Absolute Art Award winner, Francis Stark, believes deep learning is about the same process of self-control that is the topic in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
– I wrote love letters when I was teenager, and the striking thing when you’re writing a love letter, is that you’re trying to make a punchline.
Frances Stark has just won the Absolut Art Award. She is best known for the video My Best Thing, which was presented at the 2011 Venice Biannual. In My Best thing Stark chats with several men she met on video chat platforms. She has also just finished a show at The Art Institue of Chicago called Intimacy. In her works, 19th century writers like Emily Dickinson, Henry Miller and Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and the composer Wolfang Amadeus Mozart have been sources of inspiration. Right now Stark is sitting in the lobby of Nobis Hotel in Stockholm, and reflecting on the similarities between our time and the beginning of the 19th century.
– I don’t know quite how to speak of the similarities. I am not thinking in such broad strokes. What I am trying to do is to make sense out of contemporary culture…
Which brings us to writing love letters and online dating.
– Well, when you chat online, and when you are writing a love letter, you are trying to seduce your reader with your words. In My Best Thing these people were giving me their best lines. I was lucky… I got all the punchlines [from] the people I was chatting with.
Stark believes that the written word in dating is forcing a return of the punchline.
– I did not set out trying to find the funniest naked guy. I cultivated the ones I found.
She points out that there’s also a distance in the typing.
– Something happens in an exchange when you are typing, not speaking, it can be a really intense thing. One reason can be that it adds a rhythm to the conversation, because your write a sentence and press enter, and continue to write. It can nearly become [lyrical]…
She explains that seducing with words has always been her thing. And she has been noticing the changes for some time.
– You said you tried to make sense out of contemporary culture, and how it is changing. I understand you come from a working class background, but through your practice as an artist, you have risen to what we might call the professional class. In 2013 you created the video Bobby Jesus’ Alma Mater and the soundwork Trapped in the VIP and/or In Mr. Martin’s Inoperable Cadillac, are you also trying to escape from your role as an artist?
– Well, I came from a sub-culture. My parents were managerial class, which meant that they had good secure jobs, but that I never learned an aggressive attitude about making money. Then what happened was that I went to art school. It was there I suddenly realised, there are really lots of rich kids here, and that made the contrasts in our backgrounds palpable.
She tells that in an art school class becomes obvious.
– You know, there are not many people of colour.
Later she started to teach at USC (University of California), and the same class barrier was obvious.
– I started to think ‘Should I only work with art students’? It made me think that I should try to give people that would not go to art school direct experience with my teaching.
In Bobby Jesus’ Alma Mater (2013) she started to work with lower class. It started when she met Bobby, a young man of colour, and started to talk to him. As time went by, he became her muse.
– Bobby, and his friends, are not really working class; they are really underclass. When I started to work with Bobby I realised that class divides are stronger then race divides. Class is that subject that rub people the wrong way. Of course, class and race are intertwined, but if you only talk about race you never really get to the bottom of it.
So what is the difference between your upbringing and the underclass you describes in Bobby Jesus’ Alma Mater?
– Well, I speak about this in the Absolut proposal – for example that DJ Quik came up on the streets pushing drugs to earn money to support his creative endeavours, around the same time as I was going into debt to pursue an art degree. Bobby and his friends were raised on the streets and in the criminal justice system, so when they talk about going to college or ‘graduate school’ they’re referring to prison.
After Stark took Bobby into her studio, he changed. Perhaps he has become a little more professional, for instance, he wants to become an art dealer.
– He is still the same person, but he looks at my dealers, and thinks they are interesting. They remind him of life on the street, which is sort of a court where gangsters always are competing. However, a big difference is that art dealers do not kill each other.
Bobby Jesus believes he knows a thing or two about selling, and he wants to support Frances Stark’s work.
– He likes the idea of promoting difficult art. He wants sports people to buy art, for example, and thinks about cultivating a new market.
A pedagogical opera
Looking at the development with Bobby Jesus has led Stark on to her next project. The project has been referred to as a Pedagogical Opera – and she won the Absolute Art Award for the project. As she has done several times before, she is planning to use an historical source as a starting point.
– I am interested in Mozart’s The Magic flute, [one] reason, among many, is that it is a vehicle to look at teaching. It is a narrative about teaching, trusting the person who is guiding you, and how to reach your goal. On one hand you have the Brotherhood and Sarastro who wants to lead the main character Tamino to knowledge by putting him through several tests. On the other hand, you have The Queen of the Night who offers instant satisfaction through romantic coupling. The story is about an initiation into maturity and the synthesis of the maternal and paternal.
Stark believes deep learning is about the same process of self-control that is the topic in Mozarts The magic flute.