Cadillacs Rock & so do I

with Michael Davey and guest artist, Seth McMillan
an on-site installation and performance work
at M9 Contemporary Art Centre
August 18 – 19, 25 – 26 and September 1 – 2, 2012
Open: 10 AM – 5 PM

To see a video of this work:

The automobile retains iconic status as a symbol of modern day life and personal freedom.  It continues to be the subject of countless design innovations and modifications that go far beyond practical considerations such as efficiency and affordability.  Cars have always been designed to fulfill a multitude of needs and are meant to attract specific groups of potential buyers.  The Cadillac stands out as the quintessential North American dream car.  Despite the ups and downs of the automobile industry here and in the United States, it continues to be a vehicle of choice for those wishing to exhibit personal wealth and a sense of having ‘made it’ financially and socially.  It is also the ideal road trip car  —  powerful and dynamic, yet comfortable and reliable.

CADILLACS ROCK and so do I is a work that explores the personal and subliminal side of the human/vehicle connection along with more formal considerations specific to the project.  Components of the natural environment are juxtaposed with those that are man-made, the ‘raw’ sits alongside the ‘cooked’.  The main element of the work is a 2001 Cadillac Deville with Las Vegas plates. As some have observed this is a ‘pimped out’ car, a high shine black sedan with extra dark tinted windows, a vehicle with a shady history and an uncertain future.  For somehow this downtown car now finds itself parked on a small side road in the tiny hamlet of Dyers Bay, Ontario.  Its driver has apparently traded in the bright lights and non-stop action of The Strip for calm and quiet and the dark night skies of the Bruce Peninsula.  In place of the grandiose architecture of the Vegas casinos are the towering limestone formations of the Niagara Escarpment. This strange phenomenon, this situation demanded comment. Enter myself and my stepson Seth.

M9 Contemporary Art Centre has always been about rocks  —  rock tracings, rock paintings and drawings, fossilized rocks.  The garden on the property contains a number of really large rocks that are focal points of the design.  In approaching this project my first thought was to place an actual two-ton stone on top of some sort of scaffolding on the roof of the Cadillac. This would be the starting point for  —  well, who knows what! After consulting with a local quarry owner and welder on the feasibility of this plan, I realized that it wouldn’t work,at least not in the way I had intended it.  Too much weight, an engineering nightmare and really really expensive. I was thinking about discarding the whole idea when my mother-in-law Peggy made an excellent suggestion: why not use the faux equivalent of a large rock to accomplish the job? The idea of connecting the natural with the man-made by proximity appealed to me. Why not mix things up and introduce a fake limestone boulder into the actual rock mix at M9? And, I could envision the contrast between the craggy contours of the manufactured rock and the smooth aerodynamic lines of the car.  I eventually bought two ‘stones’ to work with, the largest one that I could get from the distributor and a smaller cairn-shaped one as backup.  Faux rocks in hand we began to experiment.

I usually work in three dimensions and my sculpture is often installation based.  Seth is more of a two-D man; his drawings are intricate renderings of the human body in all its manifestations.  Neither of us had ever done performance art and yet the situation seemed to demand this kind of artistic involvement.  Camera in hand I focused in on the Cadillac, first as a protected wrapped object.  Seth soon became part of the picture.  The larger of the two faux rocks remained on the roof of the car as originally planned but the second became a prop for Seth’s performance.  He began a series of unplanned innovative posturings that I recorded digitally  –rock as appendage, rock as body projection, rock head, rock arm, rock gut.  Banging your head against a rock wall.

The next day we uncovered the Cadillac and continued recording the performance process which quickly became more complex.  The sleek design of the car had been revealed in its unwrapping. Its presence as a beautiful object was compelling and I wanted to capture it from all angles and in all lights.  Seth’s performance changed as well.  There was an edginess to his appearance; he was wearing heavy boots and Levis.  His moves were no longer casual and considerate.  Without its dust cover, the Cadillac had become not only drivable but also useable. Holding the large faux rock over his head, Seth stood on the roof of the car defying it to cave in.  He lay spreadeagled over the hood, boots hitting the windshield.  His poses were angular and geometric which put them at odds with the shapes of the rock and the car itself.  He used the Cadillac as a means of physical support, as a table, bed (or funeral bier), as a hiding place and actually pierced the car by thrusting the small faux rock through the driver’s side window.  The possibilities were endless and we continued working until the light ran out.

The third day in I decided to work with one of the rocks myself.  I became the performer and Seth was the photographer.  Leaving the car behind, I climbed up and onto some of the standing stones in the M9 garden.  I hoisted the largest fake rock up and over my head in poses that at the time were quite unintentional and mainly attempts to keep myself and the rock upright. This lifting was done with great difficulty given the precarious nature of my positioning and the cumbersome size of the boulder. On one level, my poses were heroic and Seth took photos that accentuated this quality and that seemed to recall Greek statuary  —  a naked torso, a giant boulder framed against an azure sky. But, a Greek god I am not.  Unlike the Hercules and Atlas figures of ancient mythology, I accomplished my task with great awkwardness and Seth was there to record that as well in my grimaces, grunts and groans.  At all times, gravity threatened to topple the rock and the artist with it.  And so, in the end my performance was in some sense pathetic. I approached the job full of bravado but fell short due to my own physical limitations.

This year visitors to M9 Contemporary Art Centre are invited to see the photographic record of the artists’ antics onscreen in the comfort of the back seat of the Cadillac Deville.  They will get a sense of the project first hand and become part of the action.  Their presence will enhance the work and we welcome their visits and their comments.

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