Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jeremy Dean Goes Back to Futurama: Art you can ride, even if the oil dries up

I loved my father dearly but there was one question guaranteed to get us arguing:

What is art?

One of the great blessings of my life is that my father and I arrived at an understanding on that question before he died; not exactly an agreement, but an understanding. It went something like this: Art is not art unless there is some skill involved.

For my father, that definition excluded a lot of "modern art" unless I could show him where the artist's skill came into play. Some 35 years have flown by since then, but I think he would agree with me that the latest works by my friend and colleague Jeremy Dean qualify as art. That's because Jeremy is creating art that cannot be realized without skill as well as perception, objects that have the power to make people ask questions and question assumptions, even as they impress with their physical accomplishment. I'm talking about the Hummer-Escalade-Hoovercart, the object at the heart of the Back to the Futurama project. (There are more pictures here.)

I actually wrote a piece about this on my "On the Road" blog because it relates to cars and travel and life's journey. Starting next month, Jeremy is going to take a GMC Hummer or Cadillac Escalade and turn it into a horse drawn vehicle (the image above is just one of many models Jeremy has made to visualize the concept).

Making cars into carts is what people did back in The Great Depression and in the States they called them Hoovercarts as a play on Hoovercrats, a term coined for supporters of Herbert Hoover, the president who presided over the worst of the Depression. In Canada they were called Bennett Buggies, after the prime minister at the time. They arose from a surplus of cars relative to a shortage of affordable fuel. Folks fould that one horse or mule could pull a Model T Ford quite easily if you took out the engine. And there was grass and hay to be had even when money for gasoline dried up.

This project is going to take a lot of energy and expertise. Over the more than five years I have known him, Jeremy has proved to be an endless source of energy (the making and distributing of Dare Not Walk Alone being the most obvious proof). But now he could use some help on the expertise side. Not that Jeremy is a stranger to hands-on-artisan work. I have seen numerous examples of his home remodelling and he is a skilled craftsman, a practical maker of things built to last.

So, if you know of someone who has the skills to chop a car, hitch a horse, or fit out the inside of a vehicle with kick-ass sounds and video systems, why not use the Contact link on Jeremy's home page and let him know. You can also pledge your support of the project (that page features a great video about the project as well as cool gifts you can get in return for your pledge).

When March rolls around Jeremy will ride this creation into a major art event in New York. I'm pretty sure the TV news cameras will be rolling when this happening happens. How many people will "get" what this creation says about the world today, cultural values, lifestyle choices, sustainability and human frailty? I don't know. But this engineered weirdness will get a lot of people thinking. And that's art.
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