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Death and Desire in Car Crash Culture

A Century of Romantic Futurisms

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Ricarda Vidal

Why are we so obsessed with cars?
Shiny objects of desire, cars never cease to fascinate us. As symbols of freedom they return again and again in art and film, even if real freedom is sometimes only achieved in the final explosive crash – the climax of the sheer exhilaration of speed.
‘Car crash culture’ is a symptom of the twentieth century, Ricarda Vidal argues in this book, revealing that our love of the car and technology is caused by the continuing influence of turn-of-the-century ideas: the Futurist technological utopia and the Romantic return to nature and desire. Artists, writers and filmmakers have explored this troubled love affair with the automobile throughout the past century. The work of F. T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Jack Kerouac, Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard (Week End), Richard Sarafian (Vanishing Point), J. G. Ballard and David Cronenberg (Crash), Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof) and Sarah Lucas, among others, are shown to pursue these ideals, even as developments in modern cities and telecommunications continue to change the nature of speed and technology.
While the first half of the twentieth century was concerned with the celebration of speed and acceleration, the car crash has now become an obsession of contemporary culture. Vidal concludes that our attraction to the car crash reflects the contemporary way of life in the West, which is defined by a Futurist technophilia, a Romantic longing for a higher meaning and an undeniable infatuation with the automobile.

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Illustrations Plates 1. Giacomo Balla, Abstract Speed, 1913, oil on canvas, 53 × 75 cm, inc. painted frame. Private collection. © DACS. 2. Giacomo Balla, Abstract Speed + Noise, 1913–1914, oil on board, 54.5 × 76.5 cm, inc. painted frame. Collection Peggy Guggenheim, New York, Rome. © DACS. 3. Giacomo Balla, Abstract Speed – the Car Has Passed, 1913, oil on canvas, 50.2 × 65.4 cm. Tate Gallery, London. © DACS. 4. ‘Real cars and real dumb people driving ’em’ … Stuntman Mike in his black Dodge chases the girls in Kowalski’s Challenger. Still from Death Proof (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, Momentum Pictures, 2007). 5. Andy Warhol, Green Burning Car I, 1963, silk-screen ink and acrylic on linen, 203.2 × 228.6 cm. Private collection, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich. © DACS. 6. Giacomo Balla, Speeding Automobile, 1913, oil on cardboard, 60 × 98 cm. Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Collection Grassi, Milan. © DACS. 7. Sarah Lucas, Life’s a Drag (Organs), 1998, two family saloon cars, cigarettes; each car: 146 × 473 × 180 cm. © The artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London. 8. Abernathy has a fag sitting on the Mustang. Still from Death Proof (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, Momentum Pictures, 2007). viii Illustrations Figures 1. Heavenly Vehicle of Ezechiel’s Vision, 1596, anonymous copperplate etching following instructions by Juan Baptista Villalpando. 3 2. Pablo Echaurren, Untitled (from Iconoclasta series), 1994, collage, 34 × 24 cm. Artist’s possession. © The artist. 12 3. Giacomo Balla, Girl Running on the Balcony, 1912, oil on canvas, 125 × 125 cm. Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Collection Grassi, Milan. © DACS. 30 4. Diego Rivera, detail...

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