Laughing in an emergency: Humour in contemporary art

Laughing in an emergency will examine the operation of humour in contemporary art from diverse disciplinary and methodological perspectives.

It is with deep regret that we have been forced to cancel the Laughing in an Emergency conference due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We will be working with keynotes and conference presenters to produce a publication from this research and will provide further details regarding this on this page. Any further queries about this publication, or the Laughing in an Emergency project may be directed to Chrisoula Lionis. We sincerely hope that you are each in good health and send our sincere best wishes at this difficult time.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Stefanos Tsivopoulos, The Lost Monument, 2009. Single-channel video installation. Video still.

The Laughing in an Emergency Conference will be hosted on 17 and 18 April 2020 at The University of Manchester and will seek to address the now overdue field of enquiry of humour and contemporary art in an age increasingly framed as being one of perpetual crisis.

In addition to international keynotes from artists including Richard Bell (Australia), Larissa Sansour (UK) and Stefanos Tsivopoulos (Greece/US), we welcome proposals from scholars and practitioners addressing the interface of humour and contemporary art from diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives.

Call for papers

We invite proposals for individual papers of approximately 20 minutes (allowing an extra ten minute for question/discussion time). Proposals should include a title, an abstract of approximately 300-350 words and a brief biography.

Topics to be addressed include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Humour and crisis
  • Humour and the Global South
  • Humour and identity
  • Humour and gender
  • Humour and resistance
  • Humour and the museum
  • Humour and authenticity
  • Humour and contemporaneity
  • Humour and the art market
  • Humour and cultural resilience

Please send proposals to by November 30th 2019. Responses will be provided by December 20th 2019.

Delegate information

Conference attendance is free of charge. Any queries regarding the event should be directed to Dr Chrisoula Lionis -


In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, humour has been regarded as serious, incendiary, and potentially fatal, business. A curious phenomenon has simultaneously occurred in contemporary art, as artists located around the world have turned to humorous aesthetic strategies in order to document and re-assess global politics, experiences of humanitarian crisis and collective trauma.

Laughing in an Enegrency event poster
Click to see full event poster

This shift in art practice is evident across a broad spectrum of both geography and forms of ‘crisis’, from military occupation in Palestine, the struggle for indigenous sovereignty in Australia, to economic crisis and austerity in Greece.

In spite of this turn, and although the politics of humour has attracted recent attention, leading scholars across the social sciences and humanities continually lament the lack of scholarly analysis on the subject. The need for a more sustained understanding of the role of humour in the face of crisis and humanitarian emergency is particularly pertinent when assessing contemporary art and visual culture. This is because, despite both the emphasis on trauma and crisis (which has remained a scholarly pre-occupation since the 1990s), visual culture theory has failed to adequately investigate why humour becomes pronounced in practice in times of emergency.

Further, if the 21st century is characterized by the experience of perpetual crisis, then discourse has neglected to provide in-depth analysis of how humour offers a new understanding of this political context, whilst also suggesting how we might deal with such crises.

The Laughing in an Emergency Conference will examine the operation of humour in contemporary art within this context, analysing its motivations and its consequences. 

Horizon 2020

The conference is part of the LIAE: Contemporary Art and Cultural Resilience project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie Grant Agreement No.799087.