Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Art Space Talk: Georgina Starr

I recently interviewed artist Georgina Starr. Georgina has been exhibiting large-scale film and video installations both in the UK and internationally for the past 12 years. Her diverse body of work has incorporated video, film, animation, photography, music, writing and performance. Georgina lives and works in London.

Some of the key themes of Starr's work - from Hypnodreamdruff (1996) a 6 screen multimedia work about the intertwining lives of a group of lonely eccentric characters, to Big V (2004) a four screen work about teenage sexuality and Catholicism - explore the relationship between history and memory; attempting to extract meaning from collapsing realities, she makes complex and obsessive investigations into invisible, lost or fragile phenomena.

A chance meeting with an eccentric octogenarian film fan introduced Starr to the world of silent screen legend Theda Bara. Once the biggest silent movie star in the world, Bara appeared in over forty films, of which only two still exist today. Through extensive research into the art of Bara and other neglected silent stars, Starr has reconstructed key scenes from the lost films, with both herself and the film fan taking on the role of Theda.
The work looks at the vicarious nature of the cinematic experience and explores the silent film form through image and live sound. Experimenting with performance styles and narrative techniques Starr considers the movie screen as a mirror and how we use film fiction to explore and escape our own identity. The images in this interview are from THEDA.
Georgina's works have been exhibited at Museum of Modern Art, New York; Venice Biennale; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis and Kunsthalle Wien. Solo exhibitions include Tate Gallery, London; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; Kunsthalle Zurich; Rooseum Centre for Contemporary Art, Malmo and the Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam.
Q. Georgina, you are associated with the YBAs. What do you think of that term? Do you like being grouped in the same category as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and others known as YBAs? Or is the term just something that you all consider a label- nothing more?

A. "It’s just a label, which I suspect wasn’t invented by an artist."

Q. Your latest work, THEDA, is currently being exhibited at the nca/nichido Contemporary Art in Tokyo as part of your first solo exhibition in Japan. How has the exhibit gone so far? Can you go into detail about THEDA?

A. "It’s the first time I’ve shown THEDA as an installation. For it’s first outing THEDA was shown as a single screen cinema piece with live accompaniment, so the two are really different.

Theda Bara was a huge silent movie star who had made about 40 films over a short period, but only a couple had survived. Initially I was interested in trying to resurrect a neglected artist and her lost films. I dug up every possible thing I could about her and her films; the characters she played, the scripts and stories, her acting style, her props, costumes and make-up, and then began remaking lots of the sets and costumes. At the same time I discovered other female performers from that era, some even more fascinating than Bara, people like Alla Nazimova, Maud Allan, Musidora and Barbara La Marr and they all filtered into the project.

Last Spring I began filming myself in the studio and 6 months later I resurfaced. The result is THEDA.The finished work is less about Theda Bara and more about the idea of performing and performance, or how we all perform through expression and gesture. By using the silent performers as a sort of model I was forcing myself to try communicate without using the written or spoken language.

The musical element became a really important part too. In the cinema version in London I had a 17 piece improvising orchestra (The London Improvisers Orchestra) responding live to the film. It was the first time they’d seen the film. I wanted to try get a very immediate audio response to my on screen performance, which reflects how musical accompaniment was used in very early cinema."

Q. You often work with found and collected objects to make autobiographical installations. These installations have been exhibited widely in group and solo shows, including the Tate Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Venice Biennale- why did you decide to make your work so personal? Do you feel as if you are offering yourself when your work is viewed by others? How do you emotionally prepare for an exhibit?

A. "My work starts from a personal place, but the work isn’t ‘personal’. It’s for everyone. I’m not just repeating something that happened to me in a diaristic or autobiographical way. If it does start from a personal place it always evolves and changes into something completely new. There is a line between myself and the person on the screen."

Q. Georgina, do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "No rituals really. The internet has really changed the way I work. I used to spend loads of time in libraries, digging up archives, tracking people down, or searching out things in stores and markets. I hardly ever need to leave the studio now. The only slightly ritualistic thing is that I’m constantly dreaming up ways of doing things where I won’t need to use other people. I really like working alone and hate having people around when I work, so if there’s a way to avoid it I’ll find it."

Q. You have been quoted- by the artist Momus- as having said, "paranoia is a magical state of mind". Can you go into further detail about this statement and how paranoia is reflected in your work?

A. "Paranoid? Who said I was paranoid?"

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "If I thought of being an artist as a career then I’d hit rock-bottom."

Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

A. "It’s all in my work."

Q. What are you currently working on? Can you reveal any of your plans for the future?

A. "Top secret."

Q.Finally, where can we see more of your art? Do you have a website?

A. "THEDA is on show at nca/nichido contemporary art in Tokyo from now until the end of May 2007.

You can see THEDA performed with live accompaniment this year at ;
Art Film at Art Basel, Stadtkino Basel on 13th June 2007, Artprojx at Greenland Street, Liverpool on 7th July 2007, Tracy Williams Gallery, New York, September 2007. My website is :"
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Georgina Starr. I'd like to personally thank Georgina for taking the time to answer by questions.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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