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Liz Magic Laser Talks to the Hand

November 20, 2012

Can you tell what politicians mean by what they say or how they move? In this film, artist Liz Magic Laser develops The Digital Face (2012)—a new performance staged at Derek Eller Gallery‘s former location in Chelsea and at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City—that examines hand gestures in contemporary presidential State of the Union addresses.

Struck by the virtuosity of Barack Obama’s movement in his 2012 address, Laser examined past speeches to discover that George H. W. Bush was the first president to use gestures in the televised era. The artist choreographs the presidents’ wordless movements with two Merce Cunningham-trained dancers—Cori Kresge as Obama, and Alan Good as Bush—into a performative dialogue that reveals how gestures have been embraced and codified by politicians and their handlers over the past two decades.

Throughout the rehearsal process, Laser employs stop-action photography to isolate and tweak individual gestures; she later amplifies the sound of the camera shutter’s incessant clicking for the performance’s soundtrack. Tracing the origin of many of these oratorical techniques to the 19th century theoretician François Delsarte, Laser is concerned with how contemporary political figures are adopting theatrical tools to persuade the public, masking the content of their speeches with movements designed to induce empathy through well-rehearsed and often subliminal cues. “We are living in strange days,” says Laser, “where performance itself has become the dominant instrument of power.”

More information and credits


Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Brad Kimbrough. Cinematography: Don Edler, Amanda Long, Wesley Miller, Rafael Moreno Salazar & Ava Wiland. Sound: Amanda Long & Wesley Miller. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Amanda Long. Design & Graphics: Open. Artwork: Liz Magic Laser. Music: Tristan Shepherd. Additional Video: George Bush Presidential Library & Museum, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, & The White House. Thanks: Derek Eller, Alan Good, Cori Kresge, Ken Laser, Isaac Lyles, MoMA PS1, Jocelyn Miller, Wendy Osserman, Jenny Schlenzka. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Liz Magic Laser

Liz Magic Laser was born in 1981 in New York, where she lives and works. Laser’s practice includes video and performance as well as sculpture and installation. Dissecting ideas of power and how it is performed, Laser has worked with such forms as presidential speeches, TED Talks, and nightly news broadcasts. She often integrates audience participation into works that involve social and political critiques, and has staged performances in public spaces such as banks and movie theaters. More recently, Laser has expanded her interest in the construction of identities to include children and the ways in which their self-perception is influenced by the news media.