Hysterical literature

Video art series by Clayton Cubitt, photographer and filmaker based in NY; the videos you’re about to see are a battle between the mind and the body – but the concept it’s more intricate than that – where the actresses are given no instructions on how to perform, except to read a book of their choice meanwhile under the table there’s an unseen assistant with a vibrator. Check the other videos here.

Hysterical Literature: Session One: Stoya reads “Necrophilia Variations” by Supervert.

Hysterical Literature: Session Two: Alicia reads “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman.

What are you trying to say with Hysterical Literature?
On the surface level I want to short-circuit the practiced poses of modern media-savvy portrait subjects. On the next level I want to explore the battle between the mind and the body. On the level after that I want to explore the relationship of female sexuality to society’s concepts of shame. On the final level I want to explore the cultural contrast between art and sex, particularly how people react to the mixture of the two.
The last two levels happen in the mind and response of the final viewer. Do they respond to the salacious physical aspects (Sex,) or to the concept and literature (Art?) Some people get the whole nest of levels. Others only see the surface. This is all part of the experiment.

Hysterical Literature: Session Three: Danielle reads “Still Life With Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins.

Hysterical Literature: Session Four: Stormy reads “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis.

Why is it called “Hysterical Literature?”
The title references the ancient concept of “female hysteria,” especially the Victorian-era medical treatments meant to “cure” it. At the time it was a catch-all diagnosis for almost any “disruptive” behavior in women, and a variety of treatments were used to cure it, from isolation, to hydrotherapy, to early electric vibrators. The past’s confusion and shame attached to female behavior, especially female pleasure, was something I wanted to explore in a modern context, so referencing it was natural. That the word could also mean “funny” was lagniappe, since the videos are quite funny, and many of the subjects laugh at some point in their reading.

Hysterical Literature: Session Five: Teresa reads “Sexing the Cherry” by Jeanette Winterson.

Why are the readers behind a table? Why are they in black and white?
All of the artistic choices were made in order to reduce, as much as was aesthetically possible, anything generally associated with pornography, or luridness. I wanted as austere and clinical a set as possible, as “unsexy” as possible. And one that was as abstract as possible while still remaining traditionally “photographic.”

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