Totalled: Comfort in Scary Times

I began this work by taking a series of snapshots of the names on SUV’s: Expedition, Navigator, Excursion, Tahoe. I built up an archive of these photographs and in the process tuned in to the various sizes, shapes and colors associated with these names. I first exhibited this work in Testdrive at eyelevelgallery, Halifax (2002). For this show I also collected SUV ads from newspapers and magazines, isolating selected promotional lines and making them into murals for the windows of the Gallery. Later that year, I developed these mural texts into lithographs entitled SUV Series.

Totalled is a continuation of this interest in the conflation of road talk with the language of emotional well-being: “The road of life just got smoothed over,” “To cure road rage eliminate the road.” At one point, I rented a Grand Cherokee Laredo SUV to see how it lived up to its advertising, and I felt, like the ad promised, “Above it all,” certainly above the other cars on the road.

The word and title Totalled can be defined in a number of ways; to be finished off, perhaps dead, traumatized, trashed, wrecked, smashed, wasted, bombed, or added up. I see the exhibition Totalled, ironically providing a kind of shelter and relief from the smooth, impervious surface of advertising noise, a humorous turn in its inversion and appropriation of present-day marketing discourse. Stripped down and cut into quarters, the salvaged black SUV shell, a “rollover,” is surrounded by thematic groupings of these promotional lines. The wall paintings are arranged on patches of paint that approximate the Chevy Tahoe colour chart: Arrogance on “Sport Red Metallic”; Strength on “Dark Gray Metallic”; Comfort on “Summit White”; Independence on “Dark Green Metallic”; Self-help 1 on “Silver Birch Metallic”; Self-help 2 on “Sandalwood Metallic”; Competition on “Black”; Safety on “Dark Blue Metallic”.

SUV advertising is an instance of the discourse of survival and emotional struggle. These SUV ads underline the tendency: “Only he who tries different paths finds his own way” or “Comfortable in the most uncomfortable environments.”

June 2004
Revised June 2007

The exhibition Totalled (Carleton University Art Gallery, 2004) inflated the words from SUV advertisements and deflated the vehicle itself. Read more...