In our recurring feature What’s the Meaning of This?, we explain what those public-art installations you walk by every day are supposed to represent. This week: A Toronto Sculpture Garden exhibit that seemingly celebrates the automobile—or does it?
Name of installation: Gold, Silver & Lead
Artist: Jed Lind
Location: The Toronto Sculpture Garden at 115 King St. E.
Date of display: September 2011
What’s it supposed to be?: To the naked eye, it may look like little more than a series of small cars stacked on top of each other. But there is a lot at work in this installation, packed with irony, historical happenstance, and dry humor. Consisting of seven reproduced late-1970s Honda Civics in different iterations (all are missing the wheels, front-end grills, and fenders, but those towards the top become increasingly mutated), the sculpture rises 20 feet high and hints at the former use of the Toronto Sculpture Garden.
In 1979, American author, theorist, and utopian thinker Buckminster Fuller endorsed the Honda Civic as the ideal transport vehicle, as they were markedly different from the large, gas-guzzling cars that populated North America at the time. Born out of the 1970s fuel crises, the Civic was small, mobile, and fuel-efficient. The same year as Fuller’s endorsement, work began to transform a small parking lot on King Street just east of Church into the Toronto Sculpture Garden.
With Gold, Silver & Lead (which takes its name from a Fuller quote about the equal value of these three materials), Jed Lind has created an installation that plays all these historical coincidences off each other in something simple, yet layered, and highly visual. “For me, when I’m making work, I’m trying to find connections with the geography or the location that I’m building and a lot of time it just relates to time or the correlation between events,” says the Toronto-born artist, on the phone from L.A., where he’s currently based.
For Lind, the transformation of the Toronto Sculpture Garden from a parking lot into a contemplative space is mirrored by the change in perceptions over the future of travel that people experienced in the 1970s, when the concept of endless journeys was curbed by the harsh reality of finite fuel resources. A cheeky play on Constantin Brâncuși’s Endless Column—a 98-foot-tall sculpture expressing, vaguely speaking, the concept of infinity—Lind’s sculpture is far from endless itself, as the last few cars, reaching up towards the sky, disassemble to meet their maker, so to speak. “It’s great to take a mindless object and put it in a thinking space,” says Lind. “Some people loathe the installation because they think it celebrates the car and its endless possibilities, while others can see it as something that takes you back to a time when ideas were being questioned in terms of size, scale, weight, and all these things have relevance in the present moment.”