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Slow-Motion Car Crash, 2009

6th International Digital Art Biennial 

Arsenal Contemporary Art Montreal 

12.01.2022 - 02.05.2023


Jonathan Schipper is a sculptor that has combined many materials and techniques as far-ranging as pneumatics, leatherwork, robotics, and rock n roll. His work is often based on decay or destruction, work that becomes most alive just before it ends.  He embraces the transitory nature of existence and rejects the sacred. He feels art should be an experience, not a possession. Many of his ideas are derived from media, but the work is physical, live, and irreproducible. 

Jonathan holds a BFA and an MFA, but he feels his true early art education was at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2001). He now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has concentrated on large-scale engineered technology-based artworks that find their inspiration at the foundations of function and recognition. He has shown worldwide in shows like the Guangzhou Triennial and "Under Destruction," Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland, among many others. 

Jonathan is best known for his Slow Motion Car Crash, where two full-sized cars are brought together over the course of months to simulate a head-on collision. A moment that might take a fraction of a second in an actual collision is expanded into days or years. In this sculpture, the subject becomes the balance of creation and destruction, movement and time itself. 

Jonathan's work is both very conceptual and very approachable.  It deals with questions of perception, life, and destruction but is just as likely to entrance a five-year-old as the veteran art viewer. 



Slow Motion Car Crash (Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle), 2009


Slow-Motion Car Crash, a death ritual written in oil and sheet metal.


Cars reflect our desires, what we want to be, or be seen as. When we step inside, the car becomes an extension of our body, our id, and our ego. When we see an automobile destroyed, we see a reflection of our own inevitable death. 

The thousands of parts that had come together to move us through space and time are no longer in agreement and alignment; they are now just materials to be recycled.


Slow-Motion Car Crash is a physical simulation of a head-on collision using two full-sized automobiles.  Each car moves one meter into the other, at a rate of about a millimeter an hour. The constant movement is so slow as to be invisible. This sculpture expands an event that usually takes a fraction of a second into months.


The ritualization of the car crash is common. We find this spectacle at the racetrack, movie theater, and arena. At the racetrack, we sit safely in the audience watching as an honored few test and touch the edge of the envelope; death and destruction near at any moment, knowing at some point, they will lose their hold and be thrown completely into chaos. We see in films where again and again cars are flung off cliffs, smashed into each other, and set ablaze. We see it at the arena where cars are set against each other in combat. We slow down when we see it on the highway, stretching our bodies and compromising our safety, to catch a glimpse of the carnage. It is the transformation of highly organized material into disorder. We find ourselves mesmerized again and again.


In the Slow-Motion Car Crash, the speed and danger are distilled out. The audience is free to touch and examine the object and event in detail. The speed has been removed, it still sits like an erased De Kooning, ever present in the work. The energy still transforms the metal and glass, but at a tectonic pace. The molecules individually push one another and in mass, push order toward entropy.  We are given not only a front-row seat but something even better – we are given a lens that expands time. What normally happens in just a moment is now almost too slow to comprehend. We see an object in motion that appears to be static. We have the leisure to see the crash from all angles. The drama and danger are gone, and we are left with a three-dimensional time machine. The event is moved from the oblongata to the cerebrum. We at our leisure may decide exactly when the car transforms from an object of desire into trash. If we slow things down enough, can we catch death by the tail? 

The West Collection, Oaks, PA

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