For his latest show at Sadie Coles HQ, Starring Patsy Cline, TJ Wilcox is presenting two new films – The Heir and Astaire and Yours, Patsy Cline (both 2010) – together with collages on folding screens that translate their imagery into elaborate decorative motifs.
The Heir and Astaire is devoted to the marriage of early twentieth century American theatrical star Adele Astaire (sister of Fred) and Lord Charles Cavendish. A daringly modern pair for their era (when princes weren’t supposed to marry showgirls), Adele and Charles embodied the innovation, freedom and extravagant modern luxury of Anglo-American society in the interwar years. The film traces Adele’s showbusiness success and short married life at Lismore Castle, Ireland, the seat of the Devonshire family, following her retirement from dancing. Silent sequences of photographs from Adele’s childhood and married life are interspersed with an interview with the current Dowager Duchess of Devonshire at Lismore about the couple. Wilcox oscillates deftly between past and present, with historical and present-day images of the castle’s swimming pool (now filled in) encapsulating the film’s nostalgic tenor.
Yours, Patsy Cline pays homage to the tragic star of American country music, exploring the enduring appeal of her musical performances, song choices and personal narrative. Wilcox has said “I find it remarkable and rare that there is something so essential in her expression of wistful loss, sorrow and longing that it continues to capture people fifty years after her songs were recorded (often in one take).” In the film he has accumulated a mass of online covers of Cline’s signature tracks, which have been assembled and edited together to form a ‘choir’ of internet soloists devoted to the singer.
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of the surface for film projection and the collaged surfaces – each serving as repositories of personal and historical reference. Wilcox’s screens are collaged with coloured foil and acetate, echoing both the structures and pattering of antique Chinese screens: in one, an intricately silhouetted willow tree spreads across the panels in the style of embroidery or inlay. The folding screens accompanying The Heir and Astaire are akin to decorative objects from Adele Astaire’s glittering Jazz Age, and underline what a vital form the screen was in the decorative arts of the 1920s and 1930s (the works have grown out of Wilcox’s interest in the furniture designs of Eileen Grey, the églomisé – or gilded glass – panels made by Jean Dupas for the celebrated French ocean liner SS Normandie, and the lacquer works of Jean Dunand).
Since early films such as The Escape (of Marie Antoinette) (1996), TJ Wilcox has re-imagined the lives of iconic figures from the recent and distant past who have been defined as much through myth as historical fact. This dualism is reflected in Wilcox’s intertwinement of documentary and dramatic elements. He combines archival film and photographs, and alternates between silent subtitles and subjective internal voices to form multilayered filmic collages. He has commented that his work “takes a historical subject and revels in its details but ultimately makes that historical subject seem totally unfixed and unstable. This makes you realize that all histories are fabricated”. His works serve as intricate studies of nostalgia and collective memory, at once deconstructing and celebrating historical paradigms and personae.
TJ Wilcox (b. 1965, Seattle) lives and works in New York. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York (BFA 1989) and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California (MFA 1995). One-person exhibitions include the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Kunstverein Munich; UC Berkeley Art Museum; Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. His films have been screened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tate Modern, London.