MINNEAPOLIS — Nostalgia for the Minneapolis music scene of the 1980s has been at somewhat of a fever pitch of late. The Replacements got back together, briefly, a few years ago before abruptly breaking up again. Babes in Toyland got back together in 2014. Then, in 2015 there was a reunion show celebrating the Longhorn Bar, a staple of the punk scene of the late 1970s and early ‘80s, with members of The Suicide Commandos and The Suburbs all showing up to play. Most recently, the death of Prince sent the city of Minneapolis into an intense wave of despair.
In this environment of longing for past days of greatness, comes a body of work by artist Chris Larson, whose installation at the Walker Art Center, Land Speed Record, is titled after the Hüsker Dü album of the same name. Land Speed Record was recorded live in 1981 at the 7th Street Entry, a Minneapolis club that was an epicenter of the city’s flourishing rock scene. According to Pitchfork Magazine, Hüsker Dü played the club nearly 60 times between 1980 and 1981.
The possessions of the Hüsker Dü drummer and singer Grant Hart are the substance of Larson’s piece. In 2011, Hart’s childhood home caught fire and partially burned down, and he ended up storing his stuff in Larson’s studio, a collaborator and friend. Two years later, Larson decided to use the assemblage of instruments, recording equipment, notepads, car parts, and burnt items as subject for an installation.
Larson meditates on these objects as relics and reminders of the ephemeral nature of music in two films: one is a digital slow pan of the 85 feet the paraphernalia take up in his studio, and the other, a black-and-white 16mm film, offers close-up vignettes of the Barbie dolls, lawn mower parts, suitcases, speakers, typewriters, xylophones, plastic bags, drums, and books. The films are screened on opposite sides of the gallery. The digital one takes up a whole wall, with the movie reflected on the marble floor below; as the camera pans at an achingly slow pace, the myriad objects look as if they disappear into a pool of water.
Both films last 26 minutes and 35 seconds, the same time it takes to listen to the fast-paced album. Sporadically throughout the film are sound spurts of Del Valle playing the drums for the Land Speed Record album. Extremely fast and frantic, the pulse of the drums contrast starkly with the slow pan of the camera. There are also images of a crystal-clear Ludwig Vistalite drum kit, which Larson bought for the movie’s soundtrack. Played by Yousif Del Valle, the drums are the same brand that Hart played on for the original recording in 1981.
Installed some distance away are replicas of the drink rail found in the 7th Street Entry that visitors might lean against as they watch the film. The wooden rail creates a kind of sacred space — the size of the front dance section of the club— where the floor itself becomes a part of the artwork.
Larson’s Land Speed Record isn’t so much a collaboration with Hart as it is a transformation of his work into a statement of longing and yearning for a past moment of artistic ecstasy. Hart’s life and work provides the starting point for Larson’s musing on the nature of time and creativity. The project hums a sentimental tune, driven by the beat of memory.
Chris Larson: Land Speed Record continues at the Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis) through January 8, 2017.