Archive for November, 2009

Bantam of Death and Redaction: We Participate as Artists

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

The Bantam + Mechanics project is in free fall. It is pretty par for the course for the De Pirro + Williams team to get hit with complications, but this particular obstacle is, without a doubt, on an entirely new level of complexity.

Just as we began to take the project out of the planning stages with our print shop live broadcast: Bantam + Mechanics: Precursor: A Press Play we were dealt a significant blow with the murder of Father Ed Hinds, who was integral to the project. Ed had maintained his empty family home in Chatham Township, New Jersey, so that he would have a place to live upon his retirement. In the interest of full disclosure, I won’t provide many details at this time, but the little farmhouse garage on Ed’s property had been slated to become the studio theater for Bantam + Mechanics after the large warehouse lease deal in Jersey City hit the skids.

It was sort of a blockhead move on my part to neglect the perfect locale which was almost literally in my backyard and instead seek another warehouse. The Green Village section of Chatham Township has a micro car culture scene of its own. The Green Village Garage, which is only a short walk down our county road, regularly displays quite a menagerie of amazing automobiles. The current lineup includes a ’69 Jaguar, a few ’60’s muscle cars, and ’81 Delorean, the latter being quite a distraction. This, paired with the outrageous toys of the Goldman Sachs types that fuel up at the garage and glide (or blast) up and down Green Village Road, make a Green Village location perfect for locating our garage. It hit me quite suddenly that I had been foolish to think our car would be better off in a big warehouse art studio space. It would be a pointless move that would have taken the project out of context.

I should back up a bit to outline a few aspects of this project before I go to far into the current collapse. Basically, Bantam + Mechanics is the next performance/sculpture/installation from the De Pirro + Williams collaborative team. This one has much broader scope than Circumambulator, but the genre is not much of a departure. It was clear that the next phase would be to move to full scale cars. I will attempt here to outline a wide-view explanation of the aspects of this project.

Both of us grew up watching others rebuilding cars. Ray Freeman back in St. John, Indiana, rebuilt cars on his own terms in his family garage. We want to follow this model and react against the current media trend of monetizing the hot rod and the chopper. Building a car is not driven by a profit motive, it is driven by desire and community. Growing up with Ray as a neighbor exposed me to something very different than what I had at home. My father’s garage was and still is utterly useless There are few times that I can recall ever using the garage for anything, especially automotive work. We used it for sculpture. Having said that, there was the infamous body work on the old red van that I assisted with, I believe that I would have been about ten years old. We welded eighth-inch steel sheet directly to the body of the van, replacing areas that had rusted out. The van was a beater, for sure, used for hauling sand and rocks, and taking ceramics to art fairs. It had a CB Radio with an antenna tall enough to strike a railroad viaduct.

These early experiences inform some common aspect of our two very different characters. Understand that this project is not quoting or mocking or usurping American car culture. It is not some tiresome multicultural mash up as is so common in contemporary performing arts and music. It is purely participating in it as artists rather than consumers or collectors. We participate as artists because that is what we are.

As artists we must take the act of rebuilding a car and imbue it with aspects of our collaborative and individual art practices. The activities in the garage become performance. Kaprow would see this as a performative of the everyday as artwork, and to make it such only two things are required. The first is our declaration, quite simply, that this act is art. The second is an audience that is aware of this declaration. Again, the reason for this is that we participate as artists. Within our lives and in this economy, we have limited time for anything other than work, family, and art. Therefore, the garage becomes the studio, mechanics becomes performance.

Audience is that critical issue that defines performance art from a private act. Social media and streaming technology are the perfect means for us to achieve an audience outside of a gallery space. The virtual space has finally become so powerful in our culture that we can use it and have an actual audience. As with the print shop episode, we can stream video live from our performance space and relay that video to an almost unlimited audience. The garage, in other words, would be fully wired. In addition to this wired garage, we fully intended to open the doors of our garage for events, visits by neighbors and friends, and even free, and likely incompetent, car repairs.

This is not to say that we would not or will not show aspects of the work in a gallery. In fact, this is another very important facet to the project. Bantam + Mechanics: Precursor: A Press Play is precisely what I am referring to here. The prints, drawings, video, etc. of this work is gallery ready. This extra stuff is really the artistic product that we will provide for public consumption. The restored Bantam roadster is not really the artwork, it is simply the intellectual focus.

With the loss of our perfect garage space, we are in a bit of a pinch. Without the proper context, we can’t enter the local car culture in the way that we prefer. The loss of the garage is a massive setback, however, the project is not on hold. In fact, the tragic death of Ed Hinds will serve to push the project forward more rapidly, and if it hits a wall during this next phase, it will likely be abandoned for something else.

There is a bit of irony the redaction prints that we produced during the recent print shop episode. We used a sort of burnout mark in ink to block out or disregard historical documents from the city of Hoboken. The print substrate was a set of turn-of-the-century blueprints for the construction of Hoboken’s (now redacted) shipping yards. The Bantam Roadster itself will carry this concept forward. The antique will be saved and likely destroyed at the same time. We will take the historical object and give it a new role as sculpture. The irony is now the project itself has become edited.