December 27, 2009

Back to the Future of Cars? Test Driving Jeremy Dean's Futurama

And now for something completely different, on the road.

Back in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the only economic crisis in the last 100 years that was worse than the one we're enduring today, a strange new form of road vehicle emerged for the first time: the horse-drawn automobile. In America they were dubbed Hoover carts or Hoover wagons, after Herbert Hoover, who was president when the depression hit and was widely criticized for not doing more to prevent or alleviate the suffering it brought. In Canada these vehicles were called Bennett Buggies after that country's Prime Minister Bennett who was in power from 1930 to 1935 (and of whom it has been said "his own wealth (often openly displayed) and impersonal style alienated many struggling Canadians").

A collision of two phenomena conspired to put these strange hybrid contraptions on the road: a. the rapid growth of automobile ownership in the 1920s, notably the Ford Model T, and b. the rapid drop in the affordability of gasoline during a time of mass unemployment and asset devaluation. The result? A sizable population of people who owned cars--having bought them with cash--but were unable to afford the fuel to run them. Because the bottom had fallen out of the market for used cars, some people figured why not take out the engine, add some poles, and harness up a horse? The hardware, wetware, and skill-set required for this conversion were readily available, particularly in more rural areas. (And pretty much all of North America was, at that time, more rural than it is today.)

Now imagine being shot forward in time from 1930 to 2010 and the first thing you see is a cart horse shackled to a Cadillac Escalade or GMC Hummer. Would you be surprised? Probably not.

Such is the thinking behind the recent conceptual works of contemporary artist Jeremy Dean. Few automobiles capture the excesses of the first decade of the 21st century better than the Hummer and the Escalade. They are both the apotheosis of consumerism and the antithesis of sustainability. And the juice that keeps them going--petroleum--is liable to such violent price swings that we live our lives just one act of terrorism away from prices that most people could not afford.

As an artist, Jeremy has always sought new ways to bring our reality into perspective. As a documentary filmmaker, Jeremy has spent a lot of time uncovering and studying images of the past. So when he encountered Hoover carts during research on a documentary, Jeremy couldn't shake the image and its potent symbolism. And while the world of today is clearly very different from the world of the 1930s, the realization that we have been pursuing a life-style we cannot afford to sustain is even more pressing today than it was 80 years ago. Jeremy has dubbed this project The Futurama of Cars.

You can see more examples of the works here. And you can help Jeremy realize the Futurama of Cars: an actual 21st Century Hoover Cart that Jeremy plans to drive through New York in March, 2010. That's right, a working horse-drawn vehicle based on a Hummer or Escalade. So heads up if you own one of these vehicles--Jeremy is accepting donations, and he doesn't mind if the motor is blown. And heads up any chop shops who want some free publicity for helping make this dramatic horsepower conversion.

Indeed, anyone can help move this project forward by visiting the KickStarter web site. Check out the wild project video and consider making a pledge. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful rewards on offer for pledging, including Warranties, Registration, and Titles.

As works of art, these 21st century Hoover carts take our minds on the road, on a journey through concepts like wealth and poverty, excess and indulgence, environmentalism and sustainability, waste and frugality, form and function, practicality and absurdity, art and atifice, design and desire. Why not come along for the ride

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