“Back Time: Video Projections by William Larson”

March 23-April 24, 2002
William Larson

This exhibition is the first one-person show in the region since 1985 for Philadelphia-based veteran photographer William Larson. The show introduces three works in video, a medium he only began investigating in 1998 after thirty years of exploring the temporal possibilities of the still image. Each of the three pieces demonstrates a concern for depicting time in static space while consciously using one medium to comment on another. The artist’s preoccupation with root technology, cultural framing, and self-reflexive storytelling is echoed in the exhibition’s title, an allusion to the “back story” or subtext behind the primary intention of film narrative.

Mallare (2000) is a silent, single-channel piece projected onto a suspended screen. It is comprised of the computerized text of Ben Hecht’s 1922 novel Mallare being completely deleted, one word at a time. The process proceeds backwards from the final sentences (“Pity me. This is the cross.”) to the first (“Fantazius Mallare considered himself mad…). Following the cursor are three emblematic sentences Larson selected from the novel that continually rewrite themselves as the piece progresses. These sentences function like a buffer between the text of the novel and a field of constantly changing digits (the protagonist’s obsession) that overtake the text. The contradictory flow of the manuscript being erased as the video moves forward becomes analogous to the narrative of this gothic tale of madness and self-destruction. By allowing the viewer to drift backwards through the text, the artist provides another way to experience the story while revealing a new, generative grammar in the process. Larson conceived this work as one of several text based performances in which the deletion process, something he refers to as “one of the exquisite native programs on the computer,” acts as interface between mathematics and language.

NOTime, 2000, video projection onto perpendicular walls, color image: 9’ x 12’; black and white image: 20” x 28”, 12.5 minutes.

NOTime (2000) is a two-channel work projected on perpendicular walls. A large-scale, color video image depicts an antiquated movie projector on a Victorian table, its reels scrolling the projected film into an inevitable pile on the floor. This projector appears to be the source of a second, smaller, black and white image of looping footage excerpted from a 1923 documentary showing a pair of busy bricklayers in an obviously redundant activity. The illusory relationship between the image of the movie projector and that of the bricklayers gives way to further realizations regarding the historic interplay between the early film technology depicted and the contemporary video equipment actually generating the projections in the gallery. Despite these casual relationships, the two images form their own independent, machine-like rhythm as they grind toward an unresolved yet seemingly deterministic outcome.

STILL and yet, 1999-2000, video projection, image: 6’ x 8’, 60 minutes.

STILL and yet (1999-2000) projects a series of what appear to be nine “snapshots” of the same image repeated and enlarged to six feet by ten feet, separated by a simulated strobe flash. Tension mounts as each impromptu, family tableaux is suspended in real time for as long as eight minutes or more. Close scrutiny of a group of seemingly identical images, for instance a half-clothed women reaching for a doorknob, reveals slight variations in the background between frames – in this example the image on the Television monitor is constantly changing.

Trained as a painter, Larson has been a significant figure in the field of fine art photography since the early 1970s. His initial experiments with sequential imagery demonstrated a filmmaker’s attitude toward depicting time and space while other projects evinced an interest in synthesizing images through high and low technology. Fire Flies (1976) – one of the first artworks to employ fax technology – documents Larson’s inventive use of early teleprinters as a means to combine photographs, sound, music, text, and voice to create a form of electronic collage. Tucson Gardens (1983), a suite of shadowless images documenting the backyards at the edge of the Sororan Desert in a bleached-out palette of primary colors, carefully references “garden magazine” style picture-making. Articulating Larson’s own wry sense of formal order, the series is regarded as one of the era’s landmarks of color photography, a mode generally disparaged until that time.

Larson’s work has been included in solo exhibitions at the International Museum of Photography (Rochester, New York, 2000), the Center for Creative Photography (Tucson, 1993) and the Institute for Contemporary Art (Philadelphia, 1985), as well as important group exhibitions at the J. Paul Getty Museum (2000), the Whitney Museum of American Art (Biennial, 1981), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1978), where his work is included in the permanent collection. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Atlanta Museum of Art, the Getty, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art also own his photographs. Among his awards and honors are a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (2001), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1982), four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1971, 1979, 1986, 1992), and a grant from Polaroid Corporation (1979). Larson received his B.S. from SUNY Buffalo and his M.S. from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design in Chicago. He is currently the Director of Graduate Photography and Digital Imaging at the Maryland Institute College of Art.