For The Thought Leader, Laser used the format of the increasingly popular TED Talk. She directed 10-year-old actor, Alex Ammerman, to deliver a monologue she adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground (1864). TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global series of motivational speeches with the mission to promote “the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.” TED Talks, primarily viewed as online videos, have promoted a forceful and inspirational presentation style across a wide spectrum of professions. Speakers typically propose idealistic solutions to contemporary issues but have often been criticized for failing to offer tangible steps for achieving their utopian visions. Laser insinuates the Underground Man’s views into the TED Talk format: she applies Dostoevsky’s attack on the socialist ideal of enlightened self-interest to its contemporary capitalist incarnation.
Laser enlisted speech coach Kristian Nammack to craft Ammerman’s lecture style in The Thought Leader. In the companion piece, My Mind is My Own (2015), Laser asked professional vocal coach, Kate Wilson, to teach her own daughter, eleven-year-old actor Ella Maré, to perform the role of a trainer in an instructional video. Laser worked with the mother-daughter duo to develop sinister versions of their vocal exercises.
In addition to prop elements created for the videos, there are two related sculptures. These mirrored glass works incorporate Laser’s versions of diagrams from a 19th Century manual by François Delsarte on how to deliver a powerful speech. These ideas on the art of oratory have developed into common strategies governing the delivery of TED Talks.
When it was first exhibited at Various Small Fires Gallery, Los Angeles, The Thought Leader was accompanied by a related sound piece, Hi there! (2015), made in collaboration with artist Rachel Mason. Hi there! hailed gallery visitors in the entryway corridor with mantras derived from the texts of The Thought Leader and My Mind is My Own.
Featuring actor Alex Ammerman. Script written by Liz Magic Laser based on Notes From the Underground (1864) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Speech coach: Kristian Nammack; Directors of Photography: Chris Heinrich and Tom Richmond; Audio Engineer: Nikola Chapelle; Sound Mixer: Scott Benzel; Sound Effects Editor: Molly Fitzjarrald; Color Correction: Alejandro Wilkins; Production Manager: Anna Riley; Production Assistants: Esther Hayes, Jasmine Kyoko and Samantha Rosner. Filmed at Kickstarter in Brooklyn, NY. Participating actors: Cole Akers, Kelela Blake, Tyler Booker, Travis Branch, Virginia Ferrer, Sein Gay, Jessica Gallucci, Ryan Healey, Joseph Henry, Minki Hong, Kelvin Lofton, Rebekah Loy, Roberto Mugnai, Job Piston, James Pyecka, Mike Quinn, Hobson Riley, Khalid Rivera, Alexis Rosenbaum, Malaika Said, Stephanie Samford, Noriko Sato, Isaiah Seward, Charlii Tv, Alex Xenos and Liz Zito. Special thanks to Kathy Ammerman, Sanya Kantarovsky, Owen Katz, Ken Laser, Ella Maré, Fabrice Nadjari, Wendy Osserman, Chadwick Rantanen, Anna Riley, Hobson Riley, Hong-An Truong, Esther Kim Varet, Joseph Varet, Tomasz Werner, Kate Wilson, Spencer Wolff and Kickstarter. Produced with support from Various Small Fires Gallery, Los Angeles.