Curated in collaboration with Arielle de St. Phalle

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We live in a world of quantity over quality. Soundbites over discussions. Access is high and depth is limited. But regardless of how much information is made available to us on a daily basis, hierarchical structures of information-reception are still in place and have evolved very little. Taboos may be dwindling on a large scale but traditional moral approaches to these taboos stay put. Thus, humor appears to be one of the last frontiers. In a secular country like France, laughter has historically functioned as the opiate of the masses. Wit and satire have long been a form of testing authority.

In French, the word ‘spirituel’ (spiritual) has two definitions:

1.     That which pertains to the spirit or soul.

2.     The intelligence of humor. Also translated to ‘satire’ or ‘wit’.

For many in America (and across the world) these definitions are closer to antonymous than synonymous. Spirituality is far too serious a matter to be placed in the same category as humor.

Hara Kiri (1969-1986), the precursor to the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, famously called itself  ‘le Journal bête et méchant’ (the dumb and nasty magazine). Their intention was not to enter the mainstream. They wished to remain on the fringes and test authority as much as they could.  Their core principle was to hold nothing sacred and they did not exclude themselves from this belief. Hara Kiri, is the ‘vulgar’ term for Seppuku, a Japanese form of ceremonial disembowelment or self-sacrifice, originally reserved for the samurai. In order to regain honor in death, the samurai believed it more venerable to take their own lives rather than dying at the hands of their enemies, or live with the shame of their actions.

On January 7, 2015 tragedy hit Paris. A total of 17 civilians were murdered. Among them were two of Hara Kiri’s original contributors, Wolinski and Cabu. They were murdered at the Charlie Hebdo offices for their ‘nasty’ and ‘irresponsible’ doodles. As news spread, misinterpretation collectively grew. It appeared few understood the spirit of what the cartoonists stood for. A new kind of language barrier arose, one that went beyond words. Images were also misconstrued. Non-French speakers were unable to grasp the textual component of the cartoons and immediately assumed them as racist. Those that could, dismissed the potential impact a “cartoon” could have on the structuring of opinion. Others who had previously been the cartoonists’ enemies and attempted to censor them in the past were now hailing them as martyrs. Both sides exhibited a heightened level of absurdism often found in the publication.  

Many artists, including some featured in this show have mixed feelings about Hara Kiri & Charlie Hebdo, disagreeing with their general representations of women, sexuality and politics. Nevertheless, it is important to consider these differing perspectives. The variety of works in Special Hypocrite makes for a space where opinion is broad and the binary of taste disappears. Each viewer can look for what he or she wants to see—like a Rorschach test.. Initially, the reaction is rejection but it is precisely through this process of rejection that the viewer can understand the magazines on a deeper level.

The relationship between artist and viewer is always complex but in the aftermath of this massacre the transaction has become convoluted. Should an artist be held accountable for the effect his or her work produces on a viewer? More specifically, can an artist reflect the underbelly of society without having to take responsibility for it? Hara Kiri allows us to see the kind of humor that is at stake on a global level whilst still mapping out the history of a culture in a very serious way. These cultural transactions often fall short of their potential. But a preserved object will carry with it past present and future, will flatten out the space of communication into a zero degree, where opinion, art and humor collapse into a single praxis.