Review: Unsafe at Any Speed

The Forensics of Reception
Text by Nathan Brown
A Review of Unsafe at Any Speed, Organized by Eli Kerr, 820 Plaza

9 October – 20 November


A friend and I were looking for the gallery, but GPS was a little off. We wandered around behind a couple warehouses, knocked on a couple closed metal doors that looked as if they might open into studios. Finally we made it to what looked like a garage housing a little bookstore, and we said to ourselves: this must be the place. But what was the place? Turntables resting on concrete blocks from which water poured into a sunken pool. Beyond those, more blocks with some books illuminated by fluorescent lights, a space suspended between desertion and design. Through the garage door, a banged up SUV, a flat-screen floating at chest level, tilting down toward an empty bucket seat on the floor. Ok, this is the place.

On the concrete floor between the truck and the screen, a torn out steering wheel and steering column lie wired to an adjacent car battery (1). To the left of that, under the front right tire, a drivers’ side door is positioned just so, at once crushed and implying a fragile balance: a prop. What seemed to be the interior light of the damaged vehicle was in fact dangling from the garage roof, hanging through a hole cut into the ceiling of the SUV. It illuminates a sculptural object resembling a bag of flesh curled in the fetal position, traversed by pale blue lines as if by interior veins (2). The windshield has been smashed, a little too precisely, perhaps with an artful crowbar. A dangling rearview mirror charm contains a scorpion suspended within green glass (3). Below the raised rear hatch, a closed tailgate is covered in variations on the COEXIST bumper sticker seen all too often; having recently moved from California, I know it well. Despite the Ford logo on the front grill, the tailgate says Toyota Hilux (4). Tethered to the rear wall with restraint straps, what appears to be a black canvas splotched and finely brushed with white paint turns out to be the C-Print of a document overlaid with patterns of magnetite shavings attracted by lodestone. Between the gaps, one reads: “in a locked observa”; “camera”; “nalysis and”; “success” [upside down]; “FURTHER” (5). On the floor to the right is the ghost of a sculpture: a white shroud draped stiffly around some interior object, beside which some elliptical wiring looks too balanced to just be there, yet also suggesting the contingency of its being there are all. (6) From there I circled back and sat down in the removed seat to watch the video on the flatscreen: a strongman bursting a watermelon between his thighs, a foot slowly crushing a crustacean (7). If you get back up and kick the horn of the dislocated steering wheel it honks, loudly, the noise reverbertating through the garage. This is merely description of works by Michel de Broin (1), Ivana Basic (2), Sydney Shen (3, 5), Matt Goerzen (4), Valérie Blass (6), and Jon Rafman (7), but perhaps it also begins to suggest the shadow of an interpretation. And that shadowed doubling is precisely the effect of Eli Kerr’s ingeneously curated exhibition, Unsafe at Any Speed.


Ivana Basic. Fantasy Vanishes In Flesh. Silicone, Pigment, Fabric, Armature. 2015.


Matt Goerzen, The Technical. Imported Toyota Hilux Tailgate, Imported Co-Exist Stickers.


Sydney Shen. Untitled (Edition Antifreeze). Key chain, Persevered Scorpion. 2015.

You look at it—or for it—and as you begin to recognize what it includes that process of recognition itself suggests its content. The show solicits a forensic disposition from its viewer. Realizing this while examining the scene of the crash, perhaps the scene of the crime, one also realizes that such a disposition is implicit in our interaction with any art object: to see it is to read its signs, inspect its traces, ask after its genesis, evaluate the relations it suggests between intention and contingency. The intelligence of the curation makes this gradually apparent through the subtlety of the scene’s appearance. A Ford Explorer with the transplanted tailgate of a Toyota model associated with ISIS convoys. A warning signal (the horn) still operative in disjunction from the already smashed vehicle it was supposed to protect. The innocent violence of the screen and the good intentions (“the road to hell…”) of the bumper stickers. The huddled suggestion of inanimate flesh glowing uncannily through a sack in the back seat. The scene, collectively composed by the show’s six artists, suggests a historical, economic, psychological, and somatic catastrophe—something like the primal scene of the colonial repressed (“Explorer”) returning as spare parts from the junkyard of modernity’s disaster.


(from left to right) Sydney Shen. Alain’s Document |. 2014; Valérie Blass, Séparé à la naissance 2, 2013


(from left to right) Valérie Blass, Untitled. 2009; Michel de Broin, Dehorning. 2015; Jon Rafman, Mainsqueeze, 2014.

Jon Rafman, Mainsqueeze, 2014

Of course, this is a common theme these days: the wreckage of a history we might wish had never happened, though we are all along for the ride. But rarely is it staged so delicately, at first barely noticeable then taking on an obscure force through the process of noticing. Unsafe at Any Speed succeeds in being notable because it’s not too eager to be noted, prepared to take a back seat to the complex implication its pieces have to offer through their relation to the space. Here petroculture, and thus capital, takes a toll upon its own representative commodity, and where you look for dead bodies (they must be hidden somewhere) you find “art.” The forensic experience of the exhibition makes this disturbing substitution eerily implicit, and it only becomes affectively apparent in retrospect. You leave feeling somehow shaken without quite knowing why, as if the accident had taken place while it was standing still.

Check it out if you have time, before it closes. If you can’t find it at first, keep looking.