Monday, January 30, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/30/06

A few years ago the New York art world saw an impressive resurgence in the metaphor and artistic potential of youthful angst as represented, seemingly, by nothing so much as the decorations and objects cluttering that sanctuary of reluctant innocence: the teenager's bedroom. A series of exhibitions, magazines, and events heralded the arrival of this fresh, sexy, smart, energetic, transcultural phenomenon and a series of stars and variations on the theme were born. Oddly, but perhaps not coincidentally, the vast majority of them (all of them?) by male artists.

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

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.


Anonymous bambino said...


1/30/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

Please tell me she's a practicing Catholic...or at the very least, a lasped Catholic. If so, I'm hooked on her, man! Very sexy indeed.


1/30/2006 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

She's from Spain, so the odds are good James. Last I knew she was romantically involved with her Five Years colleague, artist and bassist Marc Hulson, who's a total gem of a guy, however, so....

1/30/2006 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

Why are all the good punk Catholic girl artists taken?! Exene Cervenka being at the top of the list. Oh, well, it's a romance fated to never happen. My Catholic wife would never agree to it anyway. Catholic wives aren't so open-minded like Southern Baptist wives are about their artist husbands and their relationships with artist girlfriends. Man, I'm always jealous about my male artist friends married to Southern Baptist women. Those dudes get to get away with murder as long as they show up at church on Sunday! But that's a different blog post for another day...:)


1/30/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Auvi said...

My preference is for unsexy art. I feel that sex is too powerful a force to handle with critical distance. Too powerful, and too integral to media discourse to be able to separate it out. I see artists claiming to be critical, but often they seem only to be justifying their desire to get naked in public.

1/30/2006 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

not sure I agree Auvi.

I think there is far too much art (especially among younger artists) that stems from the artist's joy/amazement/pride at discovering he/she can discuss/brag about/explore the fact that he/she can experience an orgasim, but mostly only the artist and certain breeds of voyeurs get much mileage out of that work.

Still (here comes Ed's refrain again), there's no total truth without sex, in my opinion, because it is itself a metaphor for the only thing that really matters: life.* Which doesn't mean work without implicit sex is useless, just that it's limited. My favorite artists incorporate a healthy dose of sex in their work.

1/30/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Sex sells :P
I love sexy art.

1/30/2006 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

you're a paragon of integrity Bambino ;-P


1/30/2006 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

". . . just that it's limited. My favorite artists incorporate a healthy dose of sex in their work."

From a formalist point of view this is like insisting that mathematics must contain some sex or it isn't 'whole.'

From the point of view of someone probably old enough to be your dad, the current generation's fascination with sex and lust seems like a reaction to mom and dads strict feminist POV (against the objectification of women), which, admittedly, was not entirely balanced either.

1/30/2006 07:50:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

I didn't respond very well to these works either. But' Ed's Refrain is very well taken and kind of forces me to view art with sex in it differently and much more seriously than before I encountered his ideas. But, Ed, you're a bit too much of a sex fundamentalist for me!

1/31/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But, Ed, you're a bit too much of a sex fundamentalist for me!

If by that you mean I'm a prude...well, I was raised in the mid-West by Pentacostal parents...give me time... ;-)

1/31/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous auvi said...

Edward, when you say "there's no total truth without sex" it reminds me of Freud's Eros....sexuality as will-to-life.

So maybe we are not in total disagreement. Maybe the problem is using the word "sex" to mean both Eros and commodified sexualization (pornography).

Our culture lives, breathes, walks and talks porn. (American Apparel ads, anyone?) But that doesn't mean it has anything to do with Eros.

So we agree, Eros in art is beautiful (especially when it has non-obvious expression). But maybe we disagree as to if commodified sexuality is me, not at all.

1/31/2006 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

"She didn't hold back in showing me any of her work, even the most graphic [...]"

I take it you're more comfortable with sculpture? (Assuming that's not graphic - not too clear on the definition.)

Incidentally, you're missed at ObWi.

2/01/2006 02:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

looks like everyone is missed at ObWi lately's like a ghost town over there.

I wish I wasn't so uncomfortable around hypersexual work. Years of Pentacostal wiring are hard to unravel though. By "graphic" I mean leaving nothing to the imagination...images of actual sex acts.

2/01/2006 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

I knew what you meant, just quibbling on "graphic". Probably the pun has been worn down to a nub over the years in the art world.

When I realized I couldn't come up with an obvious list of commenters to promote to posters there, I began to think that maybe it's done.

2/01/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the gosth of venus......
oh oh!!
this mortals!
alllways seeing the obviousness....
what about simbolism?
the artist can allways be oportunistical even just deciding to become abstrac to get in the Museums!
if that is the dance of the moment many of them will convert to ICONOCLASM! in a second
why instead try to just see behond what that actress and performer represents?
react to "the work"??
still, in USA some art teacher had to put down a picture he had of LA MAJA DESNUDA , by Goya, acused of sexual ofence.
It is true that art and fake are next to each other,is she an obvious easy tool user?
what should happen in the end basically is that if she succeed in "telling" what ever is supossed to be told by the exercice of doing art....and moves your guts and senses...
If she appears as an honest god art worker, then the semi nudity , the grafic collages should transcend the easy read to transport you to a world, a tale of some kind of message....
oh dear mortals!
please can you ligth some incienses on my memory?
I feel almost fadding from such misunderstandings.....
all my love

2/02/2006 03:59:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home