About this artwork
Sam Taylor-Wood rose to prominence in the 1990s for her psychologically sensitive films, photographs, and videos. In many of her works, she presents small moments of human drama that function as portraits of individual personalities, passions, and obsessions. The artist has stated, “I am trying to gather a complete series of human feelings, even if reflected in more than one person. The same room is the setting for eroticism, rage, pensiveness, creativity, repulsion, anxiety, joy, anguish, pleasure. It is as if I wanted to explain the entire range of the emotional or existential world.” The workings of emotion are far from simple, though, and as Taylor-Wood depicts ritualized expressions and intense outbursts in works like Hysteria, she explores the possible disjunctions between outward behavior and an internal sense of self.
The title Hysteria refers to an extreme state of emotional disturbance while recalling the now-discredited notion of female hysteria, a common diagnosis during the Victorian era for women experiencing any number of symptoms. The eight-minute video is a closely framed view of a woman’s face that challenges us to distinguish whether she is laughing or crying. The footage is presented in slow motion and without sound, heightening the confusion between these different emotions. In narrative cinema, close-ups conventionally elicit a feeling of intimacy with the characters, but Taylor-Wood’s ambiguous depiction of the woman’s silenced cries encourages varied responses—from conflicting senses of identification and alienation to different shades of emotional engagement and critical detachment.
Currently Off View
- Contemporary Art
- Sam Taylor-Wood
- United States
- Made 1997
- 16 mm color film transferred to digital video (projection, silent); 8 min. loop Edition number two of three
- Gift of Donna and Howard Stone