A requiem for the fossil-fuel age

Jed Lind at Toronto Sculpture Garden

October 15, 2011 | R.M. Vaughan

Gold, Silver & Lead, Jed Lind’s gleaming white, chunky tower of reworked car bodies, on display at the Toronto Sculpture Garden, will remind you of the Michelin Man, a bleached dinosaur skeleton, a totem pole, a tree with its bark peeled off, or, as one little boy standing next to me remarked, “a Transformer poop.” Job-coveting brat.

It’s hardly surprising little boys are drawn to Lind’s sculpture like rednecks to a NASCAR rally – this is “guy art” deluxe. As much as I distrust essentialist readings of art, the emphasis on cars as objects of beauty, on industrial products ripe for artistic investigation, and the need to make big, crane-employing, ahem, upright statements, does have an undeniable masculine reek. Freudians, fill in your own blanks. Being a tachophobic (oh, look it up), I have never learned to drive. But of course I’ve been inside plenty of cars, and have my own associations with the convenient but unsustainable, comfortable but deadly devices.

Cars dominate our culture in an unparalleled manner – entire cities are built on the premise that the free movement of the machines must always be guaranteed. And Western culture has a love/hate relationship with cars that is equally out of whack. We idolize the vehicles as masterfully engineered, mass-produced consumer products, and yet we bitch about how much they cost to run, and act all surprised when we are not the only people on the road huddled inside the alluring object.

Lind’s sculpture addresses this curious, indeed familial relationship with cars in a number of simple but striking ways. First off, the car husks he stacks roof to roof, undercarriage to undercarriage, are painted in a bright, skeletal white. They are ghost cars, spectral forms (especially spooky at night, when the lights inside glow dully around the TSG grounds like an unnatural fog), empty casings that will make you think of cow skulls left in the desert sun.

Lind’s auto inukshuk is thus both haunted and haunting: a once mobile creature preserved in death, a remnant, as well as a monolithic tribute to the coming end of automobile supremacy. Lind’s obelisk is a tombstone for the fossil-fuel age.

Secondly, once you get past the calculated ridiculousness of Lind’s big-toy game playing, you notice subtle details in his composition, hints of instability and questioning of the base material’s solidity (and thus its cultural supremacy). To wit, the car casings at the bottom of the sculpture are largely intact – doors are closed, windows are rolled up tight, and the supporting frameworks are riveted into place.

As the eye wanders upward, however, windows begin to disappear, doors have been yanked off, substructures are peeled away, and the cars appear to be self-dismantling. At the very top of the sculpture rests a half-car, a mere outline of the cars on the lower third, a body made only of the base bones.

It’s as if Lind’s adored subject, this workaday chunk of metal the artist has turned into a pristine memento mori, a magical, obviously totemic fetish, is disappearing, evaporating into the sky.

The path from reverence to morbidity that is part of car consumption is captured in Lind’s literally decaying subject. We buy cars, “love” them, and then the love dies and is replaced (as is the car) by a new relationship, with a similar but revamped version (of both car and relationship). Meanwhile, the previous subject, the old car, reverts back to an object, a dead shell.

It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

On the other hand, perhaps what we have here is just a crowd-pleasing game of Tinker Toy pile-up, played on a massive scale?

Like any liturgical art (and car culture is nothing if not devotional – just ask Toronto’s mayor, an internal-combustion jihadist who is out to win a holy “war on cars”), Lind’s sculpture depends on the viewer’s investment in the transcendent myths the relics represent.

The Globe and Mail, 2011