Born 1958, Galesburg, Illinois
In his music and his multimedia installations, Stephen Prina explores the conventions of performance, display, exhibition, and historiography. The distribution of culture and its reception by viewers are central to his investigations, which employ a radical discursiveness that can encompass bits and pieces of information from many different eras, fields, and geographies. While Prina has incorporated the music of other composers into some of his visual art, recordings of music projects that he has been involved with, such as Sonic Dan and the Red Krayola, are typically released through record labels. In his more recent work, however, including The Second Sentence of Everything I Read Is You: Mourning Sex (2005–7), he has started to incorporate his own musical compositions and performances into his sculptures and installations. Mourning Sex is the second in a series of three installations that share the same main title, followed by a subtitle that reflects the specific subject matter of the work. The first part of each work's title (The Second Sentence of Everything I Read Is You) is drawn from a conversation between Prina and the writer Lynne Tillman, who told him that it was important that the first sentence in any piece of writing grab the attention of the reader.
The components of all the works in the series travel in crates, which are then transformed into benches and situated in the middle of the installation. A look at the materials list indicates the detail and specificity that Prina insists on for his work: "Acrylic and acrylic enamel on linen, acrylic on plywood, acrylic enamel on wall, 9 Boston Acoustics™ Dsi265 speakers, Alesis™ ADAT-HD24 XR digital hard-disk recorder, 5 Samson® Servo 200 power amplifiers, Monster Cable™, Furman PM-8/E II power conditioner, Duratran™ on EFRA Lichtwerbung, ETC Source 4 Jr.™ spotlight, FLOR™ carpet."
A recording of a song composed and performed by Prina with lyrics consisting largely of quotations from and about the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres plays through the sound system that is part of the Mourning Sex installation. The playback devices are housed in the crate benches, which also hold copies of the 2006 monograph on Gonzalez-Torres edited by the writer and artist Julie Ault, who, like Gonzalez-Torres, was a member of the art and social activism collective Group Material.1 Prina's lyrics are appropriated from this book. The cover of the book features white text on a pale blue background, and the same blue is used to paint sections of the gallery walls and for the cushions placed atop the benches. A large text painted in white across the blue walls reads, "things Felix forgot to tell us," a phrase penned by Prina himself. The floor space of the installation is carpeted in the same pale blue. This carpet is never cleaned, and over time it accumulates the marks left by the people who come to experience the work. Similarly, the crates bear the scrapes and scuffs incurred through repeated movement in and out of storage and shipping to exhibition venues around the world. This homage to Felix Gonzalez-Torres is a meditation on memory and loss, but it also calls up ideas about emotion and influence, individual and collective experience, and about how the perpetual interchange of expression and reception creates culture.