burning dinosaur bones
"BURNING DINOSAUR BONES" - iN SPITE OF, Porto, 2019
THE SHOCK AFTER THE CRASH
In January 2012, Eastman Kodak Company, the iconic industry founded in 1888 that revolutionized accessibility and brought the making of photographic images into households, filed a bankruptcy petition with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As a result of this process, part of its patents were sold to companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google or Amazon, paving the way for a model of expansion of the photographic industry based on digital control, access and appropriation. After promoting the revolution and democratization of images, they delegated their leading role to the power of circulation, giving in to the late capitalism they also suffer from.
A year-and-a-half later, on July 18, 2013, the city of Detroit, known as Motor City, and where, in 1903, Henry Ford laid the foundations for the automobile industry, became the largest city in the United States to file for bankruptcy. This confirmed a shift in the industrial, social and environmental aspects in the history of the car, an object of desire and symbol of social status and freedom that completely shaped the region.
Rochester and Detroit were the stage for the expansion of these two inventions, which emerged in parallel in the course of the second industrial revolution, witnessing at the same time their economic erosion and the decline of a model that began to spread with the 2008 financial crisis.
Bursting out of this post-industrial cloud, Pedro Magalhães’ series burning dinosaur bones makes us travel through this natural and unprecedented connection — in photographs of corroded sheet surfaces and burnt rubber drawings on asphalt — looking at the immensity of this damage, without narrative or chronological concerns, with an educated view of two old technologies dissolving in synchronism.
Recovering the figure of the traveler who wanders quietly and slowly through the territory with no apparent destination, Pedro Magalhães moves and makes us move among simulated traffic — post-tuning, noise or collision — demonstrating that photography and the automobile, as we know them, are destined to disappear or, at least, deal with their own collapse.
If, as advocated by Georgia O’Keefe, we subscribe to the idea that music is capable of translating something for the eyes, in this case, the title of the exhibition, taken from a verse in the song Rusty Cage (1991), by Soundgarden — I’m burning diesel burning dinosaur bones — speaks of the irony of the extinction of the fossil fuel that still powers the current economy, equating images to discreet remains of modern capitalism and of the symptoms of the climate change that goes with it. As stated by J. G. Ballard in an article in Drive magazine back in 1984, I partly regret the way in which a basically old-fashioned machine enshrines the equally old-fashioned idea of freedom. In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of this freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, through its own disorder and congestion, hinders the spread of the ruthless and entrenched electronic society. However, given our fascination with the machine, the car will always be with us.
In this series, the removal of the figurative and the dissipation of reference points meets a conceptualization of the surface, attempted in a contiguous level, where the painting seems tired, without brightness or depth — to emphasize abstraction and reinvent the unique spatiality created by this machine. In burning dinosaur bones we can see other images and obsessions, such as the crashed cars photographed by Mateo Pérez Correa in Siniestros (2015), the interiors of Matthew Casteel‘s (un)inhabited cars, the badly repaired cars (2016) of Ronny Campana, or in Karma (2014), about the privacy that Oscar Monzón interrupted and illuminated, for five years, in Madrid’s traffic lights.
In all of them, the car Roland Barthes likened to a great gothic cathedral no longer represents the conquest of speed or acceleration. It is also not an object of desire or a symbol of counter-culture, rather it surrenders to the paradox of immobility that the picture imposed to it, monumentalizing the consequences of its consumption, taking into account their uniqueness, highlighting its singularity rather than equivalence and registering what remains after glory.
At a time when photography replicates itself ad infinitum and the car moves without the help of the hand, continuing to radically modify the conception of time and space, in these photographs we still want to celebrate them as kaleidoscopic machines, rendering limitless the ambivalence of their plasticity, and contemplate their decadence, admitting that, after all, nothing loses its force more quickly than the shock itself after the crash.
Susana Lourenço Marques