Georgina Starr talks us through her Frieze Project
Why has the artist brought in two experimental vocalists and "a magic table" for a reading from her new novel?
The British artist Georgina Starr is no simple painter or sculptor. Over the past 25 years, she has created and shown some pretty wild and engaging video and aural works, performance pieces and installations, winning over gallery goers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, London’s Tate Modern, and the Venice Biennale, among other places.
So, Frieze visitors might be surprised to learn that, as part of the 2017 London fair’s Projects, Starr will be doing a reading - from her debut novel. Surely, that’s a rather conventional work for so innovative an artist? However, as Starr tells us, ahead of the fair’s opening, her performance won’t be the kind of thing you’re likely to find at the back of your local bookshop.
Tell us about your Frieze Project It will be a performance entitled Androgynous Egg. It's a 'reading' from my novel Empress 66 99 in the very loosest sense. I am working with six women — two experimental vocalists, a soprano and three physical performers, so it will be a combination of vocal sounds and choreographed movement. I'll be focusing on themes, noises and textures from the book rather than doing a reading or enactment. A particular voice within the novel's prologue haunts the whole book - it describes an environment, colours and abstract action, instruction and sound. This was my starting point. I used this text as a type of manual to set the atmosphere and energy for the piece while channeling ancient creation myths, cosmic androgynous eggs and prismatic psychotic concave mirrors.
To what extent is your book autobiographical? Not particularly. As with most of my work it started from a real event and very quickly moved into total fiction. It centres on the relationship between two women who are umbilically connected by a film and its location. The younger of the women tracks down the actress from the film that captured her as a child and slowly begins to infiltrate and imitate her life. Their meeting is a type of parthenogenesis that sets in motion a series of events, which lead to the birth of an unknown species and an extreme metamorphosis.
Will followers of you work have come across the characters in the book before? Some of the themes might be familiar to devout followers. The book definitely reflects my interest in memory and chance, intertextual narratives, the supernatural and our relationship with artifice and film fiction. The younger character is fixated with capturing voices and sound, so some aspects of my own sound recordings do make cameo appearances - but it also explores new themes around hallucinogens, lepidoptera and ancient Chinese archaeology. While writing it I felt as if I was really living inside an artwork which was a great feeling as many of my works are quite transient.
Are you a confident performer? The idea of performing live still fills me with dread. Most of my performing has been inside videos, often it's just myself and the camera. If pieces are scripted I feel more confident, but I'm not performing in this new piece. It's tricky to be both performer and director, as you need to rely on other people's eyes to oversee the whole thing. In my most recent performance 'Moment Memory Monument' I worked with twelve performers and an amazing older French actress called Hermine Karagheuz who had made films with my favourite director Jacques Rivette - she took the role I would normally have given to myself as a kind of narrator/medium/instructor of the piece. It would have been very daunting to manage the whole mis-en-scene while performing. In my novel the older character is an ex-actress who is now an academic, an archaeologist and teacher, but because of her acting background she is a natural orator and performer. I dedicate a whole chapter to one of her complex lectures and I really enjoyed living vicariously through her while she delivered a spectacular performance-lecture to a mesmerised audience. That's probably the closest I'll get to overcoming my nerves.
Could you tell us a bit more about the sculptural installation that accompanies this performance? The sculptural aspect is mainly about the performers and how they move and interact in the space. There are a few objects within the set - a magic table, platforms and an egg curtain, but it's predominantly down to the shapes, gestures and sounds the women will make to create a charged environment. For a while I have been working with a spherical form which is conjured from female breath. I've made quite a few works with these ephemeral sculptures, and a book called 'The History of Sculpture'. The bubble forms will also feature in this new performance alongside a large amount of 'pink material' which the performers will attempt to physically and psychically communicate with.
What are the opportunities and difficulties involved in staging something like this at Frieze? Is it an easy place to stage your work? The art fair is an unknown quantity to me as I've only been once before. I know that thousands of people pass through the doors so it could be mayhem. Luckily I have my own dedicated space, it's in the main tent but there is a little corridor and a doorway so people will hopefully choose to come in rather than just accidentally stumbling upon it. The performance will be happening four times a day during the fair. I'll have to let you know afterwards whether it was easy or not!