1. logbook
      20 December 2011

      What relationships? Some thoughts on the relationships at work between artist and hypnotherapist, artist and audience, actors and audience

      Vanessa Desclaux
    2. This new entry in my logbook will briefly consider some questions and remarks regarding the issue of the relations that are at the heart of Matt Mullican’s work with hypnosis. Why this term ‘relation’? It has an important role in the practice of hypnosis, which is considered as centred on the relation between the hypnotherapist and his patient. I will expand a bit more on this point. If this ‘relation’ between the hypnotherapist and, in this case, the artist Matt Mullican, remains hidden to the spectators, we can nevertheless argue that this relation is present in its absence and thus question its role and the dynamic that it puts into place within the framework of the performance.

      We also need to think about the relation between Matt Mullican and the spectators of the performance. In this relation, issues of sincerity and insincerity are essential, and this will bring us back to the key issues at stake within hypnosis itself as a practice. Finally, we will consider the relation between the actors and the spectators, in general and in the specific framework of performance that Mullican intends to put in place for his new production.

      Introductory remarks on the relations between hypnosis, magic and theatre

      It is important to stress that hypnosis has continuously been an ambivalent practice, used within the context of therapy as well as music hall and theatre as an entertaining spectacle. This ambivalence has entered in different ways the field of therapy itself if we consider some remarks made by Leon Chertok. Chertok highlights indeed a period of ‘decadence’ in the early twentieth century during which hypnosis begins to be highly disregarded and criticized, if not totally negated by the medical community. Chertok mentions that the neurologist Joseph Babinski, student of Charcot, declared in 1910 that hypnosis, like hysteria, was a sort of simulation. And yet Chertok stresses that it is following their attendance to public demonstrations of hypnotism (by hypnotists such as Lafontaine, Hanssen and Dorato) that eminent doctors such as Braid, Freud or Charcot began to pay attention to hypnotic phenomena.

      Doctor Frederique Honoré, who currently practices hypnotherapy in France, points out that patients in hypnotherapy, like spectators in magic, approach hypnosis with the expectation to find a magical dimension, and paradoxically, fear to be manipulated, tricked or suggested. Hypnosis and Magic both make use of communication, persuasion, and suggestion. It is essential to highlight in both contexts the importance of the presence, empathy and charisma of the hypnotherapist and magician alike. In both situations, hypnotherapist and magician rely on a dimension of mystery and enigma, but are also confronted with expectations and therefore, at times, disappointment.

      1. The relationship between the hypnotherapist and his patient in hypnosis

      The hypnotic relation

      One of the key questions in the context of hypnosis and hypnotherapy is the enigma of the ability for someone to be hypnotized, i.e. his ‘hypnotisability’. As Chertok points out in the introduction of L’Hypnose1, hypnotherapists lack objective criteria to affirm that someone has been hypnotized. He says: “Hypnosis is an unstable, slippery, ungraspable phenomenon and yet real and existing.”2 Although it has been acknowledged very early on that what is defined as a hypnotic trance can be found in everyday life as a temporary state of modified attention or consciousness of the subject without the intervention of another person, the hypnotic relation is at the heart of the question of hypnotisability. Chertok says: “Thus hypnotisability depends on the ease with which an individual can interiorise an external stimulus and make it part of himself.”3 He says further on that “hypnosis is a relation in which two personalities meet and play one in relation to the other a complementary role. Thus hypnotisability depends on multiple relations, inter and intrapersonal, that are put in motion.”4

      One important aspect of this hypnotic relation is the preparatory discussion, which is something that Mullican has repeatedly talked about in interviews in relation to his own hypnotic trances. This discussion is the moment of conversation between the hypnotherapist and his patient that takes place prior to hypnosis. Chertok stresses that this discussion is often used to dissipate certain pre-conceptions, stereotypical judgements, and false ideas. Chertok says about the patient: “Thus, if he attended hypnotic sessions at the music hall, one would tell him that the treatment he is about to receive has nothing in common with what he saw before. He should not fear to be ridiculed. He won’t be transformed into an automaton. We will leave him the entire disposition of his will.”5

      One of the important aspects of the enigma that produces hypnosis is the uncertainty about the reality of the hypnotic trance. As Chertok points out, there are different depths of trance in hypnosis, which are detailed in the scale of Davis and Husband6 (see attached document below). The therapeutic effect of hypnosis does not depend on the depth of the trance state, which is the physical dimension of hypnosis. Chertok remarks that, depending of the personality of the subject, he will mobilize structures that are both psychological and physiological; and the depth of the trance will vary from one hypnotic situation to another.

      What is therefore at stake in the relation between the hypnotherapist and his patient?

      Chertok remarks that more studies have looked at the personality of the patient in relation to the problem of hypnotisability than the personality of the hypnotherapist. What we can bring to light are two distinct aspects of the relation between hypnotherapist and patient. On the one hand, there is a level of verbal communication, through which the hypnotherapist uses a set of technical skills related to his mastering of language. Through his use of language, he will show his ability to creatively mobilize the imagination of the patient, lead him to an understanding and acceptation of the hypnotic situation, and maybe use different types of suggestions. On the other hand, it is very important to acknowledge that hypnosis engages in a physical relationship with the patient. Chertok, in reference to the writings of Johannes Heinrich Schultz, writes: “the subject in a state of hypnosis feels sensations of gravity and heat that bear witness to muscular relaxation for the first, and vascular dilatation for the second.” He continues saying that the objective is to “bring the person to retrieve himself from the exterior world through concentration on a monotonous impression, or through the closing of the eyes, and then to make him intensely observe his own physiological functions (…)”.7

      It is thus really interesting to read, through Chertok or Roustang, how much hypnosis deals with embodied subjects, as bodies immersed in a set of physical relations in the world as a whole, real and imagined. Roustang puts forward the term of ‘disposal’ (in French, ‘disposition’) as an essential moment of the hypnotic relation. He defines it as a ‘way of being’; it is a physical state that allows a thing or a person to receive a new quality, a new form. Hypnosis is interested in the body as it occupies a physical position in the world. Through the idea of ‘disposal’, it is a position that we are looking to define. This ‘positioning’ of the patient might start in the hypnotic relation with the physical space of the hypnotic situation itself. The hypnotherapist makes sure the patient is well seated; he talks to the patient about his body, his muscles, his breathing. Roustang insists on the fact that the states of awareness that we experience, which are the limited awareness of daily life and the generalised awareness of hypnosis, both imply consciousness and will. However, he claims that while the awareness experienced in daily life has more to do with mental reasoning, the generalised awareness of hypnosis has to do with the body. He continues affirming that to reach the possibility of effective action, consciousness and will have to be embodied.

      The role of the hypnotherapist is to bring the patient to this state of disposal, without which no change or action are possible. Through this journey, Chertok and Isabelle Stengers insist on the importance of ‘empathy’ as a physical engagement of the therapist in the relation with his patient. The therapist’s deployment of techniques of communication is also embodied, engaged in “a history in which what is at stake is not the production of truth, but the production of new affective experiences for his patient.”8 Through the hypnotic relation, both therapist and patient will experience new emotions. The therapist in hypnosis is not in a position to judge, interpret and decipher, and he acknowledges that his knowledge of the patient is inextricably linked to the affects that he experiences with him.

      Mullican and the (off-stage) hypnotherapist

      Mullican’s relation to the hypnotherapist is singular as it is affirmed as a relation that has no therapeutic ambition. The hypnotherapist becomes the complementary term of a relation that produces an artistic form. Mullican engages with the hypnotherapist’s technical skills as he might engage with a different type of expert to help him access a set of skills that he cannot get by himself. The decision not to let the audience see the deployment of the relationship between him and the hypnotherapist partakes to this essential dimension. It should remain clear that what the audience sees is a work of art, and not a therapy session. The relation with the hypnotherapist is nevertheless very important to the process and Mullican does discuss the hypnotic process in interviews and public talks. The choice to keep the hypnotherapist hidden also indicates the clear distinction between the two sorts of hypnosis that we mentioned earlier. The presence of the hypnotist on stage would recall too straightforwardly the hypnosis of music hall. Yet, by refusing to reveal the details of the relationship between him and the hypnotist, Mullican leaves the space of the spectators’ imagination wide open, allowing them to fantasize the hypnotic relation and also doubt the sincerity of the artist himself.

      2. The relationships between Mullican and his audience/ between actors and spectators

      Mullican and the audience

      It seems that Mullican chooses not to reveal the details of the hypnotic relation to avoid turning it into a certain kind of spectacle. And yet he still makes usage of certain codes of the spectacular situation: the audience is seated and in some cases waits for him to appear (as it was the case at Tate Modern in 2007); a separation is drawn between the stage and the audience (this is always one of the first gestures that Mullican performs using white tape on the floor); the depth of the hypnotic trance appears high, and thus spectacular, showing multiple instances of abnormal behaviours (repetitive patterns of gesture, deformed speech, shouting and screaming, use of bad language, and more generally a demonstration of a release of a certain type of control of the artist over his language and body). This situation leads the audience to question the nature of the trance and wonder if it is real or acted out by Mullican. It produces the expectation of meaning through the production of gestures and speech, an expectation that might, or might not, be met by disappointment, depending on the individual emotional responses of the spectators.

      The absence of the hypnotist produces an essential gap, an enigma: something remains hidden from view, possibly producing a certain confusion, or at least, in my view, different sets of questions in relation to the spectator:

      - Does the performance tend to re-enact, through the relation between the artist and the audience, the empathic relation that takes place between the hypnotherapist and the artist? Will the spectator decide to respond intellectually or emotionally to the performance?
      - What kind of displacement has to operate for the spectator to consider the hypnotic trance as the production of an art form? Should the spectator overcome his immediate emotional response in order to relate to the performance as an artwork?
      - What is the role of belief in the relationship between the artist and the audience?

      By keeping alive a notion of mystery and a certain state of confusion, Mullican creates a space that appears in complete opposition with the traditional semiotic space of the media, which constitutes our everyday reality. The space produced by his performance under hypnosis is a symbolic space, which is not totally deprived of signs, but in which these signs leave a large space for the play of signification. The audience faces with uncertainty the events that unfold in front of them. And even if they were to read about hypnosis later on, they would find out that no objective proof exists to affirm that someone was hypnotized. The uncertainty has to do with the singular choice of hypnosis as a practice, and its already heterogeneous field of meaning. As we previously noted, hypnosis is anchored in both magic and ritual as much as medicine, psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

      The artwork has not been displaced here from the object to the subject and his gesture or intention. Mullican intentionally places doubt on the very question of subjectivity and authorship: the person under hypnosis is considered by the artist not to be him, but ‘that person’, or an alternative psychic identity produced under the trance state. The artwork is thus actually located in the material forms that emerge: drawings, writing, and patterns of gestures recorded through video.

      Actors and spectators

      The essential concerns of actors on stage are, according to Peter Brook, to communicate an ‘invisible message’. In the context of what Brook designates as sacred theatre, beyond the words that constitute a text, this invisible message is the emotional content that the actors wish to convey. Brook writes: “It is then that the actor would discover that in order to communicate the invisible message, he needed concentration and will, he had to mobilize all his emotional reserves, he needed courage and a clear thinking.”9 Brook continues: “a creative effort was necessary for him to produce a form, a new form that would be the receptacle and the mirror of his impulses. Here is a real ‘action’.” 10

      In this situation of communication set up by the sacred theatre, Brook makes some remarks about the role of the spectators, and thus the relation between the actors and the audience. He insists on the ambivalence of the function of the spectators, saying that it is simultaneously ignored and yet necessary. He writes: “The one watching is a partner that we have to forget and yet, always keep in mind. A gesture is affirmation, expression, communication, and at the same time it is a personal manifestation of solitude – it is always what Artaud calls “a signal through the flames” – and yet, it implies a shared experience, as soon as contact is established.”11 Brook also adds: “He [Artaud] wanted an audience that leaves all her defences, that let herself pierced, shocked, astonished and transgressed so that one could, in the same space of time, fill it with a new potential.”12

      We understand that the relation between actors and audience, which Brook describes in relation to Artaud and the sacred form of theatre, highly relies on an intense affective and emotional shared experience, in which the actor appropriates an emotion and transforms it into a new form. Brook questions the consequences and the aftermath of the production of shock and of transgression that appear at the heart of the situation of communication with the spectators. He asks what comes after the shock and warns against the inertia and passivity of the spectators who only go through a series of violent emotions whose effect will gradually disappear. He wonders where these spectators are being led.

      A set of questions will emerge from the new process of work that Mullican will carry out with actors. These questions will reflect the choices made by the artist in regards to the relation between the text used by the actors and the invisible message, the emotions and affects that the actors will invest in the shared experience in the context of the situation of communication that the performance proposes. Structures will be put in place to produce new forms, new gestures in this specific context. Hypnosis might find a function within this new configuration, either as a model, or as specific technical, methodological tool. A new set of relations will be put in place, connecting Mullican to the actors, and the actors to the spectators.

    3. 1 Leon Chertok, L’Hypnose, Petite Bibliothèque Payot, 1965.

      2 Ibid. p. 9

      3 Ibid. p. 81

      4 Ibid. p. 91

      5 Ibid. p. 145

      6 Ibid. p. 153

      7 Ibid. p. 201

      8 Leon Chertok and Isabelle Stengers, Hypnose, blessure narcissique, Institut synthelabo, 1999. p. 41

      9 Peter Brook, L’Espace vide, Points essais, Seuil, 1977. p. 73

      10 Ibid. p. 73-74

      11 Ibid. p. 74

      12 Ibid. p. 77

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