Esther Planas

Copyright 2019

Dark Pop as Methodology is a paper I presented for my Master in Research MRes, in Art, Theory and Philosophy at Central Saint Martins in 2015. It was part of our Unit 2 Methodologies Module and I used my own work from 15 /18 years previous to explore matters of methodologies, either applied or found.
Here is the paper as it was published:

In 2000, I presented a piece in a show called Dark Pop that I co-organised with artist and Five Years funding member, Marc Hulson, as what he called “a show that was coming from a publication”. For my installation, it was by then, an intuition what was at work, a kind of drive to take a publication to new places and thus to get it transformed, treated as what we now call a expanded or activated book.
Dark Star was such publication. I started publishing it as my second editorial enterprise in 1999.
(In 1984/5 I had published 4 issues of an art /culture monographic publication in Barcelona and distributed around Spain and a bit in Paris it was called V.O.) The idea of expanding the publication or unfolding it, and that its pages will hung bigger over a wall or collaged over, and that some contents will “appear live” even as film and sound, had to do with imagining transformations and translations of what we understand as frame or format. So that a publication could indeed become an installation and that I could be experimenting with installation as medium.

But also there is the idea that the show itself, Dark Pop, was a way of research related to Dark Star and the themes it touched. This experimentation, including the fact that each art work was relating to the others as if belonging simultaneously to the space and the publication (something that today is called exhibition as medium ) was testing boundaries and imagining set ups or better “settings”. It was practiced for challenging what doing art or displaying art could be, and it was (as this was predating the curators’s curatorial gestures) a way of actually activating our predecessors some how making them more relevant by doing what we did.

Those predecessors would be the Surrealist show installed by Marcel Duchamp or the Dada’s with their Cabaret Voltaire, but I will also had in mind the 60’s and 70’s alternative artist practices including Warhol’s Factory tactics of self referring and recreate as events, Allan Kaprow's or Helio Oiticica’s installations/performances or some of the early 80’s NewYork No Wave gallery based artist bands and events.
As an artist, I wanted that this looking back and research, would become a transformation of those references in to actions, contents and ways of producing and displaying art.

Dark Star was also distributed and sold in special book shops as the Serpentine (by Walter Koenig) or Collete in Paris…. this was before Publish and Be Damned, and it was before many things that now seem just natural or even too ubiquitous as artist practices.

The production of a project as Dark Star that was intended to be an art work as publication, makes me think in retrospective from now on how it was implicit the idea not only of publications by artist but also of the artist as editor, producer publisher etc. In this case it was for, again, an exploration on to the uncharted waters of production and editing on the boundaries of commercial or specific art context. By distributing Dark Star in open public bookshops instead that in the gallery, it became very quickly co-opted and its influence could be perceived basically in the more superficial context or cultural productions as fashion advertisements or magazines new collage style for their graphic style.

The way of working and processing material, would become a methodology, and my next works would be structured like this: text, drawings, photos photocopied, a book or books, posters, collage, floor cushions to rest and read, record player, vinyl, tv, slides by carrousel, video projection. It was a way of thinking the installation as a device for the public to be immersed on the elements and the narratives that it would encounter. What is a book if not a format that facilitates a narration? But we can also say that is a structure and an object that supplies this narration with highlights …. the book as object, as art is a way of imaging relations, actions, communications and its transformations. If a book can become an installation, a stage, a theatre piece, a film or a song and it can also become an sculpture, a life organic being as in Lygia Clark’s Bichos …we can see how from the most strictly modernist angles and its liberated zones, the research is a practice on formats context and material related to space, time and communion with a public that would relate, activate, read or dance with us.

But this was before Boris Groys special attention to installations as way of putting forward statements about relations with the public as we can see on essay on Installations and before Claire Bishop’s book about Artist and Installations was published by Tate Modern.

I would also add as an anecdote how people like Claire Bishop missed completely our scene.
She (as most of the agents who developed their careers during the post September11/ Art Bubble era between 2003/ 2010) belonged to the art context that grew with the rise of Frieze Art Fair and its neoliberal trends. Such, would be an “upward only” orientated researchers, and of course one's works or Five Years existence and its shows as Dark Pop was, would be just too underground for their sake.

Here I am quoting Marc Hulson on his text about Dark Star 2000 :

“ Planas thinks of Dark Star as a work of art in the form of a book - like her installation, video, performance and painting - but in a book form.”

“In the way in which it treats the format of the book, Dark Star is as edgy and extreme in its assault on the readers preconceptions as the most radical and experimental installation.” Marc Hulson for Press Release/Dark Star 2000

It is interesting to see how for Hulson, Dark Star seemed to translate Installation works on to a book format, some how Hulson’s tactic is to actually reverse the order of “the mechanics” that where at work in this relation between methodologies -the book/the installation- as it was Dark Star the publication, the real origin of this experimental Installations.

A decade after, we found a quote from Boris Groys very interesting essay published on e-flux in 2010:

“Now, the artistic installation does not circulate. Rather, it installs everything that usually circulates in our civilization: objects, texts, films, etc. At the same time, it changes in a very radical way the role and the function of the exhibition space. The installation operates by means of a symbolic privatization of the public space of an exhibition.”

We can say too, that Installation is a kind of methodology and works as a research on itself and that is also related to the “exhibition as medium“ practices by artist since the last decade too.It is reassuring to have seen how the things that where attempts and experiments as possible options for the discourse of ones art and that once where not so much understood for some public or event followers of some ones works are by now structured as Methodologies in such clear and almost pristine ways as in the Unit 2 sessions.


Dark Pop “ Dark Pop the exhibition was the offspring of Dark Star fanzine, launched in June 1999 at Five Years. Like the publication, the exhibition explored the current - apparently inexorable and escalating - seepage of so much of the creative detritus once deemed underground, cult or trash into the virtual mainstream of popular culture. It’s not as simple as it once was to differentiate between the surface and the undertow of mass culture - the mainstreaming and academisation of pornography being a case in point. A collapsing of boundaries or return of the repressed has occurred which means that in contemporary terms the collective unconscious is the media: a global mosaic of late night TV, cable stations, once forgotten movies, recordings and publications resuscitated like a legion of the living dead to populate and stalk the collective imagination.
‘Pop’ no longer signifies either the brave new world of product design and brightly coloured advertisements or the knowing pleasures of designer consumption, the sleek banalities of product design. The popular now is all at once a reality show, a horror show, a gothic fantasy. The defining hues of pop are no longer bright primaries but the indefinable, saturated colours of darkness. Dark Star fanzine is primarily the work of artist and performer Esther Planas. The publication is both a vehicle for the fragmentary, pop-folklorical narratives that lie at the heart of all the artist’s work and a kind of diaristic, zeroxed collection of material that inspires and obsesses her - recontextualised images from magazines and books, photographs of friends and relatives - the various disparate elements woven together by her own drawings, collages and handwritten texts. Each issue also includes collaborations and contributions from a number of invited artists:- the second edition, published to coincide with the exhibition, will integrate work by all of the artists in Dark Pop.
The obsessive repetition and disregard for narrative development or conventional song structure that characterise Dirty Snow?s music are mirrored in the editorial approach and (anti) design of Dark Star. Although distributed worldwide by the influential French company OFR system, Dark Star is nevertheless in many ways a wilfully obscure entity. Begun, like the band, in 1999, the publication was initially intended as a virtually private project ? a xeroxed notebook or diary to be handed out amongst friends. In spite of its presence now on shelves alongside the myriad style-culture glossies, it retains its elusive, secretive character ? any information contained within its pages concerning contents, producers and contributors tends to be both minimal and virtually illegible. Each issue (nos. 1, 2 and 3 have been published annually since 1999) presents itself without explanation or apology : 150 pages or more of meandering, playful, obsessive ? and ferociously lo-tech ? cut and paste, zeroxed imagery and graphic invention. The kind of no-holds barred, anti-design attitude and aesthetic which the so-called zeitgeist in mainstream publishing (see recent issues of Dazed et al) has only recently ? belatedly and somewhat politely ? begun to assimilate. Marc Hulson 2000


The Bichos represent the last stage of Lygia Clarks's geometric research that, since the 1950s, had been involved with a systematic deconstruction of traditional painting into its key elements: line, plane, and surface. These components were crucial to the Neo-Concrete movement she developed with Hélio Oiticica, Willys de Castro, Hércules Barsotti, and others in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In Neo-Concretismo, the object itself is progressively negated, in favor of the the body and the community, by and large, as kernels of a happening, a rite, or an action. The artist named them Bichos because of their fundamentally organic character. In addition, the hinge that connects the planes reminded the artist of a spinal column. More important, the Bicho has no reverse, no other side. The layout of the metal planes determines the position of the "critter," which at first sight seems limitless.

Antropofagia (Cultural cannibalism)

Boris Groys full paragraph: “Now, the artistic installation does not circulate. Rather, it installs everything that usually circulates in our civilisation: objects, texts, films, etc. At the same time, it changes in a very radical way the role and the function of the exhibition space. The installation operates by means of a symbolic privatisation of the public space of an exhibition.” It may appear to be a standard, curated exhibition, but its space is designed according to the sovereign will of an individual artist who is not supposed to publicly justify the selection of the included objects, or the organisation of the installation space as a whole. The installation is frequently denied the status of a specific art form, because it is not obvious what the medium of an installation actually is. Traditional art media are all defined by a specific material support: canvas, stone, or film. The material support of the installation medium is the space itself. That does not mean, however, that the installation is somehow “immaterial.” On the contrary, the installation is material par excellence, since it is spatial—and being in the space is the most general definition of being material. The installation transforms the empty, neutral, public space into an individual artwork—and it invites the visitor to experience this space as the holistic, totalising space of an artwork. Anything included in such a space becomes a part of the artwork simply because it is placed inside this space. The distinction between art object and simple object becomes insignificant here. Instead, what becomes crucial is the distinction between a marked, installation space and unmarked, public space.”


Here is a recent film recorded to be showcased at an All female music and zines festival in Barcelona, LadyFest:

Damned Diary of Dark Star from esther planas on Vimeo.

Artist Statement :
Concerned primarily with storytelling and performance, Planas is a visual artist who uses the formats of publication and rock band as vehicles for multiple creative purposes and for the exploration of multiple personas. Born in Barcelona, she published and edited the pioneering style/culture magazine V.O. in the mid 1980s and was the first distributor of I.D. in Spain. She mainly trained as a dancer.

This is a film of the installation of my first solo show at Five Years on 2002, we can say that it collected all the test, experiments and methods explored since the previous years back in mid 90's