From the Living End

Exhibition Catalogue Essay in the form of LP notes
Chris Larson: Land Speed Record
June 9, 2016 - January 8, 2017
Walker Art Center
Curated by Siri Engberg

Toward the beginning of Andrei Tarkovsky's science-fiction film Stalker (1979), three men, including the eponymous guide, stand at the edge of the "zone," a mysterious off-limits realm said to contain a room where one's innermost wishes may be granted. As the camera approaches via a long slow tracking shot, it peers through a burned-out military vehicle at the apprehensive trio, framed in an almost still silhouette from behind, as you hear the capture of a brief monologue regarding what they might encounter beyond—a measured warning of sorts. The viewer is seemingly prompted to guess whose halting soliloquy it is among the three figures as the camera inches slowly closer and closer from behind. And it’s in this moment of slow approach through the portal of the vehicle that a rupture between sight and sound occurs as one man finally looks back suddenly in the direction of the camera just as another begins to speak unmoved, creating an uneasy pairing of portent and disorientation that overturns expectations of conventional narrative and point of view. It’s unclear whose address it was. The break warns the viewer that the path ahead unwinds into an uncertain landscape where synch is no longer a given, and time might lag, slip, repeat, or break apart.

The long take here marks a crossing into a time register where the unsettling pervades, and the parsing of visual and sonic layers opens up to extended metaphors of rupture and estrangement. The tracking shot that lies at the heart of Chris Larson’s Land Speed Record also marks entry into an uncanny landscape intent on slow reveal. Capturing the partially charred remains of a recognizably musical life, the slow moving flyover takes in a visual litany of memorabilia, records, car parts, photographs, books, instruments, and miscellany parceled out below the camera like an estate sale. Shot in HD color video, the effect of the elevated long take is magnetic and melancholic as the line up of goods and memory-laden objects displays the ruins of an anarchic yet scholarly and distinctly American sensibility. Larson’s slow burn shot is paired with a second more meandering close up projection, shot on 16mm black and white, that focuses in and traces through the objects, including a cache of studio recordings, catalogued with poetic and idiosyncratic song titles, and the handwritten notes of a self-styled index. The effects and muttering retreats of a life splayed out yet withheld, arrayed and assembled as if in uneasy homage.

Tarkovsky himself observed that it was in the bringing together but also paring down of editing that time is captured and made material, “Assembly, editing, disturbs the passage of time, interrupts it and simultaneously gives it something new. The distortion of time can be a means of giving it rhythmical expression.” At some point upon entering the installation of Chris Larson’s Land Speed Record, having succumbed to its mesmeric grip, you hear the blistering crack and rhythmic report of a drum kit breaking the silence and clamoring to life. This is revved up time, a bolt forward to the spectator, struck awake as if chased down by a ghost. The unaccompanied drums are stark and amped, coming fast. Recorded to mimic the separated out contour of artist and musician Grant Hart’s inimitable drum part on the live 1982 recording Land Speed Record by conceptual punk pioneers Husker Dü, the isolated track attains an otherworldly livewire presence in Larson’s orchestration. Gone is any acknowledgment of Husker Dü bassist Greg Norton’s accompaniment and guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould, with only the reverberant and propulsive nod to Hart’s line of attack. Having built a life-size replica of a Marcel Breuer-designed house in contour only to burnt it in effigy (celebration / love / loss, 2013) or cut through a labyrinth-like sequence of studio floors in his video work Heavy Rotation, 2011, Larson is expert and masterful at elaborate construction and artifice in service of the uncanny gesture and sculptural moment of reveal. Acting as a third element to the long take assembly and close up that comprise the hypnotic visual tension of the installation Land Speed Record, the drum track surge of Larson’s reprise composition makes the space angular, tactile, and cut. To borrow a phrase from Tarkovsky, Larson is "sculpting in time."

—Fionn Meade

© Fionn Meade and Walker Art Center

Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated