Friday, January 30, 2009

D'Nell Larson @ Queen's Nails Projects: A review by Mackenzie Jakoubek

Listening to “Next Exit,” a song by the band Interpol, always takes me back to a concert I attended with my husband during an earlier time of our courtship while living in the Midwest. This incredibly romantic night marked the first time we dared to even utter the word “married.” That night I heard the same concert as 3,000 other people, but I had felt the music was created just for me, just for that particular moment in time.

But alas, I cannot claim ownership. Hundreds of thousands of people have woven that pop song into their lives, including D’Nell Larson, whose current solo exhibition, Under the Milky Way, is showing at Queen’s Nails Projects (in conjunction with the 2008 California Biennial) in San Francisco, California. Larson, a Los Angeles-based artist, laces her latest collection with songs by Interpol, Nirvana, Mazzy Star, and Joy Division, which act as her own personal playlist in an exploration of how we appropriate pop music within our memories.

Larson’s exhibition is comprised of three pieces—one sculpture and two video works—the heart of which is the projected video entitled, Close Your Eyes and Think of Me. It features D’Nell’s professional musician parents (the term “lounge singers” might describe their sound more clearly) performing important songs from her life. In the video, Dennis and Arline Larson have been captured in their home practice space, the only identifiable objects in the background being a Marilyn Monroe poster and an unmoving disco ball. An installation of the same instrument set-up being used by the Larson’s in the video is featured in the center of the gallery.

The middle-America mom and dad of the video strongly contrasts with the contemporary music they play. Listening to a lounge-y rendition of a Nirvana classic may induce giggles at first, but the connection between the Larsons and D’Nell’s song choices makes her thesis strong. D’Nell’s piece exemplifies the way music shapes our memories just as much as people or experiences.

During Under the Milky Way’s celebratory opening on January 16th, my friend and I (among others in attendance) were treated to a live performance by the elder Larsons. It was particularly interesting to watch the crowd react to the “wedding singer” versions of familiar songs. Many of them watched as if they were witnessing a Gilbert and George performance, as though the Larsons were living statues (though ironically they were performing on the recreated installation). Some chucked, some simply enjoyed the music. To offer a visible reaction felt almost inappropriate as this was truly an intimate self-portrait of the artist within which she revealed to us her personal memories disguised as keyboards and sequins.

Larson's other included video, Untitled (birds), also plays with the idea of how the familiar evokes emotion. The video is comprised of a looped image of birds flying over the sea. The waves have a hypnotizing effect, and the anonymity of the image makes it a ubiquitous one. Accompanying this visual is the song, “The Killing Moon,” originally written and performed by The Echo and the Bunnymen, but in this instance sung by D’Nell herself. The artist’s voice is shallow and raw, like someone singing along to the radio. Similar to the other video work, this piece manages to link broad-based familiarity and intense personal intimacy.

Under the Milky Way does not answer any questions about why we respond so strongly to certain songs, but rather reminds us of how important music is to our individual history. Would our memories be the same without the music that accompanied them in the first place? I know my husband and I think not.

D’Nell Larson’s solo show is a part of the California Biennial and will be showing at Queen’s Nails Projects until February 14. For more info visit one of the following:

Side note: The gallery is small, but it’s worth your time to visit (even if you aren’t an Interpol fan). If you don’t live in the Mission, make a day of it and visit Galeria de la Raza as well, and then get yourself a mean burrito.

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