Althea Thauberger’s “Songstress Project” is, at root, a conceptually rigorous artwork that merges with popular music discourse. The Songstress CD presents audio and photographic portraits of eight young female singer drawn from an ad placed by the artist in an entertainment weekly: “Female Victoria filmmaker seeks female singers/songwriters, ages approximately 17-25, to be features in an art film. No experience necessary.” While savvy, Thauberger is no wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rather than taking a cheap shot at the innocent, she places her own subjectivity – as the copyright acknowledgments underscore – alongside those of her subjects.
Each chosen respondent cut a demo of her song in a recording studio. These songs are undeniably driven by feeling and affect. Titles like “Reaching Over”, “Sunshine”, “Looking for Something”, and “Why” reflect the proclivities of heart and soul. Emotion is formalized as Thauberger adopts an impresario or curatorial role in bringing these moods into the public through the strategies and criticality of art discourse. What is revealed is the role of musical craft in engaging an aspirational politics, the varied yet coded ways of “becoming a songstress.” Most of the songs record a deeply felt loss of love that marks a reckoning with personal symbolism. They testify to the act of writing one’s way out of turmoil and are at times excruciatingly earnest. But is earnestness itself suspect? Perhaps only to a polarized positioning of mind versus emotion. Thauberger configures these performances as places to stand, spaces to speak from.
The verdant sites around Victoria function as the context for the singers’ portraits. “Nature” becomes an explicitly mediated term, framing the women as they take a stake in, and project, affect. An essay by Kathy Slade situates Songstress within the history of portraiture and within an explicitly female audience that has expanded since Sinead O’Connor’s pivotal performance at the 1995 Lollapalooza festival and Sarah McLachlan’s all woman Lilith Fair – these are “girl singer(s) …singing for girls.” …Thauberger articulates an important locus of emergent authorial subjectivity within the specificity of gender and art.