'Frances Stark: Intimism' goes inside the mind of a self-described horny middle-aged woman | Bleader

'Frances Stark: Intimism' goes inside the mind of a self-described horny middle-aged woman

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Total Performance (1988) - FRANCES STARK
  • Frances Stark
  • Total Performance (1988)

Heat rises in shimmering waves off the barren white plains. A thin crust of translucent salt coats the racetrack surface where motorcyclists gather to compete at the Bonneville Salt Flats. A young woman, her face turned toward the sun, poses against a waxed-down 250cc motorcycle. "I was out there racing and just happened to look good in a bikini," Frances Stark laughs. "I was really a weirdo, not some hottie." The photograph, titled Total Performance (1988), was the artist's ticket into art school. "If she looks like that, then let her in," was her mentor Mike Kelley's verdict. “I don't know if that’s true," Stark says now, "but it's a good story."

In "Frances Stark: Intimism" at the Art Institute of Chicago, drawings, collages, paintings, and video installations sparkle with the self-deprecating humor of artist, mother, ex-wife, self-proclaimed "attention whore" and "horny middle-aged woman." In a survey that spans two decades of lo-fi cat videos, iPhone photographs, PowerPoint presentations (such as the wryly provocative Structures That Fit My Opening) and online conversations on Chatroulette, the artist lays bare the uncut reel of her everyday life.

Structures That Fit My Opening - FRANCES STARK
  • Frances Stark
  • Structures That Fit My Opening
"My living room is my living room, but my living room also serves as my studio," writes Stark in a collection of personal essays, The Architect and the Housewife (1999). In the collage Pull After "Push" (2010), the artist, lost in a daydream, sprawls across a chaise longue. Behind the couch stands a dark wooden table stacked high with books by Witold Gombrowicz, Friedrich Nietzsche, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Virginia Woolf. The clutter of loose papers, receipts, unopened junk mail and carbon drawings drifts from the desk and scatters across the floor.

"The dilemma of having a couch in my studio is perhaps an interesting one," Stark writes. "If I can't get sufficiently engaged in a book, or making a drawing, I might end up staring into space. You can't stare into space forever, so I might start to look around and begin thinking to myself, this house is too messy or those drawers should be cleaned out or perhaps if I got a different piece of furniture for over there I could rearrange this here. I am sparing you the details of my toil, which aspires to productivity. Suffice it to say, it is hard not to experience, on a regular basis, the loneliness, the anxiety and the constant urge to redecorate I imagined a housewife might feel."

Never one to hold back, Stark exhibits online sex chats she had with strangers while wasting time in her studio. Osservate, leggete con me (2012) displays the racy exchange from a cybererotic tryst. The cursive white text from nine different sexual encounters is projected in a dark room with an L-shaped sofa for the viewer to recline on. "U want see my cock? Not very big, but very hard" is comically set to a score of strings, woodwinds, horns, trumpets, and trombones from Mozart's Don Giovanni that resounds throughout the gallery. As the online conversations digress into politics, philosophy, and art, the banal and the sublime become woven together.

Osservate, leggete con me (2012) - FRANCES STARK
  • Frances Stark
  • Osservate, leggete con me (2012)

In her most recent digital projection, Bobby Jesus's Alma Mater (2013), Stark spins a dense web of thematic associations from hip hop, gang culture, art history, and theology. The driving rhythm of "Catch 22" by DJ Quik underscores the artist’s screed against the disparity in education between white and black. It is often difficult to understand the installation as a whole, lost down the rabbit hole of the artist's connections. Annotated portraits of Tupac, Dr. Dre, Biggie, as well as paintings of Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Veronica, the Virgin Mary, and photographs of the artist and her son, are positioned as pieces in a trippy game of chess.

The words that flash across the screen are inspired by her conversations with Bobby Jesus, a young Chicano from the streets of South Central. "There are really two schools in the neighborhood," he tells her. "There is 'University South Central,' which is 'the street,' and then there is the University of Southern California (USC). USC is an uppity school in the hood of South Central L.A. None of the kids that go to middle school or high school around USC will ever attend." 

"Bobby Jesus's Alma Mater is fundamentally an attempt to examine the very large gap between the students at USC and the students of 'planet hood' for whom graduate school means the California prison system," the artist explains. "I have a view of the Twin Towers, what we call the L.A. County Jail, when I come to work everyday. I think about that a lot. I think about my own freedom, what I can do and what other people can't do." Earlier this year, Stark resigned her position as a tenured professor at the university in protest.

“I’d like to push myself toward a better understanding of what kind of liberation I, as an artist, woman, mother, ex-wife and teacher, am really after.”

"Frances Stark: Intimism" is showing through August 30 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600, artic.edu.


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