Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher

Lena Kiessler on Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher (engl. / dt.) Morgan Fisher on Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher Frances Stark asks Morgan Fisher
2001-12-01

Morgan Fisher, Standard Gauge, USA 1985, 35min (film still)Frances Stark, The Unfocused Type of Person, 2001, carbon & collage on paper (detail)

exhibition: 9th of November – 21st of December, 2001
opening hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11am – 6pm
Klosterfelde, Zimmerstr. 90/91, Berlin, www.klosterfelde.de
filmscreening: Morgan Fisher, Standard Gauge, 1985, 35 min
at Kino Arsenal, Potsdamer Platz
13th of December, 2001, 6:30 pm

Lena Kiessler über Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher

"I've never seen a piece of 35mm film that I didn't want to pick up and look at." (Morgan Fisher, 1985)

"I was trying to figure out this business of underlining, because there's something I love so much about being able to touch the work, you know, I often think 'What would Robert Musil think about the sentences I've underlined?'" (Frances Stark, 1997)

Der Titel Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher verweist weniger auf eine Kollaboration oder eine Zwei-Künstler-Ausstellung im klassischen Sinne. Auch geht es nicht um ein wörtliches Treffen der beiden in Los Angeles ansässigen Künstler in der Galerie Klosterfelde. Der Titel ist vielmehr beschreibend zu verstehen und soll eine Perspektive andeuten, die die künstlerischen Ansätze der zwei Generationen von Morgan Fisher (geboren 1942) und Frances Stark (geboren 1967) in einen neuen, gegenseitigen Zusammenhang rückt.

Ausgangspunkt ist der im Jahre 1984 enstandene 16mm-Film Standard Gauge von Morgan Fisher. Er kann als eine Homage an den strukturalistischen Film ebenso wie an das Geschichtenerzählen verstanden werden. So gelingt es Fisher formal, die filmmediumspezifischen Eigenschaften von Celluloid (das früher in der Filmindustrie als "standard gauge" bezeichnete 35mm-Material), Zeit und Licht sowie die Produktionsbedingungen zu thematisieren, ohne dabei im modernistischen Duktus auf das Narrative zu verzichten. Dazu dient eine voice-over, die die einzelnen Bilder von gefundenem 35mm-Material mit persönlichen Anekdoten und filmgeschichtlichen Anmerkungen kommentiert und in eine 35-minütige Erzähl-Collage einbindet.

Vor dem Hintergrund dieser scheinbaren Antagonisten von Strukturalismus und Narration bekommt die Arbeit von Frances Stark und ihr Umgang mit Literatur eine neue Bedeutung jenseits des üblichen Topos der "Künstlerin als Autorin". In ihren Papierarbeiten, für die sie minutiös Textfragmente von von ihr verehrten literarischen und popkulturellen Vorbildern abpaust und in einer der Konkreten Kunst entliehenen ästhetischen Formation collageartig auf den Blättern verteilt, geht es dann weniger um das Schreiben als solches. Vielmehr eröffnen die an musikalische Notationen erinnernden Zeichnungen einen Kommentarreigen aus Zitaten und falschen Reimen, repetitiven Kopien und visuellen Arrangements, der sich entlang einer dünnen Linie
zwischen Nostalgie und Konzeptualität, Intimität und kritischer Analyse bewegt.

Wo Fisher das filmische Bild durch seine verbalen Kommentare dekontextualisiert, werden bei Stark die ausgesuchten Texthappen auf eine visuelle Ebene übertragen. Bei beiden Künstlern liegt dieser Strategie der Doppelung des Fragmentes mit einem Kommentar eine nostalgische Bewunderung für das vorgefundene Material zugrunde.

 

Lena Kiessler on Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher

"I've never seen a piece of 35mm film that I didn't want to pick up and look at." (Morgan Fisher, 1985)

"I was trying to figure out this business of underlining, because there's something I love so much about being able to touch the work, you know, I often think 'What would Robert Musil think about the sentences I've underlined?'" (Frances Stark, 1997)

The title Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher does not imply a collaboration or a two-person show in the classical sense. Also it is not about a literal meeting of the two artists, both living in Los Angeles, in the Berlin Gallery Klosterfelde. Much more it is meant as a descriptive title, enhancing a new perspective on the mutual interrelation between the two artistic practices of Morgan Fisher (b. 1942) and Frances Stark (b. 1967).

The Starting point is the 16mm-film Standard Gauge (1985) by Morgan Fisher. This film can be seen as a homage both to structuralist film and to story-telling itself. Formally Fisher thematizes the specificities of the filmic medium such as celluloid (the 35mm material which used to be called the "standard gauge" in the film industry), time, and light as well as the conditions of its production, without abandoning narration altogether, as the modernist dictum would otherwise have it. A voice-over comments on individual images of found 35mm material with personal anecdotes and filmhistorical annotations, embedding them in a 35 minute-long narrative collage.

In the face of the alleged antagonism between structuralism and narration the work of Frances Stark in general, and her dealings with literature specifically, extends beyond the usual connotations of the "artist as author". In her works on paper, in which she meticulously traces either fragments of her favourite literary texts or popcultural icons onto carbon paper and arranges them in an aesthetic formation on sheets of paper, which is reminiscent of Concrete Art. These works deal less with the issue of "writing" as such; instead they resemble musical notations more closely. The drawings open up a multilayered network of commentaries, of quotations and misshapen rhymes, repetitions and visual arrangements, while all the way moving along a line between nostalgia and conceptualism, intimacy and critical analysis.

Whereas Fisher decontextualizes the filmic image through his verbal comments, Stark transfers the selected pieces of text onto a visual level. For both artists, this strategy of a doubling of the fragment with a commentary is based on a deep nostalgic admiration of and love for the found material.

 

Morgan Fisher on Frances Stark Meets Morgan Fisher

I'm going to talk about meeting in relation to narrative or fiction, above all narrative films.

Meetings are a fact of life. They are unavoidable, but they are also indispensable. Life without meetings would be intolerable. Each of us would be alone our entire lives, in solitary confinement to the absolute degree. It wouldn't be life as we know it, it would be bare existence of a kind that we can hardly imagine. Life of this kind is impossible, of course, but it offers a theoretical possibility, utterly grim, for us to at least take note of.

And meetings are essential to fiction. Without meetings, fiction – narrative constructions – would be impossible.

When a meeting occurs in life, something may or may not happen. If we're lucky we find a new friend, or we fall in love, but those things, for me at least, tend to be the exceptions. But when they occur to us, I suggest that it is our reflex to understand them through the model of narrative. We take them as a beginning, we easily imagine the future course that will flow from this beginning, we all too easily imagine the happy ending that the meeting is the first promise of. But on the other hand, we meet people all the time and never see them again and think nothing of it. That may occur in life, but never in fiction.

In fiction, a meeting means that something is going to happen. There is no other reason for a meeting to occur. The principle of economy requires it. Everyone in fiction is a character, and is put there for a purpose. The purpose of a meeting in fiction is to produce a field within which differences between the characters can play out, to be sharpened and then overcome.

So in life and in fiction meetings are inevitable: in life to let us be human, in fiction in order that a story can be told. That's one way to think about what a story is, it is what happens after a meeting has occurred. And if a meeting doesn't begin the story, it is the event that ends it, for example in The Searchers, when John Wayne has spent the entire film looking for his daughter, wanting to meet her, and when he does, the film is over. And crime films follow this same model, except that the person that the good guy wants to meet, namely the bad guy, is on-screen from the beginning of the film.

Eve meets Adam so that something can happen. Delilah meets Samson so that something can happen. Bathsheba meets David, Salome meets John the Baptist, Jocasta meets Oedipus, Cleopatra meets Anthony, Juliet meets Romeo, Miranda meets Ferdinand, Victorine Meurend meets Eduoard Manet, Bonnie meets Clyde. Eva Marie Saint meets Cary Grant, Grace Kelly meets Carey Grant, Grace Kelly meets James Stewart, Kim Novak meets James Stewart. We know what happened after those meetings occurred, because those stories are over.

Frances Stark meets Morgan Fisher. The very form of this event, and giving it this name, moves a simple social fact, that two people living in Los Angeles met each other, toward a construction, toward the model of narrative. I hope that this meeting is not the ending of the story, but the beginning. We meet so that something can happen. So the question is, now that Frances and Morgan have met, what is going to happen? What is the rest of the story? How will the story end?

Well, I can only tell you what has happened so far, somewhat the way the announcer for a soap opera would introduce today's episode. I've met someone I like and respect, and whose work I deeply admire. Every time I see her or see her work, it gives me pleasure. Her work has helped me understand my work. Because of her, I've been invited to be in a show with her, and I'm here in Berlin and I am having a very good time, all of which makes me very happy. That is the story so far, insofar as I know it.

But the key fact remains that I know only as much about the totality of what will ensue from this event as a character in fiction knows, which is to say I don't know very much. And I know only what has happened so far, and I know it only from my point of view. As a rule, characters in fiction don't know what is going to happen, and I am no exception. That is one of the satisfactions that fiction gives us, that the audience knows more than the characters. In fact the audience usually knows in advance, through familiarity with the form or the genre, how the story will end, and the characters don't. In other words, as a character in something that can be understood under the sign of narrative, I am condemned to be a victim of dramatic irony, and my being that victim gives you pleasure, at least in principle. That hardly seems fair, that my meeting Frances gives you pleasure that is unavailable to me. But that is the fate of a character in narrative.

In the middle 1980’s there appeared in October magazine an essay by Pasolini called, if my memory is correct, "The Narrative Sequence." I forget the details, and I have been careful not to find the time to look up the article to get the facts straight, but my memory of Pasolini’s argument is that a real human life is chaos, without order and structure and meaning, until the person dies. The instant someone dies, his or her life immediately and retrospectively gains all these attributes. It takes death, the final absolute end, after which nothing further can happen, to transform someone's life into narrative. Until you die, you're just living your life, and your life is only that, living: chaotic, disorderly, without form or shape.

So my meeting with Frances, seen not under the model of narrative but as something occurring in life, is just another one of those haphazard random events that life is a succession of, one damned thing after another, as someone once put it. The event has no meaning until death brings an end to the interval of time in which it was a moment. It is only death that transforms it.

Again, this hardly seems fair, at any rate not fair to me. Maybe it’s even more of a raw deal. The story that begins with Frances and me meeting will have no meaning within narrative until one or the other of us dies. I don't want it to be Frances, but if it's me, I won't be here to see it. So again, I am deprived of the pleasure of being an audience for the unfolding of the story of which Frances meets Morgan is the beginning.

I am left only to imagine, to try to be in two places at once, to be in the audience for the construction in which I am a character, or to look back on my life after it is over. Both are impossible, but of the two the first seems the less impossible.

I think that finally I have to be content with the conviction that even though I know that your greater knowledge lets you take more pleasure than I can ever have in the construction that Frances meets Morgan is the beginning of, I have pleasure enough in what I do know of it; I know less than you, but I am happy enough, whether as a character in a construction or as someone who has found moments of pleasure in the chaos of life.

I'm glad I met Frances.

 

Frances Stark asks Morgan Fisher

Frances Stark was the subject of a dossier in Afterall, issue number 04 2001. One part of the dossier consisted of questions from her to a number of people. Here are her questions to Morgan Fisher and his answers.

FS: I don't know how much you know about my work, but what I know you know is that I am a huge fan of your film Standard Gauge. Perhaps you would like to speculate on my passion for your voice-over... (which is not to say I'm not passionate about that which it's actually "over").

MF: Maybe you like it for the best of all possible reasons, because it embodies something that you recognize in your own work. Perhaps it has an exact equivalent in your work, although it appears in a different form. What your work and Standard Gauge share is the principle of commentary on a fragment. This is the activity of paleography, and a part of paleography is the act of negotiating a relation to a text from another time. So, not to interfere with your pleasure in the voice-over, which of course makes me very happy, I want to suggest that the voice-over, the commentary, only does its work in relation to the fragments that the film shows you. No fragment, no occasion for commentary, nothing for the commentary to be attached to, no distance to be registered and to be meditated on. In your pieces that go on the wall, you aren't the author of the fragments of text that your work elaborates. Someone else wrote them, and you found them. They mean something to you. The question is what to do about that feeling, how to make it manifest. I found the fragments of film that make up Standard Gauge. They meant a lot to me, I was obsessed with them. The question was what to do about that obsession. A part of the power of the fragments was in their autonomy, their distance from me. I had to accept that distance, rather than thinking of them as things I could make my own, or bring closer to me, through reworking them by visual means. They're like relics, so that would have been sacrilege. To preserve their autonomy as visual artifacts, I was forced to another medium, words. The pieces of film are there for you to look at, to form your own relation to, quite apart from what I have to say, and my talking is the elaboration of how utterly enthralled I am by them, how much they mean to me, how much I believe in them. In your work the originary fragments of text are there for people to form their own relation to, but they are surrounded by your elaboration of your feelings about them. But because the fragments you work with are already writing, the response you don't allow yourself is to write, that is, to compose in words. Your writing is writing as copying, inscription, writing as labor. Inscribing over and over again a fragment of a text of which you are not the author is a demonstration, an acting out, of belief in the power of the fragment. It's a way to meditate on the distance, always insuperable, between you and the fragment of which you are not the author but exercises power over you. And it's copying in a double sense, not just the words, but recreating by hand the appearance of words set in type, which only reinforces the notion of enacting belief through labor. And at the same time this simulation of type enacts the notion of not allowing any kind of self-expression in written form – composing, handwriting – to exist in the space of the written that as a sort of sacred object the fragment alone should occupy. If this summons up a picture of you as a one-woman scriptorium, perhaps it's completely to the point. But now to return to what I suggested at the beginning. In your pieces the repetitions of text produces a field that registers as a visual event, a picture. It's a little diagrammatic to put it this way, but Standard Gauge starts with visual fragments and elaborates them with writing; your works start with written fragments and elaborate them with pictures. My voice-over corresponds to your pictures-out-of.

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