Convulsive States

A person shown from the waist up seated on an office chair. Two figures nearby wear lab coats; one wears a surgical mask while the other sits at a computer. The space appears distorted as though by a lens.

Still from Liz Magic Laser’s Convulsive States (U.S.A., 2023, 54 mins.), commissioned by Pioneer Works, Brooklyn

Join acclaimed multimedia artist Liz Magic Laser for a screening of her newest film, Convulsive States. Named a 2023 highlight by Artforum, Laser’s hallucinatory investigative report explores Paris’s Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, widely considered the birthplace of modern psychology and neurology. Interviews with doctors, historians, clergy, and dance therapists reveal uncanny connections between the emergence of “hysteria” in 19th-century Paris and recent outbreaks of so-called TikTok tics. Following the screening, Laser is joined at the Humanities Quadrangle by neurologist Amy Knorr for a discussion and a question-and-answer session. Offered in conjunction with the Yale University Art Gallery’s exhibition Munch and Kirchner: Anxiety and Expression. Generously sponsored by the Martin A. Ryerson Lectureship Fund. 

The program contains images of physical and mental distress. Viewer discretion is advised.

Convulsive States features cinematography by Laura Geisswiller; video editing by Isaac Goes and Michelle Yoon; sound design by Jared Arnold; musical recordings by GOBBY; coloring by Nic Seago; subtitle translation by Charlotte de Mezamat. The project was developed over nine years of intense conversation and friendship with poet Ariana Reines. The film includes interviews with the staff of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, including neurologist Dr. Martin Catala, psychiatrist Dr. David Cohen, Father Frederic Louzeau, neurologist Dr. Vincent Navarro, dance therapist Svetlana Panova, neurologist Dr. Emmanuel Flamand Roze, and dance therapist France Schott-Billmann; and additional interviews with artist and tai chi instructor Fabrice Brunet, journalist Hélène Combis, librarian and archivist Remi Gaillard, and journalist Virginie Girod. The artist offers special thanks to historian Asti Hustvedt for sharing research; to the memory of Dr. Catherine Bouchara, who staged the seminal exhibition Charcot, une vie avec l’image at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital; to the M.F.A. Photography, Video and Related Media Department, School of Visual Arts, for equipment support; and to Zhu Miansheng of Association Ars Asiatica and Emmanuel Roussille for supporting the participation of artist Fabrice Brunet. Additional thanks to Manuel David, Joan Dupont, Vanessa Gould, Amy Knorr, Molly, Lowe, Ruth Patir, and Wendy Osserman.