In recent works I have been moving towards projection as performance. Some works require the viewers interaction whilst in others the artist is present. The artifice of the work has also been considered, and in works such as process and perception the making work is revealed.
In the work of Mary Stark the artist is often integral to the performance of the work, operating equipment, reciting technical notes or passages from instruction manuals. Stark often mixes analogue and digital technologies, employing the haptic qualities of obsolete mechanical technologies such as the hum of a 16mm projector. Apparatus of projection is also exposed and part of the aesthetic of the experience, indeed the role of the artist and apparatus are just as important as the projection itself. Each element contributing to the viewers experience of the work.
''I’m thinking of them as sketches where I choreograph the materials and technology to perform, bringing apparatus out from behind the scenes and placing it centre stage."
With a BA in embroidery and an MA in Photography Stark's recent work has seen her experimenting combining these two 'threads' through the medium of film.
Work Produced during artist residency at La Escocesa - Barcelona
During this residency Stark experimented directly exposing thread onto film strip, the resultant strips were spliced and projected as a performance facilitated by herself and a fellow artist in residence.
"I’m interested in the theatricality of the cinematic experience, the framework or template, a collective viewing experience of light in a dark space which creates suspense, anticipation and focuses the audience’s attention to the present moment."
Starks photographic documents of her work seem to appear as works in their own right. Close ups of hung film with shallow depths of field, beautifully composed arrangements of equipment and paraphernalia. This may simply be attributable to her past photographic experience, she is clearly proficient with a camera. But the documents do not just show us what has happened they question the importance of what happened. Is the art found in the viewers experience of her performance? or is it felt more in the seductively composed photographic documentation?
One observation made reading Starks blogs is her use of the word 'Test'. In my own practice it has been noted that I use the terms test or prototype often. As an artist who is clearly pushing the boundaries both technically and conceptually the word test could be seen as a way to avoid or deflect any failings in her work. Although is the test, the process itself the work of art? Process is clearly important to her work, albeit it is evident within an outcome or performance. Or by using the word test to describe much of her work is Stark just stressing the experimental nature of her practice?
I believe I use the term in my own work as what I'm now exploring is far removed from techniques and processes with which I am familiar. When devising a painting I have an understanding of how colours mix and different paints behave, but here using and combining different technologies I feel more exposed to the unknown, I may have an idea of what I want to achieve but until I start working through the process of making it is unclear if I will be able to realise my ideas with any degree of success! With so many new variables and unknowns everything feels like a test, like a child testing his legs by trying to walk from one sofa to the next. As soon as walking becomes easy, embedded in the subconscious the act stops becoming a test.
A sense of play pervades her performances, these are not tight polished set pieces, they are organic open experiences with room for experimentation and chance. The artist is constantly learning, discovering, there is no manufacturing or comfortable repetition of safe ideas. Each performance seems imbued with an air of Dada's 'Cabaret voltaire', albeit with better behaved audiences!
Indeed Dada's do it yourself, improvised, temporary, perilous, on the edge of disaster spirit is at play here.
"I enjoyed the arrangement of the equipment and their shadows and reflections, almost like a temporary sculpture made from: portable wooden step; film rewind arms; cotton spools; coloured cotton thread; black paper; wrist watch; super 8mm film box; super 8mm camera; scissors; sellotape; tripod super 8mm camera; shutter release cable; sandbag; mirror; grip; and old lighting stand. The films I have been testing are shot in one take, recording an action performed for the camera. They are made to be shown as sculptural projection performances. I’m thinking of them as sketches where I choreograph the materials and technology to perform, bringing apparatus out from behind the scenes and placing it centre stage."