Born 1984, Cooma, New South Wales. Lives and works Sydney
Heath Franco’s practice is based primarily in video, although the process of production and the exhibition of his work are also concerned with photography, performance, costume, sound, music, digital media, video special effects and installation. His videos are structured with respect to flow and rhythm, rather than traditional plot narrative, and aim to attract and repulse the viewer through a mix of hyper-aesthetic, catchy jingles and absurd, grotesque performances. Franco’s works are informed by explorations into western pop culture and leisure, domesticity and notions of ‘home’, and contemplations on human existence and the possibilities of space-time.
by Katherine Guinness
Influenced by pop-music videos and a trip across America, Heath Franco’s LIFE IS SEXY (2016–17) follows many of the formal elements found throughout his oeuvre of improvisational performances and digitally manipulated videos. It uses repetitive gestures, voices and tones looped to create frantic rhythms and climaxes. Franco developed the work, in part, through the 2015 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging), which allowed him to travel to the US as well as intern with music-video director Joel Kefali.
At the forefront of Franco’s works are a cast of eccentrically costumed characters, all played by the artist. The recorded performances of these characters are like a medium, paints on a palette to be used over and over. They appear throughout Franco’s work in various guises and forms, unnamed so that they can be used in largely non-narrative ways, like secondary characters from a hallucinogenic children’s show that you can’t quite recall but can’t shake the feeling of either.
It could be easy to understand Franco’s videos, full of these frenzied figures fitted out in op-shop apparel, as ironic parody or postmodern pastiche; a better term to use is ‘zany’. As Sianne Ngai describes, the zany is an aesthetic of ‘physical bombardment’ that highlights libido and is ‘hot under the collar’. (1) As Franco’s oft-sweating face can attest, his characters are hot and zany and work hard to look like they’re playing. The ‘zany’ troubles the distinction between work and play and has a distinct un-fun or stressed, unrelaxed vibe to it. For LIFE IS SEXY Franco found those vibes reflected back at him while visiting holiday spots including Miami and Las Vegas.
As the videos Franco creates are loose worlds for his characters to exist in, specific locations are often an inspirational beginning point. For example: FUN HOUSE (2010) was influenced, in part, by Blackpool; HOME TOWN (2014), by his childhood home of Berridale; and parts of the US can be seen in LIFE IS SEXY.
Not unlike the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard when he travelled to America, Franco found a country of unreality constructed from his own pop culture-fuelled expectations. This work explores those places of neither dream nor reality but hyper-reality, where people, places and things project something real that was never real to begin with, doesn’t even exist, never existed anyway. These include concepts of ‘fun’, ‘cool’ and, most importantly, ‘sexy’ – all aesthetic categories that become more distant the harder one tries to attain them.
The title of LIFE IS SEXY comes from this impossibility, echoing the overuse of the term ‘sexy’ throughout the early 2000s. But still, Franco looks, finding desire and sexiness (be it real or faux) in palm trees, sunsets, doughnuts, neon, tanning, leisure, sparkly nail polish, bronze families, mall picnics, and the spurting water features forged from the barren deserts of western cities – deserts that Baudrillard identified as America’s ‘primal scene’, the centre of its sexuality. (2) The aesthetics of this hyper-reality are hyper-realised in Franco’s work, and thank goodness, since, as Baudrillard bemoaned, ‘Snapshots aren’t enough’. (3)
(1) Sianne Ngai, Our aesthetic categories: zany, cute, interesting, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2012, pp.184, 7.
(2) Jean Baudrillard, America, trans. Chris Turner, Verso, London, 1988, p.28.
(3) ibid., p.1.