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Flying car makes comeback in Edmonton courtesy Evann Siebens & Keith Doyle

Harcourt House, Edmonton October 18 to November 24, 2012

Consider, for a moment, two tales of the automobile. Beginning with Henry Ford’s Model T assembly line, it’s been the backbone of modern industry, a monolithic driver of global economies that, as recent times have proven for better or worse, is embedded in our collective reality. But dig a little deeper and cars start to mean something more. They embody the limitless possibilities of freedom and mobility. One might even argue that, whether you drive or not, our relationship to the car is in a way a projection of our selves—our ethics, egos, dreams and desires set on four wheels.

Vancouver artists Evann Siebens and Keith Doyle‘s exhibition “IcarusCar,” on view through this Saturday at Harcourt House in Edmonton, offers a fascinating case in point. The duo’s installation—presented here as a four-channel video work and photographs (previous installations have included sculptural elements)—is a cautionary tale of ambition and failure based on the obscure history of a flying car built in 1949 by American aeronautical engineer Molt Taylor. Initially received with curious publicity and then slated for mass-production, Taylor’s custom-modified Aerocar One, complete with portable wings and tail section (it could actually fly), was mothballed for safety concerns and mechanical impracticality—at which point Taylor and his car/plane slipped into relative obscurity.

Siebens and Doyle picked up the trail in 2009 while on an artist residency at the Banff Centre. Loosely following Taylor’s Aerocar blueprint, the duo modified a 1969 MGB sports car adding on flying components for a planed trip to the open ranges of Parkland, Alberta. Their quartet of videos track the course of this journey from assembly to windswept prairie roads, framed in a narrative structure that weaves between documentary and abstraction. In an accompanying photo we see “The Inventor” ostensibly at the beginning of the trip, driving/flying googles on and full of optimism with a model of Siebens and Doyle’s flying MGB in his hands.

Yet in the end, we find the pair broken down at the side of the road at dusk on a desolate wintery evening, placing a call for a tow truck. It’s a rather anti-climatic finish and, while it’s difficult to say whether the artists actually had ambitions to “fly,” their exercise in futility remains a poignant lesson in the dangers of investing too much in the automotive dream or, to cite the work’s title, in driving too close to the sun.

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