Abbott Miller in the driving seat
Inside Cars2wice vol. 5 no. 2
Editor in chief: Patsy Tarr
Editor / designer: J. Abbott Miller
2wice Arts Foundation. Princeton Architectural Press, US, £14.95
A new phase for the visual culture magazine 2wice begins with this paean to the motor car’s interior, in part an accompaniment to a touring exhibition (currently at Wellesley College until 9 June; then at the University of Minnesota from 7 September–3 January 2003) called ‘Surrounding Interiors: Views Inside the Car’. The 96-page softcover book, in a landscape format appropriate to the subject matter, takes a very American view of the automobile, addressing archetypal themes such as music in cars; films shot in cars; and sex in cars.
Photographs by Adam Bartos celebrate the lavish details of a ’48 Lincoln Continental originally owned by the wife of D. W. Griffith. The final image in this eight-page sequence, which also includes the original bill of sale and other documents, shows what looks like a Californian tourist information leaflet peeking from the Lincoln’s glove compartment. Which leads neatly into Tobi Tobias’s feature about this under-documented aspect of the auto interior, accompanied by pictures of an extraordinary collection of gloves, including some extravagant ones specially commissioned for this edition of 2wice. The issue closes with a thoughtful essay on the dashboard controls of a car by Phil Patton.
Abbott Miller the art director keeps things simple for Abbott Miller the editor. The text, set in FF Info, is laid out in single or double columns on a two-and-a-half column grid. In Patton’s piece, car manual symbols cut into each section like two-line drop caps. For three noir-oriented essays by Paul Arthur, James Wolcott and Giuliana Bruno, the type is in white, reversed out of black, the pieces accompanied by powerful black and white production stills or frame enlargements from actual movies: Kiss Me Deadly, Touch of Evil, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Voyage in Italy, Contempt, The Getaway. In a thought-provoking piece that actually says something new about film noir, Arthur writes: ‘Denied the comforts of domestic space, the transgressive noir hero is “at home” behind the wheel, but perilously so: car interiors are a transient refuge from outside threat that nonetheless remains permeable to observation (or to aggression launched through an open window or from the backseat).’
Photographer Alex Harris’s striking Plymouth interior shown on the cover is explained by Lucy Flint-Gohlke: ‘the windshield frames a panorama lit by a vigorous midafternoon sun. Unbeknownst to the viewer, the photographer has made ten or fifteen separate exposures as he moves a light across the inside of the car in order to illuminate the interior space evenly … the customary relationship between interior and exterior … is overturned.’ ‘Back Seat’ by Greil Marcus is a surprisingly readable piece, counterpointing many of the writer’s rock’n’roll obsessions with a photograph and detail of Edward Kienholtz’s disturbing Back Seat Dodge ’38, (1964). It is in pieces like these, and in David Frankel’s discussion of works by Matthew Barney such as Drawing Restraint 7 and The Cabinet of Gary Gilmore and Nicole Baker, that this issue of 2wice feels closer to a fine art exhibition catalogue than a magazine. Yet on the whole, the combination of themed visual and written material has a sure touch that many art and design books and journals could learn from. Even if you consider motor cars the scourge of civilisation, and / or remain puzzled by the passion that automobile can arouse in their owners and drivers, this carefully edited and masterfully art directed journal is highly recommended.
John L. Walters, Eye editor, London
First published in Eye no. 43 vol. 11 2002
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.