“I wanted to slow down the race so one could see images that are not available during a normal broadcast,” says artist Slater Bradley of his latest project, a 16mm film shot at the Indianapolis 500 Speedway race in 2012. “The cars become alien, insect-like space invaders. With new rhythms, the race starts to feel like an orbital sci-fi ballet.” Following his childhood best friend, driver Townsend Bell, Walk That Tightrope is a hallucinatory realization of destiny through American race car culture. Bradley’s fascination with tragic heroes, from Michael Jackson to River Phoenix and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, has resulted in fan paintings and crumbled photographic work such as the Berlin-based artist’s piece that features at this year’s Armory show in New York with the Sean Kelly gallery. “I did an interview with Townsend before the race, and he talked about the toll that going 225 mph for three hours takes on your mind, body, stamina, and concentration,” says Slater, the youngest male artist to have a solo show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. “The mental and physical shape he is in is just unreal. He's also risking his life out there. To walk a straight line you have to spin in circles.”
What interested you about racing culture?
Slater Bradley: To be honest, I had never seen a race in person before. I've never really had a vested interest in car culture but I am interested in synchronicity, time travel, manifesting unconscious and conscious desire. The mind versus intuition, and dramatic aspects of storytelling and myth-making within structuralist film.
What was the impetus of the film?
SB: After an absence of two decades or more, I reconnected with Townsend Bell, my childhood best friend, who has carved out a place among the top racers of his generation. I had no idea until by chance I heard he placed fourth at the Indy 500 in 2009. That achievement in itself is extraordinary, but what made it more remarkable was a prophecy he had made when we were 10 years old. How could he so clearly feel his future? I wanted to make a film about Townsend's pursuit.
Sound feels very important here. What are we hearing?
SB: I like to think that while the brain processes the images, sound processes your gut. This stereo soundtrack mix comprised of manipulated field recordings and the helmet communication between Townsend and his pit crew. It was developed with my frequent collaborator, sound engineer Ben Gebhardt. The searing sounds of the race, gut wrenching and vertigo inducing, have provided a blasting-off point.