Car Crash

Vocho, Francis Alys, March 20-22 2011

Close to a year ago, the Belgian-Mexican artist, Francis Alys, created a short video entitled Vocho.1 The video documents the process of Alys driving an old VW beetle into a tree at the botanical gardens in Culiacan, Mexico, and then getting out of the car and walking off. This is followed by a brief inter-title explanation and a concluding statement, “Nature will do the rest.”

The botanic gardens commissioned Alys to produce the work, which he conceived as a kind a road movie, in which he’d drive his car the entire way up to Culiacan only to crash it into a tree. He initially pitched it in terms of its capacity to establish “empathy between nature and culture”:2

The plan was for the car to remain in the site and devolve into a sort of giant flowerpot for the garden’s flora and fauna, becoming integrated with the local ecosystem.3

However, the absurdity and violence of the act clearly lends it wider poetic implications. The town of Culiacan and Sinaloa state generally are notorious for drug-related crime. But even more than acknowledging this violent social background, the work emerges as a reflection on the dilemmas of socially engaged art. As he is driving intently towards the “wretched tree”, Alys describes a sudden moment of realisation:

It was as if I’d been punched in the chest by the absurdity and tragedy of this art mission in this lost town of Sinaloa. I don’t know; a lot came to my mind . . . 4

Despite its neat finality, the car crash confronts an awkward, unresolved problem. Fond dreams of art-driven, ecologically inflected, social amelioration fail to adequately speak to the complex and intractable local situation, so in typical style art adopts a deliberately perverse, destructive guise. But this is still not sufficient – still cannot hope to constitute an effective form of social critique and transformation. The strength of Vocho is that it pushes critique to a meta level – acknowledging its own limits through sardonic bathos and a minimal, self-deprecating poetry. In this manner the work appears as a charged crystalisation of the contradictory forces which shape it.

  1. viewable at
  2. Carla Faesler interview with Francis Alys BOMB 116/Summer 2011:
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid.
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