The all-singing, all-dancing, all-crying self-portrait
Georgina Starr's latest multi-media installation at the Tate demonstrat es that art as psycho-karaoke is wearing thin. By Michael Bracewell
Tuesday 27 February 1996
Georgina Starr graduated from the Slade in 1992. Since then she has been taken up by the Anthony Reynolds Gallery, had seven international exhibitions and enjoyed a gathering momentum of press coverage, from specialist art publications to glamorous snippets in Vogue. Like Damien Hirst, Starr has "taken" with the media, becoming an embodiment of the zeitgeist and thus as qualified to model silk dresses and tell us what she wants for Christmas ("To be anybody but me") as to talk about her art. This, of course, is all part and parcel of contemporary fame, but what is it about Starr's work - or her personality - that has singled her out from others of her generation like Jane and Louise Wilson or Sarah Lucas (three equally significant artists of her own generation) for the star treatment?
Part of the answer must lie in Starr's extravagant treatment of herself as her principal subject - an all-singing, all-dancing, all-crying exercise in self-portraiture which recasts the artist as an amateur actress playing out the roles of her different selves. In her earlier works, such as Crying and Getting to Know You, Starr's public description of usually private emotions had the immediate and morbid fascination of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries that engage with our curiosity to witness other people's social embarrassment. Expanding her dramatisation of her real or imaginary autobiography, Starr then expanded the amateur dramatics of her enterprise to incorporate distinct roles for herself; playing the pathetic part of an hostess whose guests had failed to materialise, or recreating her memory of a Saturday morning Jerry Lewis film in Visit to a Small Planet (1995). Colourful and compelling, this gradual mingling of video, installation and performance could create a dramatic spectacle that had all the playfulness of The Generation Game while suggesting itself as an investigation into behavioural psychology and the multiple nature of personality. The debt to pop culture, from Jerry Lewis to Grease, is in keeping with the nostalgia for pop kitsch which typifies much of contemporary culture and which detracts from any suspicion of seriousness. As alternative comedy moves closer to performance art (with Eddie Izzard starring in a film by Damien Hirst, see feature above) so art comes closer to alternative comedy.
This trend is highly visible in Starr's new work, Hypno-dreamdruff, for the Art Now project room at the Tate. Invited to share her dream of The Hungry Brain nightclub, we negotiate what looks like the set of a children's television programme to follow a cast of Georginas through their night out with themselves. Whether intentional or not, the experience of this installation is similar to being trapped for an evening with a veteran bore. Despite its intricate casting of Starr in a variety of roles and flashy references to Sartre, the conflicting elements of the multi- media presentation are weighed down with self-consciousness and poorly crafted to the point of shabbiness. Thus one is more bemused than bewitched, and leaves with a sense that art as psycho-karaoke can wear a bit thin.
Starr, however, is booked up with commissions to 1998, and proves certain to be a major player on the international art circuit. Her articulation of herself as the tragicomic victim of social orthodoxy and her own personality has struck a chord with an audience who believe the comforts of infantilism to match the comedy of recognition.
n Georgina Starr's 'Hypno-dreamdruff' at the Art Now room, Tate Gallery, London SW1 (0171-887 8000) to 7 Apr
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