Totalled (2004)

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

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