I saw Running in the Starlight (2011) late last year when it was screened on Square2 at the City Gallery. I purposely went to check this video out because a friend had recommended it and I wasn’t disappointed. I really liked this work. It’s hard not to. Running in the Starlight speaks in the language of MTV—and that’s a language I understand. Basically it’s a music video. The artist, Candice Stock, appears as the singer or author of the song. She’s shot in a miscellany of outfits and poses, often very Gaga-esque—at different points she sports a crown, all pomp and ceremony, she flutters her black gauze fairy-wings, occasionally veering towards full blown Phantom of the Opera. (The white mask, the cloak, the chiffon!)
Stock’s use of costumes is bold and daring, she risks revealing herself and being laughed at. The refreshing lack of intellectual sophistication in this video sets it apart from a lot of the other work currently being exhibited by young artists. I liked the way Stock dons the overly familiar white theatrical mask in such a non-ironic fashion; yet her performance never collapses into cliché. Her use of the mask reminded me of Donald Barthelme’s short story The Phantom of the Opera's Friend (1972), which details the relationship between the phantom and an anonymous well wisher who tries to lure him up to the real world for plastic surgery and a chance at a normal life. The story ends on a great line about how "the hot meat of romance" is "dulled by the gravy of common sense." Running in The Starlight is a work that contains a bit of both—the hot meat of romance, tempered by lashings of common sense.
Stock is superimposed against a variety of blue screened backgrounds that compliment the colours in her outfits—purple flowers, a haze of lights, an endearing shot of the Auckland Sky Tower lit up at night. These frequently abstract backgrounds Rorschach and warp in the middle of the screen. In the foreground Stock dances in stately poses, often just repositioning her hands. Sometimes she gives the camera a fey little smile. I recognised her moves and even the faint sexual glitter of her grin, but on an ordinary person, these signs are more slippery. Stock is no fully manufactured pop star like Lady Gaga, but she never appears foolish either. This is not a work about folly. The song itself, Running in the Starlight, is muted and dreamy, racing along in the background, carrying with it an air of melancholy. It gave me the sensation of riding in a car with the windows down, a passenger on a voyage, not thinking about anything much, just living in the moment.
Many people may already know the personal back story of Candice Stock. In her first year of art school she was in a severe car accident that left her disabled, without the use of both legs. In the video she sometimes appears in a wheelchair, encased in a cylindrical costume of wire, yet this is not a work about limitation or restriction. Most of the time she is standing, moving, dancing. I can also draw connections between the warping optical backgrounds and the fact that Stock has been diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, a condition which affects the individual’s ability to process visual information. On the City Gallery website Running In the Starlight is called a self portrait and I wouldn’t dispute this point of view, however as in any compelling work of art—Stock’s expression of the personal has actually propelled her work into a universal space.
The video is built around the spark of the song and its emotions. Some of the most charming moments in this work (and Running In the Starlight is a work with a bit of charm) are when Candice is wearing a veil of purple chiffon over her face, but you can still see her genuine smile beneath the fabric, an inadvertent smile—not for the public, just for herself. This is one of the areas where Stock departs from Gaga, for—despite the superficial similarities—the mask, the regal outfits, the constrictions of costume and even the wheelchair (used as a metaphoric prop by Gaga)—Candice is quite real. She’s not some slick sexualised product. She’s just a girl.
Spoken in the language of the music video, Running In The Starlight strikes me as a work that’s not about disability or even the inspirational narrative of overcoming disability—although that reading is there if you want it. This video is actually about freedom—irrepressible lived existence. That burst of ecstasy, when you feel in control of your own story, happy in your own skin, of and from the world. As the author of the work, Stock has elevated herself to the centre of the action like a pop star—and why not? Don’t we love our stars for shining the light on our own troubled and beautiful souls?
In between the gauze and the glitter, the pulsing race of the song and its softly thrilling call—there’s still the white mask of the phantom concealing that disfigured and difficult face.
Written by a Friend of Running In The Starlight.