The human body reacts to the roar of the engine, the smooth shift of gears, its effortless acceleration. It melds into the metal body, becoming a part of it. The car is not merely a means of transportation – it is the archetypal object of modernism, a key component in the developing Western lifestyle, the cornerstone of it social landscape and the cultural imagery of people of the 20th century and beyond.
The capitalist world is ordered and geared around products for personal consumption. Capitalist culture imbues these products with an identity and significance that goes far beyond their immediate use. Cars are an exemplary example of this, a perfect symbol of quintessential Western consumption culture, an accessory used to establish identity, promising the owner freedom of movement – and of course their proper status in the sociocultural pecking order.
This auto-culture has emotional, social and material dimensions. The draw of the open road, the promise of new experiences, passion, sexuality, social mobility, status, independence, adventure, violence and revolt – all are encapsulated in the vehicle itself.
As a consumer product, the car always exceeds rationality when making economic decisions. It has aesthetic, emotional and sensual significance. It is an object of passion and fear. It is both outcome and generator of privatization, individualization, and the consumer thrill. In many ways, the emergence of cars on the stage of history has redefines movement and the boundaries of space.
The exhibition “Shufuni Ya Nas” (Look at Me) presents two new projects by artists Meir Tati and Eyal Asulin, each presenting two luxury cars: a BMW and Rolls Royce, both of which have long transcended their existence as simply means of transportation, and been elevated to the status of prestigious brands laden with symbolic meaning.
A cultural world has evolved around each of these luxury or “classic” cars, a world saturated with knowledge, imagery, habits and terminology. All these create a kind of map, a technical and metaphorical layout of a desired car, further reinforcing the illusionary relationship between merchandise and its value. In other words, cars are never just cars. Whether cheap or expensive, whether two-seater or four, whether sports car or sedan, cars are always more than just cars. They are a means that allows you to assess, define, or articulate the consumer experience, to manifest motion. Moreover, they are a tool that simultaneously relies on status and gender-based stratification while perpetuating them.
From the earliest models, cars have been status symbols, beginning with the manufacture line first started by the Oldsmobile company in 1902, and soon followed by Henry Ford’s famous assembly line that transformed cars into one of the 20th century’s most prominent icons. Just like many other technologies that became available to the general public, cars were initially designed to serve only the upper classes.
The stark gaps between women and men’s economic power also reveal the huge gender divide so evident in this matter, as it was these gaps that established the close association between cars and masculinity. In fact, although over a century has passed since those early days, the automobile industry was and remains a purely hyper-manly arena. This libidinal economy preserved the car’s status as an object of desire and a mark of identity that must be procured and tended, buffed and glossed. Thus, the car has ostensibly become a true and virile reflection of its owner, and the intricately intimate link between human body and metal body are expressed corporeally and symbolically.
In the reasoning of Western consumption culture, vehicles serve individuals to present themselves to the world, they are a means of communication. The raw materials of “Shufuni Ya Nas” are an appealing and intimidating male fantasy, combining the allure for luxury items (and the social status promised to their owners) with the revulsion from this flagrant male-capitalist excess on its sure path to violence.
The car pistons, the growl of the motor, and the screeching wheels, as well as the glory of motoric technology, all raise to the surface the established truth of masculinity in its most primal and beastly form.