As a part of the UnConvention, a sideshow to the Republican National Convention, next week Miami artist Steven Gagnon will drive his sculptural contraption to the Twin Cities and park it in a public spot near Intermedia Arts, a sponsor of the festivities. Gagnon’s “border cruiser” calls attention to the experience of undocumented people in the U.S. (This week, it will be on view curbside in Denver for the Democratic National Convention.)
The unconventional project is part of a “series of non-partisan citywide programs around the theme of participatory democracy through art, education and journalism,” geared around the political conventions. The vehicle is just one of many politically minded exhibitions and events that also includes other remade forms of transportation.
Once a detective’s car, the cruiser, an all-white Ford Crown Victoria, retains its former glory with a black wraparound stripe and tongue-in-cheek markings that read, “To project and present” and “projection vehicle.” However, the real spectacle comes from inside the multimedia car/installation: It is furnished with several digital projectors that play video footage, providing the kinds of details you won’t find in an incident report.
From the back seat, a Brazilian man’s image flashes life-size across the rear windows, while his narration comes through the roof-mounted speakers — fixtures that bear a striking resemblance to sirens and lights. The immigrant, who has been taken into custody, tells the story of what brought him to the U.S. and the difficulties he has faced since then. (Cool back-story: Gagnon bought the car from a Brazilian woman whose work permit had expired.)
One of the biggest challenges of the project, Gagnon says, was to pull it off legally — avoiding any kind of official police car branding. Even so, the traffic-stopping installation isn’t immune to scrutiny. When taking pictures of the finished product, Gagnon was questioned by police who responded to 911 calls about a fake police car. The cops then stayed close for the remainder of the photo shoot, so as to prevent additional calls. On the other hand, “it gives you a sense of authority even though you have none,” he chuckled, noting that fellow drivers always stick to the speed limit around him.
Gagnon, who comes from a long line of auto mechanics, similarly revamped a New York City taxicab into a mini theater. In “Eins Werden,” which combines equal parts West German-manufactured Mercedes Benz and East German Trabant, he portrays the reunification of Germany, while another piece uses a 1930s Ford to describe his origins. “A lot of my work has dealt with who and what is an American? Who am I as an American?” said Gagnon, who comes from an immigrant family. “I want to raise awareness and provide more dignity to these people who many perceive as second-class citizens. This is a way I can give a different perspective.”