Auto : Body

1998 | 00:29:15 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | Video

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Crime or Violence, Documentation, Gender, Incarceration, Installation, Mental Landscape, Performance, Sculpture

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This project on family violence, spanned two years and several sites across the country, and involved wrecked cars in sculptural installations. The cars were reconfigured by women and children who suffered violence at the hands of loved ones. Linked to each other through common experience, women from a domestic violence shelter in Pittsburgh, a family violence program at Bedford Hills prison, children from shelters in Niagara Falls and Cleveland, teenage girls in Oakland, and politicians on Staten Island all collaborated in making the cars. This video documents how 15 women in the family violence program of the Bedford Hills Maximum Security Correctional Facility in upstate New York labored during a hot summer to transform cars to represent their experiences of abuse, moving testimonials to the incredible violence they experienced in their lives. As they worked on the cars, memories unexpectedly returned. The demolished cars looked like battered and bruised bodies. Decayed interiors evoked rape scenes. Front fenders with bashed-in headlights reminded of being chased by a car without lights.

Surprisingly, in an era when prison movies and television news portray hardened and often brutal inmates, these women are compassionate and astonishingly wise, and through their eyes is revealed the impact of sustained abuse, including their eventual incarceration. Their cars, exhibited at Bennington College, Niagara Falls, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, were metaphors: the Abuse Car held a distorted apartment inside, each object graphically written upon to reveal how it was used against one of the women. A brick wall was installed inside the car of the same name, and embedded in each brick was the sentence of the women or an object from their past lives. Faintly, etched in the glass windows, one could read the stories of what happened when they had gone for help and found nothing. The last car, the Healing Car, was wrecked on the outside, with chain link fence, but inside was a beautiful cloth-covered vanity, with photos and other precious objects. It symbolized how these women kept their spirit and soul alive and contained for them aspirations for a new life after prison.

Video produced by Virginia Cotts, Michelle Baughan, Suzanne Lacy.

Camera by Cotts and David Katsive.

Edited by Micelle Baughan.

From the installation by Suzanne Lacy, Charlotte Watson, Virginia Cotts, Linda Lee, Sue Rees, and Sharon Smolick.