Bunny Slayers and Copycat Killers: Georgina Starr (2002)

 

Bunny Lake is missing. I repeat it three times, each mention with a different referent, but each implicated in the other. "Bunny Lake is Missing" is the title of an Otto Preminger film. "Bunny Lake is missing" in the film is the report, which sets the plot in motion, of an authority—either a school or police—or an exclamation of a mother. "Bunny Lake is missing" is also the organizing principle of a related group of works by Georgina Starr which take Preminger's 1965 film as a point of departure.
    A little girl, Bunny Lake, is the missing link of these phrases. Saying her name does not make her appear. Absent through most of Preminger's film, no more is she present in Starr's work. She, or rather her name, is the absence around which the plots of Preminger's film and Starr's installations revolve.
    This absence is the mystery of the film and the question it persistently asks—because there is doubt that Bunny Lake exists. Perhaps she is an imaginary referent—¬at least this is what the investigating police begin to think. Especially so since the unwed "mother" as a child had an imaginary playmate she called "Bunny"—and there is mounting (lack of) evidence for any substantiation of her proper name.
    Let's give away the plot to Preminger's film since it is the central reference to the series of installations by Starr. A four-year-old girl, Bunny Lake, is missing from her first day at a London school in which her newly arrived American mother, Ann Lake, has registered her. The school denies knowing anything about her. The police begin to suspect whether she exists. As it turns out, Bunny Lake does exist, having been kidnapped by the brother, Steven. He intends to kill, bury and erase all evidence of her, having in the meantime cast doubt on her existence to the police. The brother is jealously psychotic. He cannot escape the—perhaps properly (incestuous?) American Gothic—childhood past the two shared as orphans, when as a boy he too demanded the death of his sister's imaginary friend Bunny.
    The three mentions "Bunny Lake is missing" equally might refer to the three related presentations by Starr: The Bunny Lakes are Coming, The Bunny Lake Collection (both 2000) and Bunny Lake Drive-in (2001). Never complete in themselves, the three installations amplify but do not resolve one another. Inaugurating the series at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery, The Bunny Lakes are Coming answers none of our initial questions—it only multiples them. From the moment the exhibition is announced on the gallery's store window by a large graffito, we have more questions. Who are "The Bunny Lakes," as the graffito reads, now plural in spelling? Inside, the elements that compose the installation—a boarded up wooden wall, which one passes through to a freestanding brick wall on which a carved wooden magpie perches with gold ring in its beak, a series of photographs and drawings of young girls wearing Bunny Lake inspired apparel, illuminated by lights mounted in a drive-in theatre speaker, a hanging lamp, an ink-jet mural, and a video projection, ending with another wood door with a pipe every half hour through which seeps dry ice, fogging the projection—are more the irreconcilable traces of a disappearance than the presentation of a coherent project.
    The video projection offers no solution, only a deepening of the mystery. It shows a shirtless young man wearing rave club bunny ears defacing a McDonalds' billboard, transforming its double arches into two bunny heads, finishing with the tag "the Bunny Lakes." The Bunny Lakes: anticorporate sloganeering or subcultural solidarity? Is Bunny Lake no longer a proper name but the product line of a cult? Interspersed with his action, in a room a girl or young woman—we see only purple tiger-stripped legs and birkenstocks—plays a record and proceeds to hang herself. To the lyrics of a melancholy Tim Hardin song, "Misty Rose," re-recorded for Starr on a 45 by thirteen year old Ben Walford, the girl's legs swing. Has the girl killed herself from love, or are the lyrics—"you look like misty roses, too soft to touch, too lovely to leave alone"—a confession of violation? At least, the magpie makes sense now as the silent witness of traditional folk songs and stories to some crime of ravishment and murder or suicide of a young woman. The hanging lamp too: with its paper shade with ominous eye, nose and mouth cutouts, it perhaps stands in metonymically for the missing girl, Bunny Lake, whose departure is now associated with a suicide.
    In the deepest part of this series of enclosures we have evidence of a questionable suicide. But while the installation orchestrates a disappearance, it persistently announces an appearance. The graffiti tease us, as if some advertising come-on; the drive-in theatre marquee in the mural promises "'Bunny Lake' in person" as part of a gala opening of Bunny Lake is Missing. Could this mural, blown up from Starr's watercolour of a scene at a drive-in, which gathers some of the components of the installation and projection while deferring others to future installations, perhaps function as a programme to the overall project?
    With The Bunny Lake Collection we think we might get some answers. The collection is a catwalk exhibition of dresses designed by Starr, haute couture to the teenage apparel pictured in the drawings and photographs of The Bunny Lakes are Coming installation. The glare of its public performance is opposed to the cloistered confines of the undisclosed crime of The Bunny Lakes. Presented first as a performance at the Pink Summer Gallery in Genoa, its installation reconstructs a catwalk and hangs the now blood spattered dresses from the event on a clothing rack. A video recording documents the fashion show, intercutting views of the runway models with a girl gang running through the streets of Genoa towards the show and the fatal rampage. To the music of the band Suicide with lyrics "girl, turn me on," and dialogue from Bunny Lake is Missing—"we're looking for a four year old girl named Bunny Lake"—the two groups fatally converge. They mimic each other, the girls in the same simple white dresses and white fake fur bonnets, the women wearing more sophisticated and revealing gowns, some with sheer bags covering their heads, sublimated versions of the lampshade of The Bunny Lakes are Coming. Far from idolizing the models, the girls each have automatic pistols that they use to shoot them.
    The hooded, pre-asphyxiated models are ritually ordained for this sacrifice, a status the young girls, themselves destined in a passage to adulthood, refuse. We do not know whether their action is a revenge on the fashion industry or a general refusal of the adult world. The girls are not telling. Although they are dressed like confirmands, their Maenad-like pack is a pact against adulthood, not a transition to it. Their disaffection is enough to murder. The denouement of the video that plays "Misty Rose" again, this time in its original Tim Hardin version, connects the mass murder carnage to the suicide of Starr's earlier installation. Is the murder a revenge on the original kidnapping of the four-year-old girl of the film, the suicide of Starr's video The Bunny Lakes are Coming, or a more general refusal? When the Bunny Lakes reappear, they are not a promised return restoring the harmony of family and society, but a deadly threat.
    With Bunny Lake Drive-in, installed first at the Städtische Ausstellungshalle am Hawerkamp in Münster, we come full circle to an explanation of some of the components of The Bunny Lakes are Coming, if not of their content. In this most complex of her three installations, 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 Targets. Like The Bunny Lake Collection, Targets climaxes with a mass murder, however, by a lone gunman in a Los Angeles drive-in theatre. The elements of the earlier installation fall into place: we understand the drive-in speaker and recognize the marquee of the mural of The Bunny Lakes are Coming which is derived from that of Bogdanovich's film.
    In Targets, the Resada Drive-in Theatre marquee announces the appearance of Byron Orlock and the première of 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 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 (all) the missing Bunny Lakes. The murderous psychosis of the films represents a societal crisis, but by combining these two films Starr does not let the killing of Bogdanovich's film answering to the abduction of Preminger's stand as an indictment. 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, turning us into the unsuspecting chance victims of Bogdanovich's film.
    Following Bogdanovich's example of mixing levels of fiction, she sets a screening of Bunny Lake is Missing in the drive-in of Targets. The installation proper of Bunny Lake Drive-in recreates Targets' drive-in scene. The installation is composed of a customized car, drive-in speakers, a scaled-down drive-in screen, through which we can walk and perch on its upper deck, and a video projection. The projection remakes the drive-in scenes of Targets, using Targets' sound track—starting with a drive through the ticket booth of an actual drive-in, into the empty lot, the anticipation and commencement of the film: Starr has digitally inserted Bunny Lake is Missing onto the screen. Starr, however, substitutes 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 liberated Bunny Lakes asphyxiate the inhabitants of the cars attaching hoses to their exhaust pipes. Killed by their own cars, in an act that more likely is one of suicide. No doubt the gassing in The Bunny Lakes installation is off the same source [and we circle back to it.

Starr accomplishes this segue succinctly in Stevies Eye which is one of two adjunct video projections in Bunny Lake Drive-in. In this five-minute projection, she superimposes sequences of 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 both films), 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. circularity
    The one empty car at the drive-in in Starr's projection, standing in for Bobby's Mustang, 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. Cast as carefully as actors in Targets, cars are accomplices in Bogdanovich's and Preminger's films—and Starr's installation. As coda to her installation, Starr creates an homage to her vehicle in the second projection Bobby Bunny Buffer, 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 So-Cal origins.
Bobby lookalike

We now see that all three of Starr's installations combine the themes of the two films and melds the characters of their two psychotics in her own Bunny Lake fiction.

 


“Bunny Slayers and Copycat Killers,” in Georgina Starr, The Bunny Lakes, London, Eng.: Emily Tsingou Gallery, 2002, n.p.