A Document of our Time

Frances Stark is a multidisciplinary artist born in Huntington Beach, California, in 1967. In her first major mid-career survey at the Hammer Museum in 2016, titled UH-OH: Frances Stark 1991-2015, she was introduced as an artist which “for more than two decades has been making poetic and poignant compositions combining text and imagery, exploring a wide variety of subjects, including writing, procrastination, the banality of life, failure, success, pride, self-doubt, motherhood, pedagogy, institutional critique, class, music, literature, poetry, philosophy, art, sadness, and relationships”. In other words, a postmodern thinker, meaning the rejection of medium specificity in favor of multiple forms of art and the construction of a non-linear practice that comes together as a rich constellation of interests and topics. Understanding her work is also a way to map the vertiginous development of new media since the late 80’s to our days, in parallel with the fast rise of the world wide web.

Nothing is enough, a Single-Channel digital video projection, lasting 14 minutes in a continuous loop, is a significant example of this contemporary way of working. The piece shows us a chat between the artist and an Italian architect, using steady texts in black against white, each of them appearing by direct cut and accompanied by piano music. We can differentiate each character because of the style of the font: regular italic for her and bold for the architect. While in the Art Institute the work is shown on a dark gallery with two large white rectangles to sit on, in a previous version, in 2012, the room was lighter and had two rows of benches similar to the ones of a small chapel. “I need to seek treatment,” she says, and then laugh. His counterpart laughs too, “ah ah ah” and then affirms “Sometimes I think I need that too”. They are both talking about sex and cybersex, virtual and real relationships. The conversation is strongly mediated by the physical distance, some pauses and the fact that they are strangers to each other. Nevertheless, she seems more sincere and secure of her emotional interests while he is teasing, flirting and showing off. They also talk briefly about Italian cinema, politics and Stark artistic career and works. The music adds a contradictory sense of comedy and tragedy. Towards the end the network signal seems to be failing or momentarily interrupted so they both confirm that they are still connected: “Stupid router, oh, I hear you,” he says, and she answers “I hear you too, and you hear my bird too I’m sure, sooooo loud”.

What appears more relevant in this work is how the contemporary artist has become, instead of a creator, an editor, a mediator and a translator of information in many levels and moments. In this particular case, Frances Stark chose to work from her personal and intimate cyber-encounters, which are themselves mediated by a computer and the dislocated spaces where those happen. Then, there is her own raw editing of that primary source and the decision making of how this material is going to be shown to the audience. The result is a short conceptual film in which we, as spectators, start to wonder how are the faces of the men she talks to, in which places they both are, how long where those encounters or if they finally met in real life, and so on. Surprisingly enough, the two times that I went to see the pieces at the museum, a few people, spontaneously, started to read the texts at loud with different intonations. They were of course identified with the dialogue. So, the movie becomes an apparel of speculation but also a script for a possible play. The fact that it is built upon various steps of mediation remind us of a present in which most of the information that we send and receive is constantly selected, filtered and edited. It also makes us aware of how that virtual life and those differed times, have become part of real life and, therefore, a valid form of art. The title, which is related to her obsession and addiction to those virtual meetings, can also be read as our present compulsion to scroll, send, receive, like, post, call, message, export, import, save, redo, copy, scan, paste, stream, match and scroll again and again, in an attempt to be everywhere and nowhere. Although the piece is not super-fast but rather slow it depicts the relentless consumerism of information of our days.

As a conclusion, we could say that this film is a document of our time and a proof of how fast new media became part of our reality and transformed it. While many historians and critics in the early 80’s were analyzing the implications of television and videotape, suddenly, in a couple of decades, those mediums became obsolete. Zapping was replaced by clicking, linear edition shifted into the digital montage and Instagram influencers quickly killed video and radio stars. The worn-out statement of Andy Warhol “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” is still resonant and might explain the success of artists like Stark or the married couple, Miranda July and Mike Mills, among others. Multidisciplinary artists whose bodies of work are mostly based on the [mediated] exposure of their personal and intimate lives through the rhizomatic logic of contemporaneity.