Drag racing: Performed with high-powered vehicles. Form of acceleration race popular in the United States in which two contestants race side by side from a standing start over a flat, straight, measured one-quarter-mile course; the first to the finish line is the winner. A drag racing event is a series of such two-vehicle, tournament-style eliminations. The winning driver's progress until one driver remains to be the winner in his class.
Max Frazee, who had come to New York from University of California, at Irvine in the early Eighties on a Whitney Museum fellowship, is best known internationally for his installations exploring Western societies phenomenon of serial murder. When serial killers are asked for their motivation for their actions, they inevitably refer to, among other things, an inexplicable thrill, a sense of power, a particular form of "high". Man's chief evolutionary distinction is that he is the only creature who has learned to thrive on stress.
Frazee's new work links these aspects.
Drag racing is about testing of the limits of physical reality. It is about transcending frontiers. It is an action that can put the driver's life in danger, can even kill.
The fusion between the racer and his car is one of playful will motivated by personal inquiry. There is no pragmatic goal at stake. Instead, there is an intense curiosity for the limits and boundaries of personal achievement. Frazee is concerned with the individual's personal challenge, rather than the aspect of "hero".
Another area of Frazee's interest is the racecar itself. It is revered by those engaged in this sport as an object of enclosed power, as the embodiment of an independent ally, and, at times, adversary. A fusion between driver and car occurs for about four seconds of time elapse at a race, where man is encased in the car for better or worse. This fusion is of an alchemical quality: Man becomes machine, machine and man become "animal".
It is interesting to see what happens when an artist addresses a theme that, at best, has been documented by footage of actual races or by photography, which usually zooms in on the potential winner. The photos, videos and audio recordings that Frazee made in preparation for this work refer to the "animality" of the car, the semi-animated object. His documentation focuses on the moment when, in preparation for the actual race, the drivers "burn" their tires; the clouds of exhaust (the animal "exhales"); the aesthetics of the unleashing and unfolding of the parachutes needed to stop the car after the race; the hauling of the cars from the pits to the point of departure; their hoods elevated, showing their underbelly.
Since the racecar is also perceived as object of both embodied power and revered aesthetics and beauty, the car itself is elevated to cult status, to the nature of a supra- mundane icon. Frazee's installation, in his over-sized drawings, refers to the beauty of the funny cars' silhouettes. Similarly, they have a coffin-like quality.
Sports in our society are a mass phenomenon. Heroes are made by the media and an entire follow-up industry markets the "gladiator" status of sports heroes. This is not the part that Frazee explores and discloses. It is the act of "burning" of the car's tires in preparation for the race that equals "warm up". The race is "the kill". The return of the car to the pits for overhaul is the pause to gear up for the next "kill". It is in this sequence that Frazee sees the connection to his previous theme of serial killers who receive their "high" in a similar sequence of events, wherein killing is experienced as total consumption and saturation. Racing is experienced as total consumption and saturation, where driver and car are one, where the viewers are engulfed in an explosion of their senses.
It is the part of the intimate connection between man and machine, as well as man's motives to engage in this connection that interest Frazee. In the process of this exploration, aesthetic and psychological insights surface that we would not encounter unless the artist leads us there.