convulsive States is on view at Pioneer Works through November 19.