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3-screen video installation with illuminated drive-in screen, drive-in speaker posts,

popcorn, dry-ice machine and customized 3-wheeler Thundersley Invacar

Bunny Lake Drive-In (20 mins), Stevies Eye (5 mins), Bobby Bunny Buffer (3 mins)


Bunny Lake Drive-In installation, Städtische Ausstellunghalle Münster, Münster, Germany, 2002

 

Bunny Lake Drive-In forms the third part of Georgina Starr's 'Bunny Lake Series'. As with earlier works in the series it finds its seminal references in memory and film history and the interplay between fiction and reality. In this case, the work is partly inspired by two films of the 1960's: Bunny Lake Is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965) and Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1967). Bunny Lake Is Missing is a movie about a girl who never comes home from her first day at school. In Targets the young character 'Bobby' fills up the boot of his open top car with arsenal, goes home and kills his family in an unemotional display of domestic violence. He then goes on a killing spree ending up in a drive-in movie theatre where he shoots the movie viewers through a hole in the cinema screen.
Using 16mm film, sound and a customised open top 3-wheeler invacar (The Bunny Lakemobile), Starr creates a real-life drive-in cinema complete with illuminated screen and drive-in speakers. The elements that compose this installation create a multi-layered environment of sound, light and moving image. The work explores the psychology of the fictional characters of 'Bobby', 'Stevie' (Bunny's uncle), Annie (Bunny's mother) and most importantly 'Bunny Lake' who Starr multiplies and tranforms into the child gang; 'The Bunny Lakes'. We follow ‘The Bunny Lakes' on a journey from the boot of the car, through an empty house and walled garden, and finally to the drive-in cinema where they prepare to take their ultimate revenge. In the luscious 16mm film Bobby Bunny Buffer 'Bobby' mutates into a 1950's fantasy movie pin-up, caressing his beloved car to the strains of the Bobby Vinton melody I Love How You Love Me.

   

               

Bunny Lake Drive-In (20 mins) , video still.

 

 

Georgina Starr, Bunny Lake Drive-In (Installation)

Bunny Lake Drive-In (2002), Installation at Emily Tsingou Gallery, 86 Brick Lane, London

 

 

'Bobby Bunny Buffer' (3 mins) from Bunny Lake Drive-In (2002) 16mm film still

 

 

 

 

 

The Bunny Lake Chronicles

by J August Buehler



"Searching at this point is futile." Bunny Lake is gone. Sadly, it now appears that there was never really any hope of finding her. And, worst of all, it seems that she no longer wishes to be found.
Georgina Starr’s latest Bunny Lake installation, in an old factory space on Brick Lane in London at the end of April, stubbornly avoids putting to rest questions that arose nearly three years ago in the first two parts of the series. This is exactly how Starr wants it. The Bunny Lake project — installations, videos, and fashion catwalk slaughter — are all elaborations on themes that splinter away from a single, half-remembered film seen as a teenager. But it’s with her latest (and possibly final) installation, Bunny Lake Drive-In, that these themes are capable of moving us closer to the dark but tender heart of Starr’s world.
The words Bunny Lake Drive-In lash across the face of the crumbling textile factory, demanding further exploration. They can be seen through the chain link fence that runs along Brick Lane. This is old London, now a Bangladeshi neighborhood famed for its curries and bagels, but still Jack the Ripper’s old stomping grounds. The fresh graffito blends in naturally with the empty parking lot of broken bottles and trash. The flat-roofed building appears to have slunk away from the street, and, low like a dangerous animal, it glares from behind its fence. I glare back, and promptly plunge into its cool darkness.
The space is perfect, rough and gutted, high ceilings and solid wood beaming. A jazzed-up white three-wheeled Model 70 Invacar for the disabled, complete with flames on the hood, purrs too-cool-to-be-true in the middle of the darkened room. On one wall, flashing yellow marquee lights trace a blank movie screen and on the left a film plays on another screen — a film of folks taking in a film at a drive-in cinema, before being gassed by their own car fumes after young girls pop unexpectedly out of car trunks and extend their exhausts to their windows. I crunch through popcorn and spilt drinks on the floor. The car farts white steam.
I’ve managed to come early to Starr’s opening (meaning on time), so the room is nearly empty of people, and filled with sound. Everything vibrates strangely with discordant interchanges of sound stream. Plangent tones seep through from the adjoining rooms. I investigate.
In the first, a video projection Stevie’s Eye along one wall is showing a complicated intertwining of two films, Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, 1967) and Bunny Lake is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965). The music, echoing airily down from the dark dripping chambers behind, is a heart-rending rendition of Bright Eyes by what could be a thirteen-year-old boy or girl. Alone again, I find myself watching Stevie’s Eye a second time, the careful melding of images, psychosis and music. After a moment it settles. The lonely outcast from Targets — based loosely on the real-life story of Charles Whitmann, the man who went on a killing spree in Texas, killing sixteen people and wounding thirty — winds up behind the screen of a drive-in movie screen with his rifle. The trunk pops open in Bunny Lake and the little missing heroine is revealed for the first time. Stevie, Bunny’s brother, carries her into the house. The camera moves in on his eye. There is madness and violence here, connecting us to the first room, but it’s not forced or random, with an undercurrent of terrifying poetry.
In the third room, down a slippery flight of stairs, on a large white wall still redolent with white paint on concrete, is the third projection, Bobby Bunny Buffer. Kitsch, pop color splendor and cheese all rolled into one, this handsome nugget of a man, with leering sexy serial killer eyes, buffs his Bunnymobile with long languorous strokes. I cull from the catalogue that the film is a shot-for-shot remake of Kenneth Anger’s 1965 hot rod classic, Kustom Kar Kommandos. It makes you laugh, and, as with the rest of the installation, a rather inexplicable cold hand slides over your heart.


Stills from Georgina Starr's 16mm film Bobby Bunny Buffer (3 mins), 2002

 

What Goes Missing Always Comes Back


To know where Starr’s coming from, some background information may be helpful, but it is not altogether necessary. Like much of her work, this installation operates more on an intuitive level of basic color, humor and design in order to bring you
into intimate contact with the artist, rather than on any heavy intellectual concept. However, there is always the danger that the work will come across as nothing more than a poisonous candy-colored whorl of pop-cultural allusions and possible madness.
The core of Starr’s work on the Bunny Lake project (it’s not really a series or a formal narrative in any sense) goes back to the first time she watched the little-known Otto Preminger classic, Bunny Lake is Missing, while babysitting her sister. “A lot of my work has to do with film history and how I remember films. I’ve made work in the past trying to remember certain movies I’d seen as a child, rewriting the script and reenacting it.”
In this case, the movie, and the fact that the sisters never watched it to the end, seems to have had a profound effect on Starr.
The plot of Bunny goes something like this: Ann Lake, an American woman, registers her four-year-old daughter, Bunny Lake, at a London school. Only the girl never shows up for her first day, and the school says they know nothing about her. The police poke around and discover that the mother, who is unwed, had an imaginary playmate named Bunny as a child. Soon the police, as well as the viewer, begin to doubt that the girl even exists. The physical absence of Bunny powers the film forward and is its central mystery. When doubt creeps in, the viewer begins to question the sanity of the mother, half-crazed with worry.
In the catalogue made for the show, Starr contributes a personal text about her sister: her sister who was adopted, her sister who stole things, who spent most of her teenage years in prison and who pushed and tested her family for all they were worth and for the love she sought. This openness, the tendency to leave herself vulnerable, is a classic Starr touch, and one I appreciate very much. By cracking open the door, the whole series suddenly takes shape in my mind, as it draws its energy from this one, deeply angry and troubled source. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who or what it is. Starr writes of her sister: “Something in her heart was aching and nothing could touch her. Could we ‘save’ her? We all tried. Deep down, I think she did not want to be saved at all.”
It’s easy to see how this approach might disappoint the heady Goldsmith’s crowd. It’s all too sincere, honest and brutal. And it just may mean too much.
Bunny is found in the trunk of her brother’s car at the end of the film, where she had been curled up for the duration of the action in the movie — about twenty-four hours — while her mother frantically searched for her. The jealous brother, Stevie, had planned to murder Bunny, but his plan was foiled.
“But what then,” Starr asks me over coffee, just down the street from the show, one rainy day after the opening. “What happens to a girl who’s been crammed for an entire day in the boot of a car?” What, after all, is the source of any unleashing of energy, artistic or otherwise? This appears to be Starr’s personal point of departure.

 


Bunny Lake revealed in the boot of the car in the original film Bunny Lake is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965)


Blueprint Your Murders


Like an architect with his blueprints, Georgina Starr first painted a watercolor of the former Reseda drive-in cinema in the San Fernando Valley, California. Flat and unreal, it is a strange work of low long-bodied 1960s American cars with snarling grills full of necking teenagers and suspicious little girls with bunny ears. The image functions as a schematic for the entire series, which explodes out from its surface into an intricately constructed fantasy world. The first installation, The Bunny Lakes are Coming (Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, 2000), takes from the drive-in painting a magpie and golden ring, and places them on a freestanding brick wall (perhaps the garden wall in the film?). The installation contains images of powerful-looking young women wearing Bunny Lake T-shirts, and there’s a video projection of a girl hanging herself. Again the music that gets you, this time a sorrowful Tim Hardin song, Misty Roses. Girls both coming and going, in and out of life and purpose. With all the photos of the girls in Bunny Lake apparel, for the first time we see the fragmentation of the missing girl.
The Bunny Lakes Collection — performed first for Pinksummer, Genoa, and then the Venice Biennale, 2001 — was an enhancement of, and not an addition to, the first installation. For the show Starr created a collection of clothes to be worn for a catwalk performance. White, translucent gowns that render the bony models more wraith than human. “It’s almost like they’re dead before they’re shot,” Starr says. In this case, the models become the targets of rage. During the crowded show a gang of young girls (now The Bunny Lakes) pushes its way through the crowd and guns them down, mid-strut. The audience, most of whom were unaware that this was a performance, reacted exactly how an audience might if witnessing fashion models waft to the stage as artificial blood and bullets fly from very real looking guns wielded expertly by preteen, angelically clad little girls with dark eyes and an obvious chip on their shoulder. They screamed and laughed. The video of the performance is excellent, as the girls round the alley corner approaching the show with their guns drawn and beckoning the others, “come on, let’s go,” a la Scorsese and that bunch. Again, it could be very funny, but the hand stops you just short of laughing.
With typical reservation, Starr admits no specific message in the action. There is no angry-women’s-fashion-children-and-violence-with guns-thing apparent. The models are the targets of rage and what’s happening is simply cause and effect, on a very gut level. This brings us back to Bunny Lake Drive-In, the most showy, dark and elaborate of any of the Bunny Lakes to date.



A City Stroll to the Heart of Madness


Bunny Lake Drive-In was the first to be written and designed. It’s true, this one came first in concept, but was the last to be made, as Starr didn’t have the funds. So she shelved it and worked on the offshoots instead, creating a kind of space or vacuum at the center. This could account for some of the suspense and mystery surrounding the shows. But far from wrapping things up, the show seems to suggest an even deeper opening of possibilities. Starr herself admitted that there are still elements that intrigue her, the garden behind the house in Bunny Lake is Missing, for one.
Starr’s influences have always been more pop culture than art history, with significant credit given to Italian horror master Dario Argento. The influence shows itself at odd and appropriate angles, such as her skill with ambient music and sound. (From a random website: Suspiria [1979] Italian horror auteur Dario Argento at his dreadful best. If the soundtrack doesn’t scare you shitless, the protracted, daringly imaginative death scenes will.”) Starr admits, almost blushingly, that she has a hard time with horror movies and can’t watch them through to the end. But one method she has of relating to a horror film she wants to see is first to record the soundtrack and then walk around her neighborhood listening to it on headphones. Watching someone haul their trash to the street during a particularly brutal stabbing scene must give reality a whole new twist.
This is especially evident in the projection Stevie’s Eye. This room now seems to me the heart of the entire project, from beginning to end, three years of work. Here is where things get darkest. The hopelessness and the almost crushing sadness that permeate the room come not from Bunny Lake, but from the madness of the male characters, who, unable to deal with their pain, set the story in motion. For them, the branch has broken. Nobody knew it would turn out like this, only it’s too late. And now, in the words of David Beech, “The Bunny Lakes aren’t on the side of law and order; they want more than that.”

 

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Bunny Slayers and Copycat Killers

by Philip Monk

(Published in The Bunny Lakes book)

 

With Bunny Lake Drive-In, Starr reveals another film that, along with Preminger's Bunny Lake is Missing, has guided the programme of her installations from the start; Peter Bogdanovich's 1967 film Targets. Like The Bunny Lake Collection, Targets climaxes with a mass murder, however, by a lone gunman in a Los Angeles drive-in theatre. In her installation, Starr recreates the drive-in scene of the movie, but we also come to understand some of the elements of the earlier installations, such as the drive-in speaker of The Bunny Lakes are Coming and more particularly the sign from its mural which is derived from that of Bogdanovich's film.

In Targets, the Reseda Drive-in Theatre sign announces the appearance of Byron Orlock and the première of The Terror, a real film starring Boris Karloff who is playing "himself" in Bogdanovich's film. The question whether Orlock will show at the première is secondary in Starr's construction to the interlacing of the other plot stream: that of the murder spree of the young gunman, Bobby. Escaping the police, he hides in the structure of the Resada drive-in movie screen and continues his rampage throughout the screening of The Terror, shooting his unsuspecting, car-trapped victims through a hole in the screen.

Starr uses the coincidence of these mid-sixties depictions of psychotic young (American) men to frame her story of missing Bunny Lakes. The murderous psychosis of these films represented a societal crisis. By combining these two film Starr does not present Bogdanovich's killing as a fulfilment to an answer of Preminger's abduction. She fully implicates herself, folding the films into each other. Far from issuing a judgement, Starr has made her Bunny Lakes into copycat killers. She sets a trap for the viewer; finally we realize that we, as well, are victims, as much as the young woman and models of the earlier installations.

Following Bogdanovich's example of mixing levels of fiction (using a real screening of The Terror in his fiction film), Starr sets a screening of Bunny Lake is Missing in the drive-in of Targets. She isolates only key elements‹a scaled-down drive-in screen, an array of drive-in speakers, and a lone car standing in for Bobbys Mustang. Starrs screening remakes the drive-in scenes of Targets, using Targets' sound track. She summarises the setting‹starting with a drive through the ticket booth of an actual drive-in, parking in its empty lot, continuing with the anticipation and commencement of the film. Starr, however, has digitally inserted Bunny Lake is Missing onto the screen replacing The Terror. In the parking lot, moreover, she has substituted a silent murder rampage by her Bunny Lakes girl gang, whom we saw in The Bunny Lake Collection, for Bobby's shooting spree. Escaping from the boots of cars, these self-liberated Bunny Lakes asphyxiate the inhabitants by attaching hoses to the cars¹ exhaust pipes. The patrons are killed by their own cars, in an act that is more common to suicide.

Cast as carefully as actors in Targets, cars are accomplices in Bogdanovich's and Preminger's films. Starr similarly has lavished fetishistic attention on hers. The one empty car at the drive-in in Starr's projection is the lone car of her installation. This cute customized one-seater vehicle has been modified from its original purpose as conveyance for the disabled, given a flame job and reupholstered. As coda to her installation, Starr creates an homage to her vehicle in one of two adjunct projections. Her Bobby Bunny Buffer is a shot-for-shot, Gus Van Sant Psycho-like, remake of Kenneth Angers' 1965 hot rod classic Kustom Kar Kommandos. Starr projects it in a separate chill-out lounge; but don't get too comfortable. The subcultural subtext beneath all Anger's films is the violence of disobedience that Bogdanovich's film traces to its Southern Californian origins. Starr casts a Bobby look-alike as her Bunny Buffer.

Starr's installations melds the characters of her source films¹ two psychotics in her own Bunny Lake fiction. She accomplishes this segue succinctly in Stevies Eye which is the third video projection in Bunny Lake Drive-In. In this 4 minute projection, she superimposes sequences from the two films, mapping congruences between them, such as Steven hiding Bunny in the boot of his Triumph sportscar and Bobby stashing his cache of guns in the trunk of his Mustang convertible. The passage between the films is made through a close-up zoom of Stevie's eye. In a self-deflatingly humourous nod to the credits of Hitchcock's Vertigo (Saul Bass designed the credits for Bunny Lake is Missing as well), a spiralling bunny head in Steven's iris marks the transition from the backyard burial of Bunny to the drive-in parking lot locale of Bobby's slaughter. This device not only links the psychosis of the two male characters, it implicates us in their madness.

If we are implicated in their madness, it is because we cannot escape the circularity of Starr¹s construction. Starr links the two characters and the two films so that they are now vertiguously implied in one another. In the same manner, Starr¹s three installations do not represent a beginning, middle and resolving conclusion. The end is already in the beginning‹the mass murder linked to the suicide. The beginning is implied in the end, in the transformation of the abducted girl into a mass murdering pack of girls.

Preminger resolves the mystery at the end of his film with the appearance of Bunny. This leads to our reassigments of the imaginary referent from Ann to Stevie. By the conclusion of the film, we are able to sustain both knowledge of a real and an imaginary child. Stevies psychosis is that he cannot. Starrs "psychosis" perhaps is her splitting of Bunny into the Bunny Lakes. If Preminger resolves the mystery, Starr continues to proliferate it. The transformation of the abducted Bunny into the mass-murdering Bunny Lakes proceeds through the agency and example of Bobby¹s murder spree.

Meaning is missing as much as a body. To locate it is to return to the source of what Bunny Lake is missing in general perhaps stands for: the childhood imaginary. Starr has always been adept in picturing this charming world through the artefacts and representations of popular culture. This time it is a childhood imaginary gone awry, either one that has been violated or one that is violating. Neither film can really answer to the source of their subjects psychoses which have such devastating effects. Starr attempts no such analysis because she has affiliated herself instead with that disaffected world. The innocence of Bunny Lake is missing, and it will never return.