Why or what these women are laughing at is unknown, but the absence of context is potent. “Women’s laughter is a powerful magic,” Halter tells Artsy. “It can be both inclusive and exclusive, sometimes simultaneously. It’s the one instrument that can still be accessed even in times of oppression.”
What’s so funny? investigates the radical potential of laughter and how a woman laughing is an act of resistance. “As a historically devalued group, women’s laughter is subversive,” says Halter. It’s also infectious: Try hard not to smile while watching someone laugh. The physicality of laughing is uncontrollable and irrepressible, like a sort of possession. “Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst,” wrote Hélène Cixous in her 1975 essay, “The Laugh of the Medusa.” “I’m peeing a little bit,” one of the women in Halter’s video says, grinning at the screen, trembling, her fingers in the air, indicating a small measurement. Another woman pounds the floor, unable to speak, her body shaking on the ground in spasms.