Georgina Starr – The Joyful Mysteries of Junior
The first page of Georgina Starr’s website features a brain floating on a white gravity free background. On the brain, one card from the Major Arcana of the divinatory Tarot rests on its corner, almost like the pickup of a turntable which has stuck on a corrupted groove; a shock becoming an obsession. The card is The Empress. The matter forming the brain appears pink, dense and sensitive; it looks like those highly performative chewing gums; exaggeratedly sweet, tasting like strawberry, generally irresistible for kids, but abhorred by adults, especially parents. In Italy this kind of chewing gum is called “Big Babol” (big bubble, being “babol” a misspelling of the English word bubble) and, back in the day, there had been a useless dissuasive warning, diffused probably by some parent, about the ingredients supposedly containing rat fat.
‘The Empress’ represents the complete woman, capable of love and understanding, the mother, the feminine creator, the one who is empress because of her power over nature. For the Gnostics, she is the Pistis Sophia. When The Empress is upside down in a Tarot reading, the card drops its benign meaning and indicates the possibility of becoming lost in abstraction, referring to the limitations of personal expression, coquetry and immaturity. Lost children (orphans) in the story of Peter Pan remain ageless all life long, outside of time. When Wendy asks Peter if he knows what love is, he answers bothered and evasive that even just the sound of that word offends him. It is not by chance that ancient wise men, from Pythagoras to Plato, intended knowledge as the ability to recognize, remember, recall and use this knowledge to find happiness.
Behind each lost child, there must be a mother who has lost her child, a lost mother, maybe an Empress turned upside down.
One can associate the image on the website, the pink brain with the Tarot card, with a work by Georgina Starr called “I am the Medium” (2010). It is a vinyl record of locked grooves, each groove repeats endlessly until the needle is moved. It could be said that we are all records, sometimes playing tracks that sound so alien to our conscious mind that they appear threatening to our idea of identity. “I am the Medium” contains 250 excerpts from sittings with spiritualist mediums questioned by the artist about her future. Like a ventriloquist, even if with different modalities, a medium has the ability to speak using two different voices: his/her own and another one, that sounds like it is coming from remote and inner depths, used while in a trance to articulate messages from beyond.
“I am the Medium” is the work that immediately precedes “The Joyful Mysteries of Junior” (Georgina Starr’s fourth exhibition at pinksummer), and which also informs the maieutic process generating the puppet ‘Junior’. Junior was created by the artist in her own image in 1994 (part of “The Nine Collections of the Seventh Museum”) and has now been brought back into the world after remaining shut inside a suitcase for 18 years.
Last summer, while talking about her next show, Georgina Starr told us that the mediums she consulted for “I am the Medium”, speaking in a vague and oracular way, foretold of an impending maternity (which, actually, the artist has never desired). The induced reflection on the idea of motherhood (it seems funny, but it is not at all) caused the suitcase containing the now eighteen year old, but necessarily ageless Junior to open.
“It was 1994 when I made Junior, I was in a hotel room in Den Haag, where I had to stay for two weeks. I made her to fight loneliness and entertain myself. Together with Junior everything seemed to get better”. With Junior in 1994, Georgina Starr also enacted a repeat performance of “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool”. The song had originally been sung by Starr in her first ever live performance, which she had religiously prepared during her childhood for a family Christmas party. In 1974 the artist’s family adopted a little girl; the same year, two days before Christmas, the adoption agency took the baby back again. The young Georgina performed Jimmy Osmond’s popular song “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool” on that Christmas Day while her mother broke down in tears at the loss of her child.
The work of Georgina Starr with its opposing and paranoid duality, where the joyful and the innocent are always accompanied by something disturbing and deeply sinister, seems like some sort of method; a path to navigate through something painful. In this sense, “The Joyful Mysteries of Junior” celebrates “the repatriation of the known”, to quote the philosopher Remo Bodei. In a beautiful article which recently appeared in the Sunday issue of “Il Sole 24 Ore” titled “Piacere di fare conoscenza” (“Pleased to make your acquaintance”), Bodei assimilates such a cognitive process, triggered by something shocking and obsessive, to the spinning top of little Ernst, mentioned by Freud in his essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. The game consisted of launching the spinning top (to the sound of the German word Fort, meaning ‘away’) and finding it again (while shouting Da, ‘here it is’) by mimicking in that temporal delay the anguish for the removal of the beloved object (the mother) and the happiness of the rejoining.
Indeed, all the projects presented by Georgina Starr at pinksummer over the last decade, including the “Da” of “The Joyful Mysteries of Junior”, are a discourse on the lost child; from Bunny Lake, the little sister herself, to absent mothers: the mother of Bunny Lake, the natural one of the adopted sister, her own mother and maybe even a motherhood rejected, Georgina herself.
In “The Bunny Lake Collection”, (created and presented in Genoa in 2000, and later at the Venice Biennale in 2001), the lost children killed the beautiful teenagers they could have become. “Inside Bunny Lake Garden” (2003), (first shown in life-size as an outdoor installation at Villa Medici in Rome, then as a maquette at pinksummer) presented a door-less red brick walled garden that created a claustrophobic space, as escapeless as some childhoods.
Bunny Lake is the child central to Otto Preminger’s 1967 movie “Bunny Lake Is Missing”. In the film it is not clear, until the final scene, if the child actually exists or she is just the fantasy of a hysterical woman. Georgina Starr watched the movie for the first time in 1980, while babysitting her adopted sister, lost and found again, a child who never knew her natural mother and who has gotten lost many times in her life.
In “The Face of Another” (shown at pinksummer in 2007) Starr directly faces the mother as a subject matter. Her own mother, presented in the synthesis of an extraordinary double portrait, reveals the shreds of a not enjoyable and never enjoyed beauty, fragmented by the obscure and subtle evil of depression. One might say that, for better or for worse, nobody better than our offspring can give the sense of passing time.
Lacan might define Junior “le petit object à”, a substitutive object, a kind of surplus being, born to fill a lack. Unlike the simulacrum and the fetish, the substitutive object was not born in place of a symbolic lack, but of a real one, right there where what is absent and was replaced should be or could be.
“The Joyful Mysteries of Junior” will feature plenty of things, a parallel world, Starr’s art at its best: watercolors, a small stage, sculptures, a theatre curtain, videos and photos of vintage performers, titled “The Mothers”. Plenty of women, future or possible mothers aligned like dancers in a variety show, who assist distracted and overwhelmed by their belly growing bigger and bigger by itself, like a disorienting alterity, until nearly bursting.