Vancouver-based artist Marcus Bowcott is the creator TransAm Totem which is located near False Creek. It is a powerful piece that questions more than answers. Slowcity.ca had an opportunity to chat with Marcus and he answered our questions but left us with more. The sculpture was created as part of the Vancouver Biennale.
Slowcity.ca: Marshall McLuhan says when the North American male wants to be alone he gets into his car. The car is an extension of ourselves and in a way projects a certain face to the world. Why did you choose these particular faces? And where did you source them?
Marcus Bowcott: "McLuhan talks about the invention of the wheel as our “feet in rotation”. The general point is that the wheel speeds up our ability to move and that this speed - using this technology - will continue to increase and that we’ll never bloody well catch up. He also talks about "extensions of our bodies" as a form of “autoamputation” that induces a sense of numbness (narcosis/narcissus). He flat-out says that we’ve become “servo-mechanisms … of technology". His book Understanding Media is brilliant. It contains insight after insight and should be a “must read” for every budding art student … and computer programmer.
"I suppose it would be an understatement to say that my intentions with Trans Am Totem directly relate to McLuhan. My intentions also relate to Walt Whitman, Marcel Duchamp and Neil Young.
"Whitman’s poem 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking' is worth reading in relation to this sculpture. My wife Helene read it to me after we finished working on Trans Am Totem. In our discussion we came to the understanding that ‘cars’ are a mobile ‘cradles’ and that they echo the rocking motion the unborn child experiences in it’s mother’s womb. Given the form and structure of our bodies (and minds) I suppose one could say that cars are an inevitable form of mobile architecture. Cars are private enclosures, they’re sexy and they rock. We love them and I’m convinced that Trans Am Totem is as popular as it is because we’ve used cars as ‘media’. It seems that people who identify with cars like the sculpture because they themselves relate to cars as art objects. Environmentalists seem to like it for the subversive way it sends up advertising and consumer culture. Some people simply hate it and call it "junk on a stick” … the Dada-ist in me is fine with this perception/reaction. I’m interested in jamming the notion of “high” and “low” art & culture (I’m presently working on a series of paintings named “Branded, Logo’d & Art’d”.
"I like Neil Young’s music a lot (again, an understatement). The lyrics of his song Trans Am got me thinking about the type of car that needed to be on top of the sculpture. Trans Ams are muscle cars made during the "apex" of the American empire (and Donald Drumph wants to “make America great again’). The other cars were secured to a visit to the ABC Metal Recycling yard. I went to the wrecking yard with Eric Karsh, the structural engineer who helped build Trans Am Totem. Eric and myself picked out cars according to their length - I had previously made a maquette as a proposal and wanted cars that were small at the bottom of the sculpture and larger on the top. Chance played a big part in this … and when my eyes locked on to the beemer I knew for certain that I wanted it for the sculpture."
Slowcity.ca: We live in a throwaway culture, trees are thrown away, cars are thrown away. If all is temporary, for you what is permanent?
Marcus Bowcott: Check out Whitman’s "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking".
Slowcity.ca: I see in the piece also an extension of the canoe, A tree is crafted into a boat for transportation, this particular tree has its skin half removed to reveal cars, another means of transportation; Are issues of mobility something that informs your work as an artist?
Marcus Bowcott: "Interesting observation, but the skin of the tree has been completely removed - there are still some patches of bark - this magnificent old growth cedar has been logged and almost put through the mill. We got the tree for a fairly decent price because it had a really pronounced twist in it - which compliments the intentional twist of the cars in relation to each other. The twist of the log was chance (a guiding principle for Marcel Duchamp).
"In regards to the canoe: Helene and I have discussed this aspect of the sculpture at length. The cedar tree implies the potential for a canoe given that canoes have been carved from cedars on the West Coast for thousands of years. The centre of this particular tree was carved out to accommodate the central steel column holding the structure together (and provide stability against 150 mph winds and potential earthquakes). When we were carving out the centre of the tree we had a lot of discussion about canoes and the cultural history of this particular place.
"Trans Am Totem is a site specific sculpture in that it addresses the history of the site it occupies. Presently, the site is an urban transportation hub surrounded by condo towers. Thirty five years ago the site was a collection of sawmills, beehive burners and creosote soaked soil that was surrounded by an ever-changing ring of log booms. 150 years ago it was an old growth forest and tidal flats in proximity to the Squamish and Musqueam Nations. The bear paw carving at the base of the cedar is by my fellow Squamish artist/carver Xwalacktun - Rick Harry, the presence of Rick's bear paw embraces this history of the site and is intended to invoke/provoke historical discussion."
Story was edited June 14 2016 to include link to Vancouver Biennale.