By Karin L. Wolf
Jeremy Dean’s CEO Stagecoach (2010), which presents a satirical proposition about the future of the automobile and the planet, is part of “Back to the Futurama,” a project that focuses on the rise and fall of the automobile industry as a symbol of the vulnerability wrought by turbo-capitalism. Dean draws the name form two sources: a General Motors-sponsored exhibition at the 1939 New York World’s Fair that hailed a futuristic American utopia completely transformed by highways and suburbs and the mid-1980’s movie Back to the Future, which features a famously re-engineered time-traveling DeLorean. Dan similarly employs a modified SUV to invite us to look into the past for answers about the present so that we might choose to save the history of the future.
Once a fully functioning, gas-powered Hummer H2, CEO Stagecoach was converted from an armored personnel vehicle into a horse-drawn carriage. The horse-drawn Hummer’s massive steel armature occupies the same formidable frame as its greedy, gas-guzzling doppelganger; however, the absurdist conversion of the energy source alters the vehicle’s essence. If the Hummer emblematizes the military-industrial complex at the core of predatory capitalism, then Dean’s vehicle, repossessed from its original owner and purchased at auction, morphs from war machine into harmless recession buggy. Dean’s castration of the Hummer threatens the aggressive masculine entitlement that necessitates it in the first place. Though the Hummer was initially designed for the rough terrain of combat, most American owners are more likely to deploy their eight-mile-per-gallon suburban tanks to raid the local mall.
Dean’s aptitude as a filmmaker, sculptor, and installation artist is evident in this skillfully dismantled and re-crafted work, which comes complete with elegant carriage seating, stereo and video systems, smooth lighting, and slick chrome. Illustrating the boom-and-bust cycles of our consumption-based economy, the reconstructed Hummer mimics the “Hoover carts” created by impoverished automobile owners during the Great Depression. No longer able to afford gasoline, they cut off the rear ends of their cars, attached tongues, and hitched their vehicles to horses. Some of those desperate folks who converted their old tin lizzies probably purchased their automobiles thanks to America’s first incarnation of consumer credit
“Back to the Futurama” also features small-scale models of modified Hummers. Two of these little pimped-out buggies spin around and play audio and video on miniature interior monitors that Dean rigged from iPod Nanos. The screens represent the ones mounted in the rear of the Hummer H2 DVD Entertainment System.
On the project blog <backtothefuturama.blogspot.com>, Dean says that this work is “about the process of… exploring historical amnesia, sustainability, consumption, and the future.” He employs historical hindsight to question progress and the American dream. By deconstructing a quintessential symbol of American military might, male aggression, and flaunted wealth, and then representing it as a nostalgic artifact of the future, Dean addresses the social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural issues that we face as a result of our particularly American follies and abuses.