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Frances Stark is to the cat video what Stevie Nicks is to the selfie: an early practitioner. She is receiving her due as part of the Hammer’s mid-career survey, Uh Oh. Stark’s early works in this office-productivity-destroying genre operate in the same vein as most home video, characterized by lax editing, a roving frame routinely misplacing its object of focus, and incidental music. Stark’s videos are funny; positioned in an institutional context, they become demanding, then tedious (depending on your threshold for pain, or pleasure).
The difference between confession and oversharing often hinges on the venality of the former vs. the banality of the latter. Stark is more adept than most at repurposing the banal so thoroughly that it begins to occupy the realm, instead, of the curious. She liberally mixes text and self-referentiality, interweaving references to her own career, writings, text messages, and online chats throughout her work.
Text in Stark’s hands is something of a pregnant paucity, sometimes potent with distilled meaning, often marooned in latent potential. Several works on paper consist of Stark writing out a sentence or phrase repeatedly, with the text flowing vertically and each letter more or less in line with its double. The remainder of the sheet, often upwards of two-thirds, remains blank—tastefully so (it’s really nice paper). Stark’s figurative works on paper likewise cull from a mixture of tasteful absence and muted shock: particularly the spiraling genital-bodily pun of Structure That F(its my opening) (2006), and the flash of The New Vision (2008). Throughout Uh Oh, sex and sexuality bubble in and out of other themes: digital costuming (Nothing is Enough, 2012, and My Best Thing, 2011); analogue costuming (Chorus Line, 2008); canonical literature (Untitled (Tropic of Cancer), 1993).
Self-indulgence, foregrounded, is precisely the point. Stark works within a lineage including Sophie Calle, Tracey Emin and Chris Kraus in probing the strangeness and hilarity ebbing in and out of intra- and interpersonal dynamics. This major pillar of Stark’s practice is responsible for as many hits (I Went Through My Bin, 2008) as misses (Untitled (A Trade with Nick & Oliver), 2005). Stark’s overextended oeuvre has it all: winning quizzicality, internal contradiction, the beauty of a turn of phrase. Rather than the easy valiance of defying institutional-retrospective structure, Stark’s works here mutate and permeate into other realms: the literary, the biographical and, beyond, the everyday.
Frances Stark: Uh Oh runs October 11, 2015–January 24, 2016 at The Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90042).