Art & Photography / Culture Talks

TJ Wilcox: Starring Patsy Cline

In his latest exhibition Starring Patsy Cline, currently on view at Sadie Coles HQ, artist TJ Wilcox presents two new films and collages exploring the relationship between history, fact and myth: The Heir and Astaire, based on the extravagant life

The Heir and Astaire, 2010, TJ Wilcox
The Heir and Astaire, 2010, TJ Wilcox Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

In his latest exhibition Starring Patsy Cline, currently on view at Sadie Coles HQ, artist TJ Wilcox presents two new films and collages exploring the relationship between history, fact and myth: The Heir and Astaire, based on the extravagant life of Fred Astaire’s sister Adele and Yours, Patsy Cline, devoted to the tragic yet still-beloved American country singer. Made in 2010, the films are shown together with collages on folding screens that translate their imagery into elaborate decorative motifs. The video screens have been mounted on the backs of folding screens, in an arrangement that highlights the interrelationship of the surface for film projection and the collaged surfaces. AnOther recently spoke to Wilcox about the ways in which perceptions of history, remembrance and nostalgia are reflected and reinterpreted in his work.

What is it about the marriage of Adele Astaire and Lord Charles Cavendish, and the life and songs of Patsy Cline, that inspired you?
Like anyone, only a tiny fraction of the histories or biographies I encounter resonate with me on a personal level. I think these connections compelling and uncommon and paying tribute, or homage, to them with a film is my way of exploring that facet of my sensibility they have stimulated. Patsy Cline and Adele Astaire perfected elemental, physical modes of expression. Patsy sang and Adele danced. Both had an innate ability, enhanced by their art, to deeply connect with audiences of their generation. Adele, a great theatrical success, became an Anglo American embodiment of modern, liberated femininity and Patsy was a rare (for the time) female country music star, whose evocative singing gave heartbreak a voice. They each managed to sharpen images and ideas of a contemporary spirit, socially mobile and unhindered by sex, giving body via art to the cultural and political zeitgeist of their day. What an amazing thing to do with your feet or voice!

In the film Yours, Pasty Cline you’ve edited together covers of Cline songs you found on the internet. How did you make the selection of which to include?
I'm fascinated by Patsy's continued cultural appeal, evidenced by the enormous number of covers of her iconic song standards on the internet. These postings vary wildly in singing ability and camera work but many are sincere, heartfelt tributes to the song's impact and Patsy's legacy. I chose to highlight, or to construct a choir, from some of the online renditions I think give new life and shading to familiar refrains. I love that these old songs retain their original power and simultaneously remain open to reinterpretation and positive mutation.

Can you talk a bit about the folding screens that are in the show. What part do they play in the presentation?
I've been fascinated by the degree to which screens (or monitors) have become part of our experience of the world. They inhabit our walls, pockets, cars and elevators. My work has always relied on screens in one way or another but I wanted to foreground this relationship in my new installations. Decorative screens have been a sign of the contemporary interior from the beginning of the modern period. Screens, by artists and architects such as Eileen Grey, Jean Dupas and Jean Dunand formed an essential part of the interior design background of a modern life like Adele Astaire's, as she crisscrossed the Atlantic aboard the Normandie. The folding screens I've made reference this early modern history on one side while providing a surface for my projected work on the other.

How are the perceptions of history, remembrance and nostalgia reflected and reinterpreted in your work?
I thrive on the bombardment of information with which we are all surrounded. I remain in awe of the extraordinary spectrum of material at my fingertips daily; piles of books, movies recorded on every possible medium, various forms of internet access, phone lines, paper diaries, records, paintings and cameras. From this cacophony we each distill personal narratives through which we attempt to comprehend our experience of time and place. I like my film and video work to appear as the visible record of my own journey through our saturated mediated age, highlighting those things that have held my attention and captured my imagination. Just as our perception of a present is a hybrid of personal memory, historical record, family lore, political, social, national and artistic histories and mythologies, film and video provide the page upon which I make a collage of the ideas I hold most dear.

TJ Wilcox: Starring Patsy Cline is on view at Sadie Coles HQ until 29 January.

Text by Ricky Lee


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