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The Basics of the Archaeology of Stardom

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Much of ancient Greek sculpture is known only through Roman copies, with these types now filtered for us through subsequent millennia of reception, particularly since the Renaissance, so it is fitting that we now view these classical forms through over a century of star bodies and other appropriations. The uncovering of these layers of reception is a work of cultural archaeology, looking through, past and beneath these forms to their precursors, and seeking to understand how these strata have been formed by their past use, but also shaped for the present. Stars are always designed for the present, but they are inevitably products of the past and bear its patination. This quality of `pastness’, to appropriate Jameson’s phrase, is rendered in numerous ways, and can be a matter of setting a star in a landscape where past cadences resonate with the raising of an arm, the turn of the head and an inclination to the contrapposto, like the historical poses, recalling sculptural Venuses and Apollos, that shape the celebrated bodies in the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds in the eighteenth century. Archaeology of stardom is a valuable and playful way of considering the multiple strata of star imagery and discourse and the way they engage present audiences with multiple overlapping references to the past.

Star images, most evidently those of earlier decades with an overtly `divinising’ function, find the star embodying the past, its icons, and a history of cultural and political appropriations, and yet contribute their distinct iteration to the iconographic process. Moreover, the process does not end with the death of the star, for example of Marilyn Monroe, for her image carries on performing through every appropriation, in stills, video or computer-generated imagery. Such appropriations are not passive, but deeply anchored into the work she, and her precursors, enacted in its creative process. If one views a star as a work of art as well as industry, and they have sometimes literally been presented as such, sculpture offers perhaps the best comparator from the other arts.

Not only do sculptural associations recall a great `high-cultural’ history of venerated art, particularly classical sculpture, but they also offer up a wealth of mythic types to be appropriated, including that of Pygmalion and Galatea, a ubiquitous metaphor since the nineteenth century for a desirable artwork `coming to life’. In contemporary art, too, sculptors have been fascinated by the links between sculpture and photography. British sculptor Marc Quinn – best known for Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005), which challenged preconceptions of both disability and ‘classical beauty’, as well as Self (1991), purportedly cast from his own frozen blood the sculpture representing one frozen moment.

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