A Civic Display

Jed Lind crafts totem to car culture using one of it's most modest icons

THE TORONTO STAR
September 25, 2011 | Murray Whyte


In 2008, Jed Lind’s car was stolen and torched. Things like that happen in Los Angeles, where the Toronto-born artist is based these days. Instead of replacing it, though, he committed himself to a two-year purgatory of cycling the far-flung reaches of the world’s most famously gridlocked, car-happy culture.

“I wanted to change the way I experienced the city,” says Lind, who at 31, is boyish and quietly intense behind a thicket of bushy beard. “Until you do that, you don’t really realize how that city — or any city these days, really — isn’t built to be negotiated without a car, in any way.”

Lind gave in, eventually — these days, he negotiates via a 1973 Toyota pickup — but the experience stuck. And while it wasn’t exactly the impetus for the towering stack of clean, white 1979 Honda Civics he installed at the Toronto Sculpture Garden this week, it would also be wrong to assume it had nothing to do with it, either.

Much of Lind’s work is about, as he says, “slowing things down:” shifting perspectives to prompt reconsiderations of the extraordinary that end up being taken for granted. (For a recent series of photographic works, Lind placed cameras deep in the California desert and aimed them skyward, shutters open, for hours in an attempt to record the gentle, all-but-invisible motion of the earth against the cosmos.) While not exactly cosmic, the 1979 Civic was impactful while, in its remarkably modest way, being all but invisible. It arrived amid an energy crisis as OPEC strangled oil supplies and sent gas prices sky high.

It was less a crisis than outward disaster. By 1979, cars were less transportation than the tool used to craft our contemporary reality, all snaking tendrils of superhighway and distended suburbs and endless hours spent in gridlock.

After a generation of American cars with V-8 engines outfitted like living rooms on wheels, the Civic was a way forward. Buckminster Fuller, the utopian American architect and thinker, bought one, then posed for a magazine ad. The Civic, he seemed to promise, was the symbol of a crisis averted, and order restored.

Lind’s piece takes its title from a Fuller quotation. It’s called Gold, Silver and Lead, and while Fuller’s actually quote was less ambiguous and more grim, Lind’s intent, to prompt considerations of transformation from simple utility to the sublime, is nonetheless a tension-filled notion to grapple with.

The little Civic was the perfect vehicle for Lind’s journey. Pulling the modest little car off the road and out of context — remember: slowing things down — Lind acknowledges its peculiar position in our social hierarchy by stripping its function and rebuilding it (the cars in the stack aren’t real, but exacting facsimiles) as an exploration of the vehicle’s form, minus its function.

The piece has a mythic, totemic, quasi-spiritual quality: Look closely, and the hull of each crisp white Civic is missing pieces as the stack climbs skyward. By the top, only a jagged husk of frame remains.

“Something I really like about these sculptures is that they appear to be one thing you may not recognize, and then you approach it and it changes,” Lind says. “It’s dematerialized, and all of a sudden, it’s a car being pared down.”

In the pouring rain this week, Lind surveyed the crisp, white forms looming on a patch of green grass, just off King Street East. Nearby, cabs, transport trucks, buses and cars inched along in the downpour, oblivious to the strange serenity produced by the massing of their vehicular ancestor, so nearby.

Through the work, Lind reverses the value proposition posed by generations of motoring extravagance. Divorced from their function, the Civics of “Gold, Silver And Lead” demand a different view, of a car that goes nowhere but takes you somewhere completely new.

“Through my work, I’ve been trying to get at the infinite, or the sublime in a number of different ways,” he says. He smiles. “But then, I’ve always thought the sublime was in the eye of the beholder.”

The Toronto Star, 2011