Bumper-to-bumper sexual encounters

Jeanelle Hurst and Russel Lake
Roma Street Car Park, Brisbane

...In the breaker's yard a testudo of abandoned cars lay together in the ever-changing light, their outlines shifting as if some time-wind were blowing across them. Strips of rusting chrome leaked into the overheated air, patches of intact cellulose bled away into the crown of light that covered the yard. The spurs of deformed metal, the triangles of fractured glass, were signals that had lain unread for years in this shabby grass, ciphers translated by Vaughan and myself as we sat with our arms around each other in the centre of the electric storm moving across our retinas...

A drive through the inner city area of Brisbane these days yields many unexpected pleasures. A sticker on a bin in Edward Street lays bear the soul of the media spectacle, denouncing the passive contemplation of 'Twin Pointlessness'; infantile, but no less valid for that. Further on, down Charlotte Street, another sticker: a geometric male head clad in a construction helmet, cerebral machinery exposed within. Over the bridge into Melbourne Street, an hysterical and funny poster reveals the horrors of wage-slavery. Then, past the state government vehicle with the 666 number-plate, onwards to Upper Roma Street, on the edge of a sprawling parking lot, where some wholly appropriate car hulks describe a map of desires denied in the urban environment

...Around me the interior of the car glowed like a magician's bower, the light within the compartment becoming darker and brighter as I moved my eyes. The instrument dials irradiated my skin with their luminous needles and numerals. The carapace of the instrument binnacle, the inclined planes of the dashboard panel, the metal sills of the radio and ashtrays gleamed around me like altarpieces, their geometrics reaching towards my body like the stylized embraces of some hyper-cerebral machine ...

The Automobile, more than any other single object, represents the physical manifestation of the perverse ideals of technological capitalism[1]. Decades ago Picabia and others, gave us blueprints for a profusion of eroticism achieved through the synchronised union of mechanomorphic constructions. This work is echoed, realized and epitomised in the design of automobiles. The difference is that automobiles represent not an autonomous, onanistic sexuality, but a kind of latent sci-fi coition of technological and organic components. And if automobile design has become decidedly asexual of late, that's probably only a reflection of the sexual hysteria/denial that seems to currently characterize our society. The subtext of the automobile, which is still perpetuated through advertising, is one of a wilful, commodified libido, a dream that only money can buy. "You will be able to pick up the human sex-aid of your choice if you drive this car. You will be a sexually fulfilled individual in this car."

And so we move around in these wombs-onwheels, the wind in our hair, content with the illusions of security, luxury and mobility that the automobile proliferates. When you enter the car, your individual identity is subsumed by the potency of the material status symbol which envelopes you. But, if strapping in to the luxuriant leather caress of a car represents a return to the womb, it is one from which many will not emerge; each decade, in America at least, more people are killed through car accidents than the combined total of all American casualties of war(s)[2].

Timely, perhaps, then that Jeanelle Hurst and Russel Lake wrought their iconoclastic havoc with this fundamental modern myth. Both artists have long produced work which seeks to engage an audience in the public arena, not through the sacred cow of autonomous objet d'art, but through bizarre, thought-provoking, and sometimes disturbing additions to and adaptations of that rich tapestry that is our urban environment. Both artists have a history of involvement in collaborative activity; which, if often aggravating and compromising, is also implicitly non-fascistic in its espousal of co-operation and mutual aid. Continuing their work in this vein, under the moniker of Poly-Media Car Constructions, they recently gave us something that was called either Bumper-to-Bumper Sexual Encounters or Incident, and was the twisted, contorted bodies of three deformed cars linked in the rigours of an automotive ecstasy, and presenting the spontaneous detournement of these automotive identities, distant flames piercing the cold night metal, for a bemused audience of innocent bystanders. Cars which became the site of some potentially unfavourable mutations, sprouting eyes and limbs; feral cars, spawning and multiplying, unwillingly coercive in their adaptation of a fragile environment. The once smooth shell of each car had been ruptured and maimed by tortured rents. These jagged orifices echoed the promise of new organs, a new sexual geometry mediated by the penetration of glass shards and metal fragments.

Vaughan unfolded for me all his obsessions with the mysterious eroticism of wounds: the perverse logic of bloodsoaked instrument panels, seatbelts smeared with excrement, sun visors lined with brain tissue. For Vaughan each crashed car set off a tremor of excitement, in the complex geometries of a dented fender, in the unexpected variations of crushed radiator grilles, in the grotesque overhang of an instrument panel forced on to a driver's crotch as if in some calibrated act of machine fellatio. The intimate time and space of a single human being had been fossilized forever in this web of chromium knives and frosted glass...

The beauty of this work was its oxymoronic power. If the work seemed wholly appropriate, amusing in its playfulness, then it was also disquieting in the way it said things that everything around it tried to deny. The radical enhancement and union of these vehicles was simultaneously mundane, seductive, and estranging. The work seemed to be engaging a whole range of issues. These rusting car hulks, this concrete urban beachhead: is this the material legacy of late twentieth century capitalism? Or the spiritual reality of same? Was the deformed geometry of these machines seeking to achieve a sexuality which has been merely sublimated in the sleek curves of a former existence? Or was this the automotive correlative of the robots in Czapek's play, R.U.R.; machines in revolt against the mercenary whims of their human masters, establishing their autonomy and rejoicing in their unfettered sexuality? A terse caution to drive more carefully? Or, maybe, the death knell of obsolete functionaries of the fascist state, condemned to a lingering death on a secluded scrap heap?

This was 'public art' worthy of the title, not some alien aesthetic excrement, but an appealing and stimulating critique of society. If it had become inextricable from its locale, then it was not site-specific. The site of the work on the edge of an excavated wound in the city's heart, festering with parked cars, at the intersection of three busy city streets, only served to heighten its veracity. Local folklore makes more than a passing reference to the former uses of this site, apparently once the home to a vital city culture: Aboriginal and Islander support groups; cheap boarding; the office and gallery space of another Hurst, Lake et at collaboration, O'Fiate; the innercity's best hardware store; and a lot more. All gone. No more Anarchist cabarets in Little Roma Street. It its place more pitiless bitumen and a car park. Apparently soon to become a major conference centre. Perhaps it was apt, then, that after a bare three weeks of installation the cars were removed; to be shredded, exported to Japan, and incorporated into new forms of automotive oppression.[3]


[1] Other objects may have a deeper significance, like the television, but usually represent a more fluid referent.

[2] This is excluding countless numbers of native Americans killed by the European invaders.

[3] All quotes from J.G. Ballard's Crash.