“Primal Speech” takes place in artist Liz Magic Laser’s futuristic version of a primal scream room with uniformly grey padded walls and therapeutic props such as punching pillows. For the film, Laser collaborated with certified professional life coach Valerie Bell, trained in primal therapy techniques, a radical 1970s approach that used abreaction: the cathartic re-experiencing of a traumatic event. In this method, the therapist coaches the patients to reenact scenes from their past and express repressed feelings. The aim of bringing what had been buried in the unconscious into consciousness was to liberate patients from the neurotic repetition of unhealthy behaviors and relationships. Reliving past trauma was thought to be the only route to transforming oneself.
In this film, actress Gisela Chípe delivers therapeutic questions, directly addressing the viewer as patient. Behind the scenes Laser and Bell apply the dramatic techniques of primal therapy to “treat” a group of actors, encouraging them to revisit and conflate their formative experiences with their current political frustrations. One man yells at Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, as if he were his own abusive, homophobic father, while another tells Trump he is the father he wished he’d had. Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, becomes the stand-in for a con artist ex-girlfriend, while a woman weeps over her sense of powerlessness as British politicians Nigel Farage and David Cameron merge with her tyrannical, childhood teacher. Here, sweat, tears, and screams of protest flow together to create an intensely personal political present.
“Primal Speech” builds on Laser’s recent work, “Identification Please” for Kunstverein Göttingen, which used psychodrama techniques to facilitate a performative dialogue between a group of teenage refugees and German students.
“Primal Speech,” Liz Magic Laser, 2016, single-channel video, 11:50 minutes. With therapeutic activities conducted in collaboration with Certified Professional Life Coach Valerie Bell. Actors: Gisela Chípe (Lead), Armeliane Bindickou, Adam Davenport, Mari Hayes, Adele Jacques, Rhiannon Lattimer and Tom Staggs. Director of Photography: Chris Heinrich. Assistant Director: Hanna Lea Novak. Assistant Camera: Sam Krebs. Audio Engineer: Joe Quartararo. Audio Assistant: Trevor Hoar. Casting Assistant: Rachel Zaretsky. Editors: Liz Magic Laser and Ben Bernstein. Therapist’s script written in collaboration with Valerie Bell with contributions from Gisela Chípe. Produced with support from Various Small Fires, Los Angeles. This video is typically exhibited in a primal scream room installation that includes a screaming vase produced with Sculpture Space NYC and soft sculptures based on political party logos produced with Chizu Cipriano. Special thanks to Becca Albee, Sanya Kantarovsky, Ken Laser, Ben Lerner, Wendy Osserman, Josephine Shokrian, Thomas Cowley Williams, and Executive Coach Jeremy Robinson.