After the Crash
THE TORONTO STAR
June 7, 2012 | Murray White
There are dystopic writers embroiled in the great unraveling of civil society through modernity’s often-brutal churn, and then there’s J.G. Ballard. Crash, his most famous book — or infamous, depending on your internal morality gauge — portrayed a parallel present where the carnage of car accidents had become the stuff of pornographic fantasy for a community of disaffected commuters.
Ballard’s bleak, visceral vision became widely popularized in David Cronenberg’s 1996 film version: On screen, Ballard’s Crash crew deliberately and violently collided with traffic barriers, cinder-block walls, and each other with the singular goal of getting off.
Jed Lind may have found the hyperbole of Ballard’s best-known work a little over-the-top, but the writer’s disaffections take an array of not-necessarily-so-naked forms. Concrete Island, a slim volume Ballard published in1974, a year after Crash, offers a more complex, though no less absurdist vision of a social fabric stretched thin at the seams by our willing subjugation to car culture.
For Lind, a Toronto artist, now living in Los Angeles, the connections rung true. At Toronto’s Jessica Bradley Art and Projects, Lind takes on Ballard’s title as the name of his new exhibition, and its inspiration is clear.
“People have such strong reactions to the automobile — there’s a love, there’s a hate,” Lind said recently. “I have both. There are environmental issues, sustainability issues, but the idea of giving up the freedom you get from something like a road trip — would I be willing to give that up? I think a lot of people are that way.”
In Ballard’s Concrete Island, an architect sits stranded on a patch of pavement sliced off by the geometry of L.A.’s tangled network of freeways, off-ramps and cloverleafs. Traffic buzzes like a swarm of angry bees all around him; he’s marooned and forgotten — as insignificant as the island on which he sits.
Lind’s take may not be quite so dramatic, but he investigates the byproducts of car culture in subtle, revealing ways. In his east L.A. neighbourhood, Lind was struck by the incidental patches of earth left over inbetween the city’s freeways. A universe of neglect unfurled: The islands themselves were unkempt and weirdly overgrown, having been planted with palms and other foliage decades before and promptly forgotten.
“They built the freeways around them, then didn’t come back,” Lind explains. As a result, “there’s this strange wildness,” he says, small slices of perhaps the only unmanipulated landscape in the greater L.A. area, found in nooks and crannies of the city’s fast-flowing roadways. Underneath and alongside causeways and overpasses, Lind collected fragments shook loose from passing vehicles — springs and gaskets, gears and no small number of unidentifiable, unknowable things.
Lind took pictures, up close, of the ad hoc urban jungles, and overlaid prints of them with ghost images of his collected bits. In the gallery, the detritus hover over the images, spelling out a declarative description: “Communis.” The term applies to the rough domestic plant species marooned, as the architect was, on these incidental islands, but also the weird circumstance of these liminal zones. “In a strange way, these are the last common spaces in L.A.,” he says.
The project contains echoes of conceptual giant Gordon Matta Clark’s “Fake Estates” project, where the artist learned, in the 1970s, that New York City auctioned off parcels of tiny fragments of unusable urban land (they called the tracts, sometimes as small as one foot by one foot, “gutterspace”). Matta Clark set about acquiring as many as he could, as an obvious comment on land scarcity, unchecked development and the growing socio-economic gap in the burgeoning metropolis.
But Lind seeks no such didactic end. His images hover in a quiet, contemplative space with an eerie, austere beauty. Along with the images are forms: A heavy bronze cast of a bulbous car windshield-wiper reservoir, multiplied and laid on the floor like a camping mattress (useful, one would think, being marooned on an island). Its twin is displayed on a concrete pedestal, rolled and deflated. At the back of the gallery, a geodesic sphere — a not-unintentional reference to Buckminster Fuller’s Modernist-ideal dome — is built from bronze-cast windshield wipers.
The inference, of the privileged frame a windscreen provides to a driver as the forgotten patchwork world roadside whizzes by too fast to be seen, is clear. Lind’s view, of this strange universe seen by most only as a blur, is its opposite: Slow time in a world moving far too fast to comprehend.The Toronto Star, 2012