Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 11 - Lest we forget
Log 11 - Lest we forget

The static body: speeding up standing still
a look at the art exhibition Drive: power>progress>desire which ran at the Govett-Brewster art gallery in New Plymouth from 12 February to the 30 April 2000.
Joyoti Wyli


Steel whale ribs rainbow across the morning motorway, just turning to the old sun as light pales the streetlamps. A black sparkly evening gown hangs from the steel upon which digital messages are forcing themselves on the unflowing, fettered traffic. "Merge like a zip", "Indicate before changing lanes". An unwanted road code lesson causes some mirth in me as, at the same time, frustration is squashed down into a black hole of mounting dissatisfaction and denial. The kind of denial that causes depression and chain smoking. These signs don’t work. I propose on these pseudo, shimmering gowns a poem a day or a novel, say Crime and punishment read a line per day.

I think about the Drive art exhibition in New Plymouth as I drive and also wonder why these patronising signs are flashed over the motorway when each person is doing their best to remain sane in the nightmare that is a traffic jam; the antithesis of modernity and the car’s promise of speed, power, freedom and individualism. This morning at 6.30am the highway/motorway has lost all its power, speed and any hint of desire. As thronging masses of steel and rubber grumble into the future; as one mute force empire heading towards work: a necessity to eat and to eat, a necessity to Drive: power>progress>desire.

Cars are an excruciating everyday obligation; they’re mandatory, and one has to put up with them, to touch them, be cramped within them, be pulverised by them, to glare out of their windows, or to fill them up with fossil fuels, just to be a normal human being.

This quote, from an essay "tooautopoietic to drive" by Giovanni Intra, sums up the show’s general tone. The exhibition, which included the work of some 60 artists from around the world, explored such issues as sexuality and death, technology versus ecology, the road as Christian tattoo and colonial mechanism for efficient land division, and space versus time. As speed is conceptualised (computerised) in time rather than space, movement falls off like thrusters on a rocket disengaging. We speed up standing still. This is virtual reality. With history’s semen lying in the backseat of the car - we move without moving.

I haven’t seen an exhibition this exciting and so well curated in a long time. As I moved through the show it became overwhelmingly evident to me that the amount of thought and effort put into Drive was massive.

The exhibition’s thesis postulated the car as the precursor of virtual reality. The screen linking the car with cinema, television and the computer. The screen through which one watches and is hypnotised. Time flies. Both long distance driving and watching television swing the clock of hypnosis. Rodney Graham’s projected video work Halcion sleep conjured up the hypnosis of the road - where is it taking us? Doped up on sleeping pills, where Graham was going, he didn’t need roads.

Curator Gregory Burke talks about cyberspace as the postmodern brainchild of the body modern automobile. Burke looked at how modern ideals associated with the car (freedom and individuality) rust in the acid rain reality of pollution, gridlock and limited fuel supplies. This was not an exhibition about cars but a socio-political criticism and discussion of power and progress (using the car as its vehicle) as well as our diametric desire to succeed in the world - to go forth and procreate - and at the same time to escape, to retreat from the world’s theme park.

The car, like women; always the vessel, shuttles the human race toward light speed. The womb - that body part of women that fleshes us into existence also acts as carrier and incubator to catapult the species into the future. Yet the outershape and formskin of the car has always been linked obviously, to that thrust of the phallus - hence the use of women astride cars etc. in advertisements.

Judy Darragh’s dribbling dialect of Big Daddy shot spume all over the glossy poster fantasy of wet pussy on hot rod in her work Wildthing. Ann Shelton’s photograph entertained the backseat fumble in an empty stretch limousine. The inside of the car seemed absurd, outdated yet there lingered an antique perfume of once-was style, with champagne glasses, television and curtains all inclusive. In this work she continued her show of absence. In Mungo Thompson’s work the stiffness of the stick shift rubs off. In a few deft strokes, the sexual overtones of the car are forever pencilled. No rubbers allowed.

The noise of silence; a strange quietness lingered around Soo-ja Kim’s video Cities on the move. The simplicity of the work added to the knowledge of suffering, orbiting refugees of war left a great impression on me. It arrives into my head often. It is now part of me. The video of a truck piled high with colourful possessions droning through the road monotonously gives room for other images to fill the history of this vehicle. Images from the television, newspapers, radio and documentaries layered this work. For victims of war, the lure of the road as a means of escape is intermingled with the fear of capture. The road gives a gift of fear and to use it death has to be considered.

The exhibition (split into several different categories of dialogue, surrounding the idea of the car) was set out in such a way that no matter how you moved through it, groups of work become clearly an illustration of an idea contributing to the general thesis of the show. With most of the works adapting to their new surroundings, it seemed the more installational stuff suffered, having been taken out of their intended environment. The impact of Sarah Lucas’s CARPARK (Islington diamonds, concrete void, for example, was reduced and swallowed by just being in the exhibition. It seemed to have lost import in a show all about cars, or perhaps the drive to New Plymouth and the several hours I’d spent in Govett-Brewster had already eaten up this work for me.

This was a curated show. It had an idea to impart and placed the ideas and thoughts of many artists within this thesis. Is a mass movement from physical speed to astral speed really our future? Is it the new frontier? What about that other frontier: SPACE? The day will come when space travel becomes as mass as car travel. The Space Race has been relatively quiet about its discoveries since the ’60s, but with big business backing the explorers heavily (their interests lying in harvesting iron nickel asteroids, mining the moon and drug research in space) the new frontier is calling you.


Joyoto Wylie is an artist and one of the board of rm212, an Auckland artist-run space.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room