“We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.” In 1909 founding Futurist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, set the tone for the world’s impending obsession with cars. The vehicle would become symbolic of freedom, unbridled possibility, agency. In popular culture and the media, cars are still portrayed as a source of empowerment – Elon Musk just fired his own sports car into space. But, simultaneously, the car’s public image is in rapid decline, as it becomes increasingly more synonymous with traffic jams, noxious fumes and out-dated irresponsibility.
‘Sorry I haven’t been’, a site-specific installation by Jack Lavender and soundtrack by audio collaborator Dul Fin Wah!, contemplates the fractured identity of the contemporary car. Lavender and Dul Fin Wah! have installed their show in 650mAh, a project space founded by Tabitha Steinberg and Ella Fleck, which is located in the back of Mist Vape shop in Hove. Lavender has filled the room with stacked boxes arranged in the shape of a car, which he has then swaddled in a dusty blanket. A cheap-looking figurine protrudes from the structure, casting an enigmatic silhouette. LED lights trace the floor’s edge and bathe the room in a purple haze. The beams evoke the luminescence of whizzing cars on the motorway and trigger nostalgic memories of long night-time drives and the open road – Lavender’s car hurtles down a motorway of a bygone time. The Day-Glo purple reiterates the nostalgia, as it thrusts the viewer into an 80s arcade game – think Pac-Man, Pong or the retro-futuristic aesthetic of films like TRON (1982). Lavender’s vehicle asks us to remember the past anticipation of a future yet to come. Dul Fin Wah!’s soundtrack reminisces too, recalling Vangelis’ dark melodies created for Blade Runner (1982). The ambient textures and droning, elongated sounds have a twofold effect – the rhythm propels the car forward on its journey but also creates a space that feels desolate and dystopian in a premonition of the car’s eventual destination.
Leaving behind 20th Century idealism, Lavender’s car arrives, chugging, in 2018. Clues such as the blanket question the real location of the machine – it’s more likely abandoned in a garage than drifting down a motorway. Today, it is acknowledged that cars are a threat to the planet and city living has rendered them impractical. On average, cars sit parked more than 95% of the time. Analysts have predicted a future where this problem will be obsolete by 2030, with our personal vehicles being replaced by fleets of self-driving, electric ride shares. Cars would be perpetually in transit, autonomous, free of human error and more efficient. Lavender’s deserted car occupies a liminal space – neither Marinetti’s vehicle of beauty or Tesla’s vision of promised reinvention. The car here is in the throes of end of life anxiety. The sculpture that rises from its bonnet is a nod to the Rolls Royce ornament – The Spirit of Ecstasy – but can also be read as a portrait of humankind surveying encroaching futures, as we brace ourselves for the next chapter in our relationship with technology and machine.