Monday, August 7, 2023

hands painting a toy car

A green car with the words “climate change” emblazoned on its doors slams into the back of a red car with the word “healthcare” on it, crumpling the bumper. Other cars with the terms “gun control,” “free speech,” and “abortion” repeatedly crash into each other in the muddy arena at the county fair, until one car emerges victorious.

Just Crushing is an artwork taking the form of a demolition derby to embody American political discourse as a spectacle of competitive wreckage. The Interdisciplinary Research Group (IDRG) consists of Allison Rowe (Teaching & Learning), Maia Sheppard (Teaching & Learning), and Nancy Nowacek (Stevens Institute of Technology). Drawing upon the theatrics of Carnivale, the hometown grandiosity of state fairs, and the rich history of destructive art, vehicles representing critical issues in American politics will brutalize one another as the crowd cheers and jeers them on. Through its live, winner-takes-all battle, this project stands in opposition to the polarizing debates of stylized dialogue across partisan media. In this way, Just Crushing literalizes us-versus-them culture and reveals the absurd extremes to which political discourse has arrived: where every issue must fight for a public and a platform. 

During their time at the Obermann Center, the group created material designs and conducted on-the-ground research at the Muscatine Fair. “Being all together in one space helped us clarify our research framing and connect art to research," says Rowe. "We couldn’t have done this kind of sustained work without the IDRG award.” 

The group hopes to stage the Just Crushing derby in late summer 2024, shortly before the next presidential election at a time when political tensions and the need for cathartic destruction will be at their highest.