Visual Arts - Road trip

Process ignites Tire Fires and a talking car

Surrender Your Comfort Zone! are the watchwords for artists Sue Wrbican and Mary Carothers, whose Tire Fires and a Talking Car installation is on view this month in the Atlanta College of Art Gallery. Commissioned by the gallery and organized by gallery director Lisa Fischman, the multi-faceted project is perhaps more appealing in its process than in the final outcome.

The artists' energy and enthusiasm overwhelm the dusky space from start to finish. Their creative endeavor begins with a great metaphoric twist. At the entrance a stenciled wall text, a flying toaster with antennae and an enormous truck tire introduce the show. The text, a free-style story poem, tells of a woman and her friend who decide to photograph a burning couch. After the sacrificial fire, they strap the burnt couch to the car roof and drive to a gas station. En route, the couch reignites, but the car manages to make it safely to the pump.

That torched couch, say the artists, inspired them to abandon certain creature comforts and take to the road. Tire Fires and a Talking Car documents their accidental discoveries and unexpected consequences along the way. Just the sort of events that occur when one makes art.

Around the corner from the text, two wall-sized video projections play out the flaming demise of a car and a couch in an empty country field. To the left, an array of video monitors are arranged campground-style atop firewood and stacks of used tires. Suspended overhead, fragments of old cars, more toasters and rusted gas cans float by a deer hunting trophy and clear Plexiglas globes with photographic details from the flame-orange Suburban and Airstream trailer that took the artists on their trip.

The project grew out of a "Creative Actions" commission awarded to the artists last year by the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Art in Buffalo, N.Y. Wrbican and Carothers took their rolling studio to campgrounds between Niagara Falls and the Statue of Liberty to create the original display, titled Tire Fire.

Initially, Tire Fires and a Talking Car at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery appears to mirror the first display, although Fischman says the current incarnation adds a Southern chapter to the story. This time the artists traveled from Louisville, Ky., to Atlanta, videotaping their travels, stops and chance encounters.

In Georgia, they met outsider artist Tubby Brown and visited Alpine Helen, the kitsch Swiss village in the mountains. When they made it to Atlanta, they cruised around town and spent time at the Marriott Marquis, Stone Mountain Park and the Cyclorama. The pair drove to see the granite capitol of the world in Alberton and to Gainesville, the world's poultry capital. The video elements include a lot of fresh footage — 12 tapes in all — plus some from the first project.

The display is a familiar, cacophonous mix of sounds and sights. Like a car in rush hour, the viewer is forced to slow down to make sense of the various video vignettes and the memories they evoke. The artists videotaped the most mundane moments of their adventure, collecting incidental visual artifacts out the wazoo, including images of the road via the rear view mirror, lawn sprinklers, rain, wet towels and parades of tourists.

In the way of many a journey, this one has an upclose and personal flavor that makes it fun to share for a moment. Truth be told, though, looking through the multidimesional album of their experience makes one remember that the infinite details of the travel experience are almost always more significant to the traveler than to those of us they left behind.

Tire Fires and a Talking Car continues through Aug. 19 at the Atlanta College of Art, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5001. Tues-Thurs. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. noon 2-5 p.m.??

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