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The Laughing Dress
A performance and installation based on the myths of Melusine.
by Lori Weidenhammer and Absolute Value of Noise © 2008.

Commissioned by Video Pool as part of their 25th Anniversary celebrations.

"Behold: a creature who is half woman and half sea creature. Her emotions ripple across her skin like wavelets. Her laughter more alluring and dangerous than the siren's song, leading you to self destruct on the rocky terrain of your own psyche."

Premier performance and exhibition at Platform Gallery (121-100 Arthur St. Winnipeg, MB R3B 1H3). Performance April 24 and 25 at 7 pm. Exhibition running from April 24 - May 10, 2008.

The Laughing Dress is an installation and performance piece by artists Lori Weidenhammer and Peter Courtemanche (co-creators of the Brain Dress). The dress recreates the regal and elegant, yet grotesque "carnival monster" image of the sea creature Melusine. On the surface of the garment are a myriad of micro-speakers and vibrational devices. As an installation, the dress hangs disembodied in space, singing a fragmented and introspective song. In performance, it enacts a symphony of sound on the performer's body, telling tales of its sad history. Wearing this dress in which the narratives themselves have become irrevocably embedded, the performer takes on the personae of three generations of mermaids to uncover the mythology that shaped their lives and led to tragedy. One of the oldest mermaid myths is that of Melusine, a mysterious woman who comes ashore to marry, but demands privacy for her weekly bathing ritual. The intruder who disturbs her mysterious sanctuary faces a harsh penalty. Melusine, her daughter Melissa, and her mother Fay Pressina, weave a story of what happened the night that the ritual was interrupted. Drawing from myths of the late 1800s, The Laughing Dress explores the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the female body, a woman's right to an independent inner life, and the mutability of fairy tales.

"The Laughing Dress is inspired by a particularly slippery mermaid tale, the medieval story of Melusine. Originating in France, it was one of the tales women told while they were spinning yarn or thread. The first recorded version, written in the 1100's by William de Portenach has been lost. It was this story, among others that Jean d'Arras researched when he wrote the tale down in the late 1300's. The legend became so popular that Melusine was translated into German, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, and Italian.

My version of the story is performed with three main characters: Melissa (who is Melusine's daughter), Melusine, and Fay Pressina (Melusine's mother). I have written a text that is about the nature of fiction itself, a study of how narratives evolve and become layered with other stories. Melissa is sifting through the events of her life, trying to understand a tragic event in her childhood. The story also draws heavily from the murder mystery genre, in which several people tell their version of an event which is gradually woven into a final picture by a detective who is searching for the truth.

The fictional psychologist I have created is based on a quote from Rosika Parker's book The Subversive Stitch, regarding Freud's attitude toward needlework: "Finally, in the nineteenth century, embroidery and femininity were entirely fused, and the connection was deemed to be natural.... By the end of the century, Freud was to decided that constant needlework was one of the factors that 'rendered women particularly prone to hysteria' because daydreaming over embroidery induced 'dispositional hypnoid states.' (pg. 11)"

L. W.

Performance text and dress by Lori Weidenhammer.
Sound design and dress technology by Absolute Value of Noise.
Voice Over (in performance): Andreas Kahre.
Piano (in performance): Leah Hokanson.



A limited edition audio CD was released in 2008. It features the sounds of the dress - an endless surf track of ocean, breath, and eerie radiation, mixed with narration from the performance text. The voice and text are by Lori Weidenhammer; the sounds and collage are by Absolute Value of Noise. The installation contains 13 stories that are read one after the other while the dress creates semi-random background sounds. The three tracks below include excerpts from the "story" part of the CD and two tracks that are ambient - each featuring a small set of sounds from the dress.


1. excerpts: ocean myths (5:30) .. breath (2:56) .. nightmare (the sewing factory) (7:02). (Total 15:28).

2. whales (8:09). Low frequency feedback.

3. ocean (12:28). The sounds of surf.


Images from Platform Gallery, 2008.

Images of "fossil-scales" - a frog, a shell, and a spider.



absolutevalueofnoise.ca   |   audio available on bandcamp