ART, ACTIVISM AND AUTOMOBILES

THE BROADER PICTURE
Click to follow
EPIC STRUGGLES are supposed to produce epic art, but the long- running war of attrition between environmentalists and the British road- building lobby has so far yielded little of permanent value - unless you count roads. Twyford Down, Oxleas Wood, the M11 link-road: we may remember the names of the campaigns, but the details are already receding into history. Yet objectors in the latest big road-building controversy - over the proposed M77, to the south-west of Glasgow - have, they hope, already acquired a permanent memorial.

Readers who keep abreast of developments in the road war may have seen glimpses of it, in the corners of photographs and television screens. Its imposing, vertical lines loom like the monoliths of more ancient structures, from the dawn of the age of the wheel. Its materials are those of the age of the motor car. Hence its hybrid name: Car Henge.

Colin MacLeod, one of the "artists" responsible for the construction, speaks modestly about it. "They're just a bunch of rusting old cars that look pretty horrible," he says. He is, arguably, right. Car Henge was constructed, over the past six months, by arranging nine rusting, graffitied cars in a circle on the route of the proposed motorway, burying them nose down in 4ft of concrete and rocks, setting fire to them, and then re-covering them with graffiti. Yet the resulting structure is not entirely without aesthetic appeal.

This is partly because of its setting. Pollok Estate, where the structure is situated, is Glasgow's most important open space. A 1,000-acre area of rolling grassland and woodlands, it has been used for recreation by the people of Glasgow since 1939, when control of it was acquired by the Scottish National Trust. It is a lovely place that inspires strong emotions - particularly now that the Department of Transport is proposing to plough a £52m motorway through it. Last year local residents and outside protesters renamed it Pollok Free State, set up a "permanent ecological encampment" of tents and tree-houses there and declared independence from the rest of Britain. The State claims to have 1,000 passport-holding citizens, with 12 permanent residents. It is no surprise to be told that the Criminal Justice Act does not apply within its boundaries.

According to 28-year-old MacLeod, a forester and arborist who also carves totem poles, Car Henge is sculpture that makes a statement. "It's an act of creating while being involved in the environment," he says. "It's saying: `Why are we creating this car culture and why are we massively overloading the atmosphere with all their toxic wastes?' One of the few things we have here is the park estate. People grew up here in bad circumstances, yet they had a big garden. We will not let them attack it in this disgraceful way."

Car Henge was completed a fortnight ago, when four cars drove up from Brighton and Oxford to be buried in the circle alongside five others that had already been given by sympathisers and local residents. A night-long celebration followed, during which hundreds of protesters poured petrol over the cars to create a dazzling bonfire.

"The way we see it, these will be the only cars ever on the M77. No question about it," says 32-year-old protester Danny King. "It's our way of saying: that's the end of the car culture. I'd say it was a work of art."

Tim Hilton, art critic of the Independent on Sunday, does not wholly demur, citing pop artists Ed Kienholz and Claes Oldenburg as sculptors who have pioneered "assemblage sculpture" of this type in the past. He points out, however, that the traditional function of such sculpture - when it involves cars - has been to celebrate rather than reject car culture. "Being Americans of the Sixties generation, they liked motor vehicles," he says.

The view of the sculptors of Pollok Free State could hardly be more different. To them, motor vehicles are the root of most evil, and creations such as Car Henge should reflect this. "I don't think there's much beautiful about it," says MacLeod. "It's a shocking thing to see. But it does make you ask: `What is man doing to himself?' " !

Comments