Artist of the Week 01/30/06
Preceding this trend in New York, however, was the practice of Barcelona-born, London-based artist Esther Planas who has for a decade at least been combining drawings, rainbows, posters, porn, music, confessions, pop, sex, and cheap furniture in her installations, fanzines, and live performances with her band, Dirty Snow. Her installations never quite reached the critical mass of objects we associate with the New York genre, but what she may have lacked in density, she more than makes up for in intensity. This excerpt from the text for a recent exhibition at Transition Gallery in London sums up nicely what I mean:
Esther Planas is the achingly and archetypally poetic visionary, playing out her own life/love/art dramas in her work – meshing it all together in a glorious fuck it collage. Her confessional practice predates Emin, influenced instead by the original hardcore exponent of the genre, Kathy Acker.
Esther’s is a plaintive world where everything is continually in flux. Her persona shifting between the wannabe roles of rebel, rock-star, artist, painter, poet, porn star and writer. In her art this personal world is opened up, creating a space for the audience to drift through, to read her narrative as they would a text.
I first met Esther in 2000, when she was involved with London's legendary East End alternative space, Five Years. I found her hypersexual, rock-n-roll bad girl persona a bit threatening, but she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable during our first studio visit. She didn't hold back in showing me any of her work, even the most graphic, but her warm smile and genuine openness made me trust her motives and that went a long way toward providing a point of access. Here's an installation view of her work at Five Years in 2002
Esther's practice includes so many aspects, it's tempting just to list them and provide links where you can learn more. In fact, one central place to start is her website, Club Esther. Another is her fanzine, Dark Star, whose tagline is "Publish and be damned!"
Indeed, there's an amazing dark and yet fun dichotomy to Esther's work that has led to more than a bit of confusion on the part of folks trying to write about it (leading to her hilarious objection "who the fuck said I am a goth artist?"), with many of her videos and collages including stuffed bunnies, or unicorns, or rainbow stickers (the sort more often seen gracing the notebooks of schoolgirls) amongst pornographic photos of herself or other models (what Holland Cotter termed "funky teenage-diary" format [disclaimer: in a review of an exhibition at our gallery]).
Trained as a dancer in Spain before entering art school, Planas is a born performer. In early 2001, I included her in an exhibition I organized in London, and her band performed in the space the night after the opening. In fact, Dirty Snow will be performing live tomorrow on the Resonance FM show, "Make Your Own Damn Music," hosted by a previous artist of the week, Bob and Roberta Smith. You can listen on your radio if you're in London, or hear it online Tuesday, 31st January, at 21.45 GMT at www.resonancefm.com.
What fascinates me most about Esther's work, though, is its underlying thread of self-sabotage or as one writer put it "doomed romance." Indeed, many of her projects have seeds of genius, but as presented represent only a brilliant start...rarely what seems a totally resolved finish. I thought this was perhaps just a clash of aesthetics (mine vs. hers) at first, but this review of a performance by Dirty Snow suggests there's something else there
Following with a much more mature sound and appearance were Dirty Snow. A band with an average age of about thirty, they bash ‘em out with the best of them. With the ‘wall of noise’-ness of ‘Sonic Youth,’ and the conservative gothness of ‘Siouxsie and the Banshees,’’ Dirty snow` show a fierceness that would make children cry. Most striking is undoubtedly the leading lady. She looks like Shelley Duvall of ‘The Shining’ fame. Wendy Torrence armed with an arsenal of twisted, tortured writhing, gyrating ‘dance’ moves to send Jack Nicholson straight to hell. No discernible words came from her mouth, and if they did were hidden under the screams and wails of that wild banshee woman. But hey, who needs words anyway. The ‘Dirty Snows’ are not at all precious about their sound, giving it up for an energy that truly shakes and stirs the front woman. ‘Dirty Snow’ are not doing anything particularly new, if anything they are playing on old styles, but their energy is fresh, sincere and exciting to watch. It’s just a shame they burnt out after only 15-20 mins.
James Bridge Williams, The Dry Bar, Manchester 2/12/2004
But perhaps burning out after only 15-20 minutes is the point with Dirty Snow's performances, as if to suggest an entire life can be lived within that period, or at least one worth living, if lived well. I'm not quite sure (and neither are most critics) whether to take the band (which plays in clubs as well as galleries) as a serious musical endeavor or consider it an "art performance." Here again, that nebulousness seems to be part of the point. "Who's to say we have to choose." Here's a live performance audio clip.
UPDATE [RELATED]: See this article by João Ribas on the increasing respect in the visual arts world for artwork by musicians (including [can't praise this show enough] the exhibition at DCKT of collages and journals by Exene). João notes:
Influenced by the legacy of punk rock, and its do-it-yourself spirit and barrier-breaching ethos, a new artist-musician vanguard is helping to finally put to rest most of the negative connotations of being a musician who also paints, draws or takes photographs.