'I am a writer and an artist', declared Frances Stark, 'and that is not such an exciting thing to announce but I think this exhibition has something to do with being both'. The materiality of books and the written word is a theme of her texts, and, in turn, their materiality - the layout of words on a page - becomes the 'stuff' of her visual work. Stark's collages and tracings on paper, which look fragile, even diaphanous, resist robust interpretation. Some of the pieces are framed while others are taped directly to the walls of the gallery. Although they appear hesitant, they're also, perhaps, a little coquettish in the way they tread the fine line between decor and conceptualism, images and writing.
Stark studied post-Structural theory and post-Conceptualism in Pasadena before joining, in the 1990s, various lo-fi bands. For a while she surrendered herself to intensive fan relationships with such indie starlets as Lou Barlow from Sebadoh and Steve Malkmus from Pavement. She later used these experiences to better understand the implications of being a groupie, describing it, for example, as 'some sort of mutant nihilistic sentimentalisation of the anti-hero'.
An exploration of Feminist models in subcultures, as well as in the worlds of art and theory, is a subtext of Stark's work. For the text accompanying her exhibition in Cologne she wrote 'first of all this show has no title, which is unusual for me because I generally like to come up with a nice phrase which sticks in the head and helps to serve as a folder to hold a bunch of separate works. This time I am feeling a little bit reticent and hope that you, the viewer, are not put out by this nameless display.' It's a typical statement from Stark, one which oscillates between being ironic and apologetic. Nonetheless, the namelessness of the display - which included design, architecture, botany and growth - did not prevent themes and motifs from becoming apparent.
Stark produces word/image games, such as Gravity, Levity, Brown and Green (all works 2000) in which she uses an icon from Now Up-to-Date, a popular calendar software programme. In these games, the 'w' from 'now' vanishes, and a small computer desktop icon which looks like a dog-eared piece of paper lives on as a module for architectural and botanical drawings. For the series 'Ecce Homo' (2000), Stark made collages by pressing pansy blossoms onto images of famous men in history: for instance, onto Caspar David Friedrich's hiker from his Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer across the Sea of Fog, 1818), which was reproduced on a Penguin paperback edition of Nietzsche's Ecce Homo (1908). The blossoms have a unique, sly expressiveness, but verge on being a little too gimmicky.
For My Earth, Stark spent weeks using carbon paper to transfer a passage from Samuel Beckett's Watt (1953) to white paper and (in the tradition of concrete poetry, or Robert Smithson's piles of language), transformed words into typographic allegories. Stark appropriated the masterly idiosyncrasies of Beckett for her own system of reference, despite the fact that she understands all too well the limits of her private world to ever be persuaded by the success of such a symbolic transaction. The mulch for this work is called doubt.
Translated by Allison Plath-Moseley