BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 05 MAY 99
Featured in
Issue 46

Elizabeth Wright

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 05 MAY 99

Tyre marks on the road, created by brake-lock friction, are usually long, fluidly graceful, matte black lines that end with sinister abruptness. They are classified by accident reconstructionists - forensic engineers who determine accident speeds, timing and sequence. Long after the collisions have been cleaned up and the vehicles towed away, the body tissue and blood hosed down, these anarchic road-warning signs remain in the tarmac; scarified mementi mori to the nose-picking, chat show loving, mobile telephone-talking, sweaty-arsed drivers who travel in high-speed convoy above them.

The traditional, light-grey floor of Delfina displays just such rubber-tread skidmarks, indicating a collision between a number of vehicles in the centre of the exhibition space. Appropriating the specialist language of vehicle-accident reconstructionists, an analysis of these marks may reveal the following: the post-impact and pre-impact deceleration of the vehicles based on their skidmark data and an estimation of vehicle momentum energy forces and their relativity to the gallery support pillars and entrance doors (which are too small to admit a vehicle), combine to make it possible to verify that no actual vehicles were involved, and that the skidmarks have been carefully fabricated by an artist.

C579DJD, J839TVC, A896TLP (1999) is a work by Elizabeth Wright, painstakingly painted, presumably at a very low speed, on the gallery floor. The letters and digits of the title refer to vehicle registration numbers. The tyre marks are applied using a combination of brushes and tyre-mould prints, and rubbery, black paint. They look genuine and are to scale.

Although technically a painting on a ground, the work also functions as a sculpture. The skid marks were designed for the space, calculated so that the imaginary vehicles involved would not impact with the real support pillars of the gallery. At the simplest level, the marks are very beautiful: they look like abstract paintings and combine delicate passages, compositional tensions and heavier effects - the tyre equivalent of impasto. This painting is independent of the physical drama to which the marks allude. Like real skidmarks, they are long, flowing lines that traverse a curved path and increase in dark opacity until they terminate. There are also interesting striations and sudden angular departures from the otherwise sensuous curvatures, occurring where vehicles have shuddered, or are at the point of impact.

The conceptually figurative drama summoned by the work - of imagined vehicles and their human contents, whether dead and injured, or just arguing and litigious - is evoked more succinctly as an absence than as an actuality. This socio-drama of damage, injury and upset, (and God knows how-much paperwork and increased insurance premiums) is potently and ludicrously poetic. It is simultaneously happy and sad: because traumatic accidents by definition are sad, and happy because the event is now safely in the past; because the evidence of the accident is so elegant, and because it couldn't have happened anyway.

At this point, it is possible to wheel out a dodgy, second-hand, critical apparatus and discuss the work in terms of memory, absence and loss, scale, disjunctive expectation and the reassignment of significance, while throwing in a bit of Ballard/Cronenberg, Princess Di and Warhol. But there's more than enough critical traffic about this subject on the road already. C579DJD... is virtuous largely because of its uncluttered simplicity: an elegantly enjoyable, good-old-fashioned tragi-comedy. Don't think and drive.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.