Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Crashed Car: Where Subject, Object, and Narrative Collide

     I have often been told that my art isn’t personal enough. Mostly it focuses on a disruption of visual assumptions, forced visual illiteracy. I strive to transport the viewers of my work into a state of abjection, which Julia Kristeva defines as “the place where meaning collapses.” I want to liberate you (yes, you) from your ego, from your world defined/confined/relatively predestined by your acoustic images, your Platonic ideals projected onto your environment, supplanting experience with perception. One
versed in semiotics or hermaneutics would correct the old adage as follows: “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

     Those familiar with my work may have noticed a certain motif: cars—crashed cars, abandoned cars, former cars. Why? Well, a car in-tact is an object. It represents the basic dialogue of American values: new money, class structure, priorities, information about taste and family. But a crashed car is not an object. A crashed car inherently has a narrative. By merit of its gaping, goreless wounds, it informs us of the most personal, solitary, ultimate moments of its passengers—death, or a glimpse thereof. A crashed car is a relic, the skin shed by the snake and its death-rattle. It requires no gore, no remnants of humanity to make us pale and wince. We are simultaneously enraptured and revolted—indeed, placed in a state of abjection. We can’t tear our eyes away, queasy and horrified as we are. A crashed car is a subject—one that percolates into our minds, our chests, our throats.

     Born and raised in Los Angeles, I have sometimes felt that a car crash is the manifest destiny of narcissists, klutzes, and the innocent alike. Cars are a method of transportation: car crashes are the same method of a different transportation. Surely, a pedestrian lying in the road comforted only by the DMT released in that ultimate and penultimate moment of life and unlife would see those staring headlights as lights ascending them to heaven; is this the rapture? And we, we all stare at the spectacle—the muse to the likes of Fitzgerald, Warhol, J.G. Ballard, and Cronenberg alike—simultaneously removed and utterly involved. It is an event we simultaneously understand and cannot fathom. It is at once alive, dead, and abiotic. So human, and yet so robotic. Surely this unholy union of man and machine sits comfortably in the Uncanny Valley.

     When I represent these destroyed or derelict cars in my work, I hearken to my homeland. But these rusted clumps so feared and fascinated also represent me. My car crashes are self-portraits. I feel similarly both objectified and subjectified—idealized by some and demeaned by strangers conditioned by a world of lenses and privilege. Passersby gawk and stare, simultaneously seeing my humanity and displacing me as an alien. One’s identity, to some extent, is carved by painful experiences as well as pleasurable ones. We define ourselves contextually, by reflecting or deflecting the other. You can’t see my rusted car guts and my bloodless dents, scrapes, and wounds. Not until I paint them. Not until I display them for you in a gallery, sprinkled with our shared existential fears like chopped nuts on a sundae.

      So don’t tell my my work isn’t personal. What could be more personal than death?