Starting with photography, Billie Clarken turned to sculpture in recent years, becoming known for sculptural printed foams that ghostly depict celebrities such as Anna Nicole Smith (“Dead-On Display,” 2022) and Mickey Rourke (“Reward Me For My Suffering,” 2022). The appropriation, reproduction, and alienation of media images and their resulting lives of their own are the starting point for Clarken’s exploration of stardom and identity.
For instance, Anna Nicole Smith, the actress who died in 2007 and was initially known as an erotic model, was already an openly negotiated contradiction in herself during her lifetime: as the daughter of a young policewoman and herself a teenage mom from the small Texas town of Mexia, she was the fulfiller of the American dream as she made her meteoric rise from strip club dancer to style icon. At the same time, her failure seemed to have been programmatically inscribed in her media narrative from the very beginning. Her tragic death confirmed to the permanently attentive media world that no real human being is permanently able to carry his own image of such weight without losing himself in it. What remains is the image of a blonde icon, shared and reproduced millions of times to this day, which shows a body but is presented by Clarken as a digital print on foam as a hollowed-out allegory of the noughties.
In many cases, the objects used, for example refrigerator doors and garden tools, incorporate an already previous life as a functional object into the work. With her work, Clarken provides the objects that have become useless with an afterlife, thus transforming them into contemporary testimonies in which collective experience, but also subjective memories, have materialized. For the works “Trap Door #2 (In the Memory of Others)” and “Trap Door #3 (BEHIND EVERY ISSUE IS AN ADVERTISEMENT)” from 2021, she gathered discarded refrigerator doors from the street at her home in Berlin-Neukölln and used them, in reference to classical panel paintings, as “windows to the world“ – in this case, to the imagined worlds of memory of fictitious previous owners and their collections of memories, souvenirs, and postcards that appear to have been individually collaged. Only at second glance does it become obvious that neither the objects are real, nor their stories.
Whether digital or analog, Billie Clarken draws the contingent of her artistic vocabulary, in keeping with the Pictorial Turn, in many cases from Internet research, social media activity, or the glossy press. For her first institutional solo exhibition at DOCK 20, she works site-specifically with the local infrastructure and history of the site. In addition to commodity aesthetics, the artistic work thus focuses on the curious sideshows of globalized industrial societies and their iconolgies of the 20th century. For her installations, she analyzes those visual artifacts that still bear witness in Lustenau to the glamor of bygone days as a world-class industrial location.
A limited silkscreen poster edition of the work “Lifetime Supply” (2022) with a commentary by Canadian author Kristen Cochrane (@ripannanicolesmith) will be published to accompany the exhibition.
Billie Clarken (*1992 in Fairfax, Virginia USA) lives and works in Berlin. She studied photography and film at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond (USA) from 2011 to 2015 and was a visiting student at UdK Berlin with Monica Bonvicini in 2019.
Exhibitions (among others): Kunsthaus Tacheles (Berlin), Åplus (Berlin), KaDeWe (Berlin), Berlin Masters, Quaid Gallery (Tampa), Cunsthaus (Tampa), THEVOID315c (L.A.), Showroom Bontemps (Paris), Noho Studios (London).