David Hartt: Interval

BY Jason Foumberg, September 28, 2015

David Hartt, Interval I, 2014. © David Hartt. Courtesy Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago, and David Nolan Gallery, New York

Who cares what happens on the island of Sakhalin, Russia, or in the Yukon Territory of Whitehorse, Canada? It turns out a lot of people do (and did). David Hartt traveled to each northern locale in the footsteps of two influential predecessors: Anton Chekhov in 1890, and Glenn Gould in 1967. Interval, on view through October 11, combines Hartt’s new photo and video series with an architectural intervention and soundtrack.

Hartt’s seemingly straightforward fieldwork is actually somewhat enigmatic: Was he inspired to travel to the remote towns simply because they were first approached by such unlikely documentarians? (Chekhov reported on the prison town of Sakhalin in his only work of non-fiction, and Gould, the pianist, produced broadcasts for Canadian radio for a decade.) While the original journalism is worth rediscovering, Hartt is a tour guide who trusts in his own whimsy.

It has been said that Chekhov conducted a door-to-door census in Sakhalin to extract information about the town’s secretive prison. Hartt seemingly replicates Chekhov’s method with slideshows of three- to five-second shots of dozens of sites, many of them remarkable only insofar as they exist. His camera is not disruptive, and his photographs comb the landscape for clues to the past and the present. The concept is grounded in Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, but an abstract jazz score by Mitchell Akiyama adds a layer of intellectual, even emotive mystique, a method borrowed from Gould’s radio program.

What happened in Sakhalin and Whitehorse? Well, there were weeds and Wal-marts, parking lots, locals, and nightclubs. The prison Chekhov reported on is still there. In Hartt’s work, the photos and videos are not clearly differentiated between the two places, and the confusion is a productive exercise in determining the value of place. A glass curtain wall from a commercial skyscraper bisects the gallery space, a nod to the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, where the first iteration of Interval debuted earlier this year. Reference upon citation upon feeling upon observation – that is how Hartt builds his topics. It ends up being a kind of place-based formalism, more gorgeous than informational.