Keung, Heather. Self-Portrait (Smile). 2001, http://www.vtape.org/video?vi=5483
Heather Keung’s work foregrounds the labor involved in training our minds and bodies for everyday interactions. This video captures the artist experiment of trying to hold a smile for as long as she can (the video is 25 minutes long). As time goes by, her body’s involuntary reactions–shaking, twitching, drooling–turn up the eerie tone of this piece. This “endurance performance,” as the distribution organization Vtape characterizes it, is part of a series of video self-portraits in which Keung holds or repeats poses and gestures to the point of defamiliarization. In documenting the literal labor performed by the body to fabricate and hold gestures tied to specific feelings, this video opens up different questions about the materiality and embodiment of emotional work. On the other hand, taken metaphorically and put alongside Sara Ahmed’s piece, this video-performance, recorded in one long, close, still shot in which all the artists’ mental and bodily efforts go into maintaining her smile, amplifies Ahmed’s argument against happiness as a prerequisite for (political) action.