IT'S MY PARTY AND I'LL STAR IF I WANT TO

by Ken Pratt for Wound Magazine, 2008

 

The London-based American artist Sarah Baker makes work that takes popular media forms such as advertising, television, pop videos and subverts them to create her own quirky dialogue with the viewer. In the guise of her alter ego, Baker grips these forms firmly and twists. Hers is not a discourse of emphatic feminist critique, but rather one that is concerned with ambivalence and the lack of conclusion. Sarah Baker sidesteps a singular political stance, perhaps even celebrating the freedom from needing to have one, in favour of exploring the gaps; in favour of exploring her –and our- seduction by and complicity with glamour, consumption and the world of promised fame and fortune.

At an early age, Sarah Baker was drawn to the persona of Jackie Collins and the women created by the airport novel tycoon. Others in a similar mould – Alexis Carrington in 'Dynasty', played by Jackie's own sister; Joan- also captured the attention of the teenage Sarah Baker. Later she would work these interests into her work as an artist, directly engaging with representations of women arising from this theatrical world of glamour and power; exploring her own aspirations to it.

Works in various media have seen her directly working with images of herself as media representations of powerful and rich women. But she has also actually worked on the micro-level with the visual codes connected with them. The heraldic symbols of consumer-age wealth and success, such as the distinctive Louis Vuitton pattern or a signature Hermes scarf motif, have often proven sources of inspiration for Baker's own reworking of the form in collage and digital works in which she creates a kind of branding of her own homemade celebrity persona whom she propels towards fame and success. 

There was a time when, rightly or wrongly, it was generally believed that most people who became famous had done something of merit or showed some specific talent for which they had become famous. At the very least, they had done something so scandalous that had made them notorious. However, the increasingly self-referential programming of mass media has meant that over the last decade, even the most gullible fringes of society must find it hard to believe this any longer. Fame, we have learned, is an end in itself. We have watched numerous people apply whatever resources they have available to them to the pursuit of stardom and recognition. On one end of the social scale, it might require a pushy stage school mother and compliance with whatever demands the media industry makes for one's entire identity to be pliable to the market in order to escape the trailer park. On the other end of the spectrum, we've experienced Paris Hilton whose vast financial resources have been channelled into her unquestioning demand for fame.

There was a time when the nouveau riche was eager to fade into the quasi-private dusk inhabited by Old Money. Recent decades have shown us, however, that our insatiable hunger for images of fame and stardom are happily met by any number of individuals who will readily step into the limelight. And they no longer just come from the sea of have-nots who want to have. Wealth that once went hand in hand with fame, it seems, is no longer the end point in itself. 

More recently, Baker has focussed her interest on these very specific genres of fame and celebrity to produce a series of performative works that might be described as a combination of social engineering and enactment. The first of these, "A Day w ith Sarah Baker" involved Sarah's home-brew celebrity persona –complete with PA and entourage- being followed by a photographer while on a day out, shopping and socialising. Sarah Baker's de facto media personality is snapped in relevantly luxurious high-end shopping locales in a series of photographs that were later presented in Vague Paper. The line between the real and the artificial are blurred as those working in the various haunts accepted Baker and her posse as the real thing without blinking.

In the most recent work, "Sarah Baker's Birthday Party", the same conceptual process was applied but on an even grander scale. Baker decided to throw a 30th birthday party for her celebrity doppelganger and, naturally, it had to happen at Sketch, Mourad Mouziz's bijou London playground in the former Dior showroom. With the support of Mouziz and a private sponsor, James Gardner, Baker threw herself into orchestrating a photographer, a make-up artists and a suitably briefed guest list that included some of London's hottest young artists and creatives to manifest an event that would prove worthy of the celebrity she has created for her persona. The extent to which Sarah Baker will go in constructing these works is extraordinary. For example, on the day of the party, the office at Ashish had to collect a little pink sequin number from Dannii Minogue and courier it around to Sarah Baker to make sure that her created celebrity would have exactly the right garment to match the values and image of her famous persona. Not only did Baker have to look the perfect birthday girl in both her Ashsih show stopper and her Nathan Jenden Gold cake dress, but Baker also borrowed next season's frocks and accessories from fashion labels such as Hermes, Issa, Luella, Paul Smith, Mawi, Linda Farrow Vintage sunglasses, and gigantic over the top handbags by Bracher Emden for all of her best mates to wear.

The locus of the work itself is not easy to pinpoint. Was it in the event itself? Or does it lie in the 300 photographs of Baker and her friends snapped, paparazzi-style, enjoying themselves?

Both works underscore Baker's characteristic engagement with current constructions of fame and celebrity. There is definitely a certain level of irony and tongue-in-cheek satire about the whole thing. But, she has also, in effect, deployed the same strategies that we see used by many other minor celebrities who are famous for being famous and whose presence in tabloid glossies we accept unquestioningly to map out her template for what it takes to be a star.