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San Francisco
Frances Stark
Mills College Art Museum
5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, CA 94613
September 15, 2011 - December 11, 2011

The Parts of the Parts Do End Up Making Up All of the Parts
by Christina Catherine Martinez

I forgot most of it. And I’m going to resist looking over any notes and exhibition literature here, because The Whole of All the Parts as Well as the Parts of All the Parts is quite concerned with my forgetting. It was made clear from the start that I would forget most of it, and though I’ve forgotten whether it was articulated in a tone of bitterness or resignation or celebration, I remember somewhat a question that was asked of us there, shuffling around the darkened gallery, chasing moving screens of animation, text, and performance footage that led the viewer ever-so-slowly from one side of the gallery to another: how can you be sure that your audience will perceive not only the whole of all the parts, but the parts of all the parts? In short, does anybody get what you’re doing? In retrospect, I guess it was a dare.

For being technically a multimedia work, The Whole of All the Parts requires a lot of reading. But also a lot of standing and walking and listening and watching. Sometimes we were visited by an animated avatar of the artist, naked but for a strategically placed maple leaf, going on in a little robot voice about the anxieties of creating. Other times we read long stretches of Power Point text, including a dialogue between artist and art dealer with rather sinister sexual undertones. The most demanding parts by far, were the quick edits of footage from Stark's previous performances. One of them is a rapid montage of every time she uttered the word “um.”

Whenever one part of the work began to teeter on the verge of absurdity, it led quickly into another part in another format, as if the juxtaposition of different mediums could somehow support the shortcomings of each (which, I’m sorry to say, immediately brings to mind a Simpsons' episode where Mr. Burns is informed that he has every disease, ever, but continues to function normally because they are all canceling each other out). Is Ms. Stark a stunted writer? A nervous performer? A frustrated artist? Shit, aren’t we all? Yes, in one way or another. The Whole of All the Parts explores polemically the potential violence of expression and  interpretation—especially interpretation—by turning violent on itself, a mimesis of futility that manages to avoid devolving into mere bleakness. Yes, I swear it was not bleak. If I’ve made the work seem nothing but bleak up until this point, I apologize. I had fun in there, jumping through Stark’s many hoops and quixotically defying her efforts to exhaust my attention. But work that is about failure is a Catch-22. In the event that it fails to communicate, that failure instantaneously becomes part of its success.

—Christina Catherine Martinez

Posted by Christina Catherine Martinez on 10/10/11

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