25 Jun, 2009

Art, motherhood and failure

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Through a narrative that charts the frustrations of combining motherhood and art, Frances Stark captures the poignancy of the human condition

An artist and a writer, Frances Stark can transform even a dreary corporate tool into a compelling visual essay. Her PowerPoint presentation Structures That Fit My Opening and Other Parts Considered to the Whole (2006), intertwines anecdotal text with photographs of her home in Echo Park, Los Angeles. It’s a semi-autobiographical ramble through the creative chaos of Stark’s life, focusing on the difficulties of combining motherhood with being an artist. Written with a self-deprecating wit that pricks with honesty, she tries to square the circle of her differing roles. Unlike Tracey Emin, who bares her soul publicly for us to pick at like vultures over a carcass, Stark’s confessional manner is intimate and inclusive; she presents her dilemmas in a shaggy dog story that crescendos and diminishes like the chapters of a book.

Born in Newport Beach, California, in 1967, Stark studied at San Francisco State University before attending the Art Centre College of Design. She says she had been obsessed with language from an early age so it isn’t surprising to find that many of her influences are literary and that she has published a series of collected writings. She wrote recently: “I am envious of those who can deliver nuggets in tightly wrapped packages. The economy of Emily Dickinson is a huge inspiration.”

Stark’s practice – whether it is drawn, written, painted or filmed – is about the laborious process of making art, detailing its frustrations with a wry humour. It is possibly best summed up in the collage Still Life with IBM Cards and Violin (1999), a parody of a Picasso cubist collage, in which she sends up the limitations of being an artist, unable to compete visually with the emotional impact of music. This issue has also led her to use soundtracks from Throbbing Gristle to accompany home videos that are as banal as the rock band is outlandish.

Stark’s well-articulated personal anxiety encompasses George Orwell’s statement that “each life viewed from the inside is a series of small defeats”. In her quiet yet persistent inquiry into the human condition, she delivers, with devastating candour, the poignancy of human failure.

Why we like her: For the exhibited photocopies of her needy, obsessive fan letters written to rock star Steve Malkmus (from Pavement) and Sebadoh’s Jason Loewenstein.

Femme fatale: She starred as Yoko Ono in the film The Holes in Your Feet, directed by LA artist Raymond Pettitbon.

Rock credentials: She briefly sang with the art rock band Layer Cake before they became Carbon Radio.

Where can I see her? Frances Stark is exhibiting in the group show Poor.Old.Tired.Horse at the ICA, SW1, until 23 August 2009.

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