An essay by Marc Hulson :
As a subtext…..
In her first London solo-show, Planas uses Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal as an oblique model via which to position herself as a kind of contemporary flaneur – an artist adrift in the Metropolis of London – losing herself in its archives and myths, its imaginary signifiers, its cultural ghosts; investigating its mythologies and pop-cultural iconographies, lost in the graveyard of its history, it’s gothic cemetary of romace and death; tracing the invisible thread that links the myth of beautiful teenage rock star poets flowering in bleak urban estates with the myth of Mina and Dracula (revealed by Copolla as the first junkie star). London as fairytale.
Eroticism, addiction, depression (spleen, ennui), the void, style, fashion: the city as a treacherous fantasy island, where popular culture dies and is born and gets trampled by the mass – maybe somewhere inbetween the not-yet and the never-to-be the artist retrieves something.
The scrambled sequence of slides linking unrelated fragments , the use of collage, copying, cut’n’paste in Dark Star, the forming of an installation from separate works (video, book, slideshow, soundtrack) – Esther Planas has created an enclosed world out of an assemblage of related works. The gallery becomes a neverland where the walls are covered in posters , we look at images of flowers and beautiful boys, watch music videos, play records and leaf through incomprehensible magazines for ever. Where the music is always the soundtrack of a lost afternoon, a lost weekend. We’re in a room, on a sofa, on a bed, on an island. Tomorrow never comes… in the end it’s just a question of whether or not you want to believe… the beautiful and the damned.
Her use of the image of the junkie, and of the trade names of pharmaceutical anti-depressants, symbolise a condition of suffering, need, dependancy – in relation to an apprehension of contemporary life as unbearable: time is passing, time is wasted, there is no escape from the relentless, cyclic demands of the social structure. The hypodermic and the drug names are like the poison, reminding us of the presence of death, the flower, the beautiful boy.
Her dandyism asserts itself through an ostentatious dilletantism, through the casual, unfinished appearance of the work. Planas is not so much a multi-media artist as an artist who works across media, disregarding the criteria of technical specialisms, with a disdain for “professionalism’ which translates as a rejection of ‘work’ (and the work ethic). Her langourous preoccupation with style, with appearances, asserts the glamour of uselessness – symbolised ultimately in the image of the junkie. The artist is under no illusions about the futility of escapism – it would be more accurate to assume that the futility itself is a token of its value.
With reference to Baudelaire’s status as declasse, an outsider, the sinful little girl, the girl that masturbates, the girl that dreams of the undead; but the girl who is stigmatised by illness – depression, epilepsy, addiction. Could this be the satanic girl???
Symbolic of the metropolis – the individual/ artist who feels the necessity of constructing an entire world, a fantasy – who, constructing herself as image/persona, makes herself the poetry in a Baudelairean sense.
The light in the gallery is low, filtered through heavy pink and blue gels covering the windows, while a single red spot illuminates a record player on the floor. There are also large velvet cushions on the floor, where you can sit and read densely illustrated fanzines/books….. The walls are covered in posters – big zeroxed images, like the ones in the books, showing drawings of junkies, picture-book girls and… the brand names of pharmaceutical anti-depressents are wrtten across them, descriptions of treatments for epilepsy…. On one of the posters it says – “and he left her forever”. A 12” vinyl is revolving silently on the turntable – you play it and hear minimal post-punk, goth –pop music – a female voice with a heavy european accent sings the same phrases over and over again – “I’m losing control”, “I’ve been crying all night”. On one of the walls slides are being projected: there are images of a beautiful boy in his room – playing records, playing his guitar. He looks iconic, like a pop star, but we don’t know who he is (some of the images are intimate, close up). These images are intercut with shots of an urban housing estate and blurred close-ups of flowers.
The atmosphere in the room is intimate and enclosed, but it feels like a space where you can get lost – like a private room, where you read and listen and look and drift in thoughts. Heady – everything is eroticised, but the symbols of illness, poison are everywhere – vampirism, drugs, medication
In his essay on Baudelaire, Sartre describes the cult of dandyism in 19th century Paris as a kind of ‘suicides club’.
For her first London solo-show, Esther Planas has taken Baudelaire’s cycle of poems ‘Les Fleurs du Mal” (with its infamous themes of….) as a kind of oblique model for her own drifting investigations through subjects of forms of contemporary ennui and spiritual malaise – addiction, the vampiric cult of beauty, youth, …
In this way she also positions herself, in terms of her role both as a contemporary woman artist and as an outsider (adrift in London) as akind of female dandy.
Position as a female dandy – through attitude rather than an obvious issue of self- presentation. Especially important is the use of the images of boys – the conjunctions of eroticisation, indifference and forms of sickness. Also dilletantism.
Cult of beauty…. Perishable(p.145 ) suicides club - the supreme sacrament (p.146). Self-annihilation and the cult of the self/ego-cult.
‘Underground’ stance and underground aesthetic – it should in no way be interpreted as neo-hippy ‘alternative’ – it’s quite the opposite – it is anti-burgeoise but in an elitist and ultmately aristocratic sense in so far as it signals an identification with a lineage of extreme individualists, posers and dandies – the assertion of difference as an heroic and noble act , the rejection of utilitarian values at every level – linking Baudelaire to Woolf to Burroughs to Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis. In the image of the junkie or the suicide this is realised symbolically (the supremesacrament). The concept of an underground elite realised in the expectation of being misunderstood as a sign – those who don’t ‘get it’ are outside the elite ‘community’.
The installation can appear hermetic, closed – but if you allow yourself to ‘drift’ and to investigate, and if you ‘know’ the references, then the clues/signs are there. In the video where the girl dreams about a meeting with a vampire (the vampire – an aristocratic figure who is also marked by difference through his sickness, his addiction), there is a poster of Sid Vicious behind her on the wall of the bedroom. On the wall of the gallery another poster shows a crude drawing of a girl (who resembles the girl in the video) injecting herself with a hypodermic. The record plays a minimal post-punk song (which is also the soundtrack to the vampire video) with repetetive lyrics – ‘I’m losing control’ which refer to Ian Curtis’s vocal for the Joy Division song ‘She’s Lost Control’. On another poster is a description from a child’s book of treatment for epilepsy while other posters feature the brand names of pharmaceutical anti-depressants. A chain of references is set up through different media linking the figures and themes of the vampire, addiction, the junkie, the suicide, the doomed pop icon, illness, treatment and depression (a community of proud but lost/doomed outsiders, icons of ‘difference’). The imagery on the walls features repeated silhouettes of dark, twisting art-nouveou flowers – a reference to Baudelaire’s cycle of poems ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ (with its infamous themes of sin, ennui, erotic obsession, dissipation, sickness and spiritual malaise) which the artist has used as an oblique model for the installation. Images of flowers also…….
‘Outsider’s’ interpretation or use of British pop culture…
Although use of music and pop-video related structures and formats links her to current certain current tendencies (eg. Fischerspooner), her work is antithetical to that kind of slick ironisation…….