Record On The Floor: Christian Marclay’s Footsteps
[ Ed. note: Dave White is a hoarder of radness. His house is brimming with awesome art objects carefully collected over the years, so I asked him to write a series of posts chronicling his connoisseurship. It all began with the purchase of one record... - Graham ]
An excerpt from the notes of a boxed, 12” piece of vinyl by Christian Marclay, one I bought in 1990:
From June 4th through July 16th 1989 the floor of one of the Shedhalle Galleries, Zurich, was covered with 3500 copies of a record titled Footsteps. During the six weeks of the installation, people were invited to walk on the records—willingly or not, they had to step on them to reach the adjacent galleries where other sculptures were exhibited. The one-sided recording, containing the sounds of footsteps, was recorded in December 1988 in the deserted hallways of the Clocktower (N.Y.) and in the studios of Harmonic Ranch (N.Y.), where Keiko Uenishi’s tap dancing was mixed in. During the gallery installation the work could be looked at, stepped on and walked through, but the recording was never heard…
At the end of the exhibition, the records, which were attached to the floor with double-sided tape, were removed.
One thousand of these records have been made available, apart from a special edition of one hundred copies signed and numbered. Dedicated to the memory of Fred Astaire.
I was already a fan of Christian Marclay, even though I was about as land-locked from both the art world and the weird music world as a person could get. I had some compilations he was on and I’d bought his 10” EP called More Encores where he mangled up the music of people like Maria Callas and Jimi Hendrix. I was a college student in Lubbock, Texas, and since the internet wasn’t around to make every single thing ever created accessible within seconds, it meant I had to dig and hunt to find the stuff I wanted to see and hear. And I had hunted down and loved his turntable re-interpretations of pre-existing sound. I don’t want this explanation to come off like “In my day I had to walk to school uphill in the snow” because it wasn’t like that. It was exciting. You learned secret stuff and shared it with the friends who also wanted in on that secret.
Anyway, my boss at the indie record shop I worked in said, “I can get this for you at my cost but it’s still going to be as much as you make in two weeks of work.” Now, I also made money by washing dishes in a women’s dorm cafeteria and feeding breakfast to a friend with really profound cerebral palsy. I always juggled two or three jobs to keep myself afloat while going to college part-time. But in spite of multiple employments this absolutely necessary indulgence was out of my reach.
Because I wasn’t reliant on my parents to live, I didn’t feel guilty about lying to my mother for some emergency art cash. I said I needed to buy groceries. That I was strapped. She wrote me a check. I remember it being somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. Maybe $150. It’s been a while and I didn’t keep good financial records back then. But it might as well have been $10,000. That’s how little wiggle room there was in my personal budget in those days. (And yes, I paid her back eventually. And not just in hugs.)
I took it out of the box, played it once, then put the accompanying poster on my bedroom wall—it’s a shot of the installation featuring all the records, including whichever one of them became mine—and placed the record on the floor. For 21 years now it has remained on the floor inside whatever front door I’ve rented. It’s been walked on by countless visitors, including one actual famous person, the label is sun-faded and the recording itself has been footstepped right off, wiped out of playability. And in the meantime Christian Marclay has become a big art world star. That makes me pretty happy. I like to think that every time a new person asked me why I had a record on my floor, my explanation turned them into a fan and I helped his reputation that way. I realize how delusional that is. It’s sort of like thinking that the shoes you don’t wear very often are sad about it.
With 1100 of these things floating around, Footsteps barely straddles the line between functional recorded object and what most people would call a proper piece of art. But to me it was my gateway drug art purchase because it inspired and satisfied a gnawing cake-hunger in my belly. That’s the itch most people who collect stuff all feel inside, the one that tells you that life is going to be so much better after you get that thing in your hands. And when it really does make life better that’s when you know you made the right decision. And I totally did. I’m going to go stomp on that record right now.