|Infanta with Mexican Coupé
I saw this I thought at first that it was Hindu and
a statement on the worship of the car. That it was a
kind of Mexican baroque with the title "Infanta with
Mexican-Coupé" and effectively the same message
did not detract from it. Indeed one could easily see
devotees of Candomblé worshipping this as a fetish
of a dark god.
in fact was the message of this exhibition - that the
motor car is evil and if not controlled will destroy
mankind. From the display panels there was plenty of
evidence of this: animals squashed, pedestrians caught
forlorn in the middle of roads, a child beside a huge
truck, great motorways, towns seemingly given over to
traffic. The message was that the impact on the environment
and quality of life, and indeed the threat to life,
was out of control.
exhibition was in commemoration of 100 years of the
motor car and was aimed at taking an appraising look
at what the car had done to us. Originally shown in
Germany, it was appearing at the Glasgow School of Art,
with supporting art work by the students.
was preceded by a short and essentially "green' conference
along with a performance of Autogeddon, the poem which
made such an impact on TV a year or so ago. The powerful
and emotional language of Heathcote Williams demonises
the car -"thanks to greed's halitosis, breath is
no longer a birthright" ....... that sort of thing;
and to some seems unfair but go back to the Futurists
and see how they extol power and speed and the thrill
of driving, a trend that still exists in car advertising
today. To counter such glorification you need vilification,
and this poem has it in full.
displays were a bit disappointing - photographs and
explanatory text - but they raised many points about
the impact of the car. Those on the environment and
on pollution didn't really register with me but there
were quite a few linked to safety. There were some sad
photos of dead animals and the caption noted that on
a 100 km stretch of motorway in Germany 13 birds, 3
cats and 17 hedgehogs were killed in just one day not
to mention countless butterflies, beetles and other
was a particularly gloomy subway with the note that
pedestrians have now become a traffic obstruction, foreign
bodies disrupting traffic, with injunctions against
crossing. Forbidden to cross the road they are forced
over footbridges or down subways. The photos of crowded
streets showed only too clearly that we are displaced
persons. "Pedestrians share the same fate as the
American Indian - their reservations were gradually
eroded too." And again: "A constant stream of
traffic means a constantly hectic existence for us humans
and continuous stress for young and old. Even crossing
the road at a green light means taking your life in
your hands. Are drivers a different breed?"
were some good photos of children playing in the street
- presumably nowhere else to go. "Young children
need basic, natural things such as water, dirt, bushes
and space in which to play. They can grow up without
all of that - with carpets, cuddly toys or tarmacadamed
roads and yards. Of course they will survive, but one
should not be surprised if they are later unable to
develop such basic social attributes as initiative,
or a feeling of belonging in a place." (Alexander
was a delightful section on how we are conditioned to
accept the car from early childhood. 'Aims and objectives:
auto-conformity in the child. With his mother's milk,
the child should absorb acceptance of the car into his
system. Toy cars, cars everywhere in his environment
and the example of his parents develop in the child
a love of the motorcar and an appreciation of its seemingly
absolute necessity. The process is completed by the
driving test as an initiation rite into the world of
glamour of the car, its association with power and speed
didn't escape attention - motor shows, racing but curiously,
of a different kind were supplied by the students of
the School of Art in the form of posters for the exhibition.
The seated figures suggest robots in a production line,
faceless, carried forward by an alien and malign impetus.
The "mechanical man", made of cars, takes up the soulless
theme while the tangled roads, red and black suggests
a pointlessness to all our journeys. Some of these themes
were repeated in the exhibits - the sculptures and paintings.
Clearly cars, if viewed negatively, suggest these.
There was a touch of humour though. "Kross Karefully"
showed a fine use of colour and fabric, and made for an
altogether softer, gentler pedestrian crossing. There
was a book showing a plan of motorway service areas -
'Yahoo! Giddup! - which I couldn't make sense of, unless
it was to do with the pointless scurrying about we all
Some works took up the theme of decay, mangled metal
shapes and piles of rusty metal on the floor.
There was also a set of jelly cars - funnily enough,
I met the artist in a vegetarian restaurant and she
told me that they were meant to deteriorate over the
lifespan of the show and were a comment on the built-in
obsolescence of the car. She also explained that the
powerful "Infanta" item was originally focussed on the
doll, showing that for many people the car is like a
substitute child; and that it later took on the religious
overtones - at least I think that's what she said.
Overall, this was an interesting exhibition. There was
a lot of hyperbole about the evils of the car but if
one allowed for this, it made many valid points. I particularly
liked the work of the students. There is a lot of talent
there and all too often it goes into creating the type
of car advert that this show, and we ourselves denigrate.
It's odd to think that one and the same individual
in an advertising agency could be working one month
on a car ad and on a road safety advert the next. But
that just reflects the basic ambivalence we all have
towards safety and the environment.