Chris Larson

"The world as we see it is passing."
-Paul of Tarus

See for yourself what you have come upon. This thing is unwarranted. It is obstinate. It is in your way. And it is mute, too. An awful enforced stillness hangs in the air around it; no help for the "what is it" question, no help for the "why is it here" question. It is sinking back into time so degraded that any practical description is hopeless.

It once had a function. Very likely. A grand purpose, perhaps. This heap was once meant to perform. But what? And for whom? And now? It is only an echo of some special-but-bygone duty, a remnant of now-inaccessible, antediluvian rationalism. Your eye traces the hulking mass, its phantasmagoric density. Along the way you index parts, theorizing that their sum will equal an unambiguous, and therefore profitable, whole. The eye skims at ground level, then up the massive shanks, along the stalwart frame supports, over the weathered rope too large for the largest ship, around the colossal cogwheels that once heaved slowly and turned the massive ratchets that drove the sturdy gearwheels that set the monumental machine into motion . . .

And it smells. Its fumes are rank. The mammoth beams exude a fresh-cut, woody stench, like the medieval gallows a father let a son near for only a few moments in the evening before dawn when a man was to be hanged.

This monstrous thing could have appeared in the freakish company of Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights; tame when compared to its companions, but not out of place. Yet, just as reasonably, the stage it sets is picturesque. It could have been a centerpiece, nesting comfortably within the mysterious gardens at Bomarzo.

Or perhaps the assumption of scale is all wrong and the thing was only a detail of something far grander. Imagine that you are striding up the fourth, on your way to the fifth, tier of Pieter Brugel's The Tower of Babel. As you tread the muddy incline you hear workmen making hollow woody sounds against the scaffolding. This thing would disappear in the labyrinthian clutter of the tower's face.

Or Piranesi might have had a hand its creation, imagining it into the architecture of his Imagined Prisons. Or Fuseli. Ah yes, Fuseli. Artist Moved By The Grandeur of Ancient Ruins. The hulk, the heap, the debris that this thing is, is melancholia itself the dark romanticism of what we fear we have forgotten and can never resurrect. Caspar David Friedrich would have admired the thing's memory-drenched aura how though its spirit has fled, traces of longing linger behind.

The thing disintegrates under our scrutiny. There is less now than when we began. This ruin is fading into time, its truth a trail of vapor in its wake. Which is precisely why it should be understood as a piece of poetry, a meditation on the end of the world, through which we contemplate ourselves in history, with just so many heartbeats left.

It is, as if . . . It is as if it is over.

"It's a remarkable piece of apparatus," said the officer to the explorer and surveyed with a certain air of admiration the apparatus which was after all quite familiar to him. In The Penal Colony, Franz Kafka....

To unveil meaning in Larson's sculptures, we should begin with the idea of disappearances. Larson fashions slippages in time "disappearances" and along the way brings forsaken ruins to life.

Chris is nothing if not extravagant. Think back to that grand outdoor sculpture he completed last year, the one in which it seemed that a bulging telescope, or perhaps an immense manufacturing shoot, or conceivably a mammoth cannon was propped up atop a gigantic circular wheel that would have been laboriously rotated and aimed by a creaking wooden treadmill. This monstrosity seemed quite hopeless, and blurred into an intractable improbability.

For Larson, identity is always a shadow of the systematic, smudged by weathering time and then shaded by inuendo as colossal as it is preposterous. Larson consistently differentiates between the signifier and the signified. As a result, meaning is unavailable in the traditional context of a fixed ultimate, where the signifier and the signified the thing and what it means would nominally join in "inevitable significance." His ambition falls elsewhere. Let me explain what I mean.

At the heart of Larson's matter remains the idea of disappearance. Among the most conventional practices of art history and criticism is the claim that the essence of the work of art is in its disappearance in the direction of what it signifies, toward an undifferentiated experience of inward and outward expression, of form and spirit. Barnett Newman comes to mind. And such would be the case in Larson's work if his titanic wooden cylinder was unequivocally a cannon, or positively a telescope. But imagine with me that a work of art is liberated from having to live up to a fixed and ultimate meaning, and you can envision how the form of the work of art is suddenly freed to be expressive in its own right. Larson splendidly accomplishes this. In his work, the centered experience consistently fails to materialize. The signifier and signified dissolve into a tranquilizing and unified effect of solidarity.

To ask if his work has meaning that is fixed and whole, encased within some inevitable significance, is to ask the wrong question. For Larson, meaning is suspended between the rational and pre-rational, between form and spirit, between signifier and signified. In my view, he only permits meaning to evolve inside a realization that meaning cannot be described. Therefore, meaning in his sculptures is always deferred, never resolved.

Larson takes his flirtation with logical conclusions to the edge of the absurd. There is always an apparent line of unadorned reasoning you can trace a course of thought shimmering mirage-like through his sculptures' mechanical form but this appearance of logic camouflages a perfect pattern of disinformation preprogrammed to trip a hidden fail-safe the moment any resolution draws near. We never arrive. His sculptures never take us anywhere near a point of fixed conclusions; they always abort at the moment we sniff "inevitable significance." And there, in the experience of this jolting cataclysmic abort, is where the meaning of his art steadily gyrates.

Consider the sculpture in which he conjoins an enormous water wheel to thick and meaty gears, promising to whirl an immense churn, bowed to look something like a wooden jet engine set on end. At first glance the physical syntax recalls a dated language pronouncing pure utility, the pedigreed functionality of an device stainlessly efficient for its time. But the closer you look, the more obvious it becomes that this thing is hurling you toward a spectacular meltdown: the disappearance of rationalism into the heart of cryptic form. Semblance and fact, each with their own centered gravity of meaning, begin pulling your imagination into crisscrossing orbits. By the time you tune in the bewildering speciousness broadcast by the exquisitely honest construction it is too late. Look away and then back and you spot reason's safe haven receding at a fantastic pace. And it is over.

Ronald Jones
Stockholm, Sweden

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