Let It Burn

by Suzanne & Wayne Carte

[Essay contribution to Jacked! catalogue]

On Father’s Day I sat down with my Dad to talk about the spectacle mechanics of Steven Laurie’s work. Over a beer we discussed the moment where performance meets proformance and the art market meets the aftermarket.


Growing up in Hamilton did you ever do burnouts?

Yes, you used to do burnouts when you purchased a new or used muscle car.

If it was anything in the muscle range then it was a point of pride that you could go down in front of one of the drive-in fast food joints, where all the muscle cars hung out and the police officers would allow some flexibility and you could do a wicked burnout. So everyone, including the staff that were serving the hamburgers at A&W -when the girls were wearing roller skates- would serve you while still in your car. Everyone’s head would be on a swivel as they turned and shuddered.

It got to a point where everyone could tell and feel whose car it was without looking. That was because you had a 400 cubic inch engine, a 360, or a hemi – super charged engine. Some of them had two four-barrels on them and stuff like that, and when they burnt rubber they would lay a strip down as long as you like. They would allow around 30 to 40 feet of rubber… In the early 70s it became a sound factor. The neighbourhood started to get built up so you could not do that anymore.  To a point where the police started monitoring the width of the tires. Therefore you could not have a slick on a car anymore. They would stop you and measure your tires, just like a hockey stick or the diameter of a football in sporting events…


What is a slick?

A slick is a very wide tire and it doesn’t have a tread on it. It is very, very soft so that when you burn it out; the air inside the tire expands, like a dragster. The tire then gets very sticky, and from then on you could burn as far and long as you have your foot on the gas. But it would pick up things, little stones and stuff.

Tires were a lot cheaper then. Tire today you have to pay a ton of money.


I guess you don’t want to go through them that fast anymore. You choose your moments wisely.

What was interesting though was that you got so in tune with the sound and size of a certain cubic inch engine, especially in the part of town where these engines were prominent – like in front of A&W. You did not have to look you could tell that it was the ‘67 Chevell that just went by or the Nova Super Sport or the Impala Super Sport. You could tell what size of engine was in it based on the power and performance or how much torque it gave.

Of course you get a lot of amateurs behind the wheel. It can get away from you fast! And when it gets away you would see a lot of rookies getting banged up, their cars all banged up. It was a rite of passage, so to speak. As soon as I bought my car, my Duster, the first thing I did was burn the tires out in front of A&W, to let them know that there was a new player in town.

The smell of it is invigorating. The smell of rubber. Especially when it comes from a high performance engine. The blue smoke, the white smoke, you can get two different colours depending on how hot the tires are running, but you can smell it. It leaves a scent behind. Not only do you strut like a rooster but also, it lays its scent like a cat. You can smell the rubber and raw fuel because there is no emission controls. We didn’t have any buffers. It was raw fuel going into those engines. Almost like what Steve is doing with his two-stroke engines. It is raw fuel going into a piston. They would take off any filtration systems and enrich the carburetors so that you could smell the fuel. The sound and smell was exhilarating.


Jacked! Demonstration

So the goal of the game was who could lay the longest track or do the most circles?

That is two different things…

It was who could lay the longest track within the proper distance. There was a two-block radius in which you could do this. You had to start at one end and finish at the other end. That was the coup de grâce if you could do it properly.

The donut only came in after. No one liked doing donuts because you could lose control of your car. We used to go to new shopping centres or large areas to do donuts. You could not do it in the streets because it was way too dangerous.

Burnouts are becoming very popular now in Formula 1 cars and Indie cars because again it is your rite of passage. It says, “I won this race. Watch me. I am going to burn these tires out by going around and around and you are going to smell my exhaust and you’re gonna like it. I am going to burn these tires to the rim.”

That is what Steve does. He burns his tires until they just fail.



Did you see his hand-held revving machines?

He likes his two-stroke engines.

Ya, I saw that one. He sits back on a lawn-chair and puts his feet on it. That one kinda spooked me. What else is it supposed to do other than make sound?! It is two-stroke or four-stroke engine sound with a muffler system attached to it. Again it is an audio thing, you know the sound even though you can’t see it. If he was out in a park and people on the side of the street could hear it, what would they be thinking? Everyone would have a different picture in his or her mind. One might think that it is a motorcycle, another a lawnmower, or a car. Yet here it is just a small rectangular device that is making sound.


What does the revving prove? Why do people do that?

When you go to any event – a concert or a car race, a hockey game – if the promoter can make a noise that is recognizable it starts the event off.  You know, “Lets get ready to rumble.” Right. You know exactly what that is. You don’t even need to be in the house.  You know that it is a fight; you know that it is a boxing match, and you know that it is a big fight. It is like anything else. It is a signature. It gets you tingling. You know what is coming up.

The sound of the rubber is the beginning. It is the beginning of a Formula1 race or a drag race down on Jarvis Street. It is the beginning of an event. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

He is getting you revved up for the event.

But that is from a sound perspective, you cannot see the circles on the ground.  You can make art drawing with a rubber tire. It can change from day to day, too. You can wash it off and draw another one.

It is all art. Art is in the eye of the beholder.


What do you think of these machines as being art? Do you see them functioning as sculptural forms?

The purpose of these is to stimulate the senses. If I was out standing on the sidewalk and he was doing his performance, I would go over to it regardless of who I knew. I would be exhilarated – for a short period of time – because it brings back memories. I can smell it. I can feel it in my bones and it takes me back to a point when I was behind the wheel and doing it.

There is no better excitement than that.