California Dreamin'

48" x 36", mixed media on birch panel

Living in Southern California you drive through dozens of mega-interchanges like this on a weekly basis. As an outsider, they spellbind you, both passing beneath so many veering and crisscrossing bands of concrete and soaring stories above other streams of vehicles on the higher passes. Then like so much else you acclimate and barely notice them any longer.

This one is the Pregerson Interchange linking the I-105 and I-110 in South-Central, a five-level maze (higher than a 10-story building) which includes nine miles of cloverleaf loops and is a mile and a half wide. It's gotta be one of the biggest in the U.S. It was the one in the opening of La La Land.

Blight or an elevated sort of late brutalism, an architecture for the masses? It probably depends on whether you're stuck in traffic, which would be most of the time, or find yourself whizzing through at 4 a.m., taking it in like a roller-coaster ride.

Sociologically, of course, I wish such resources would be poured into projects that didn't encourage individualized transportation, belching non-stop Victorian pollution in urban centres on some of their poorest neighbourhoods, clogging roads that could otherwise be dedicated to parks and pedestrians. I read Lewis Mumford's 1958 essay "The Highway and the City" not long ago and did he ever drive this home: "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism."

He continues, "The popularity of this method of escape has ruined the promise it once held forth...the sum of money it costs to keep this whole system running leaves [us] with shamefully overtaxed schools, inadequate police, poorly staffed hospitals, overcrowded recreation areas, ill-supported libraries. In short, the American has sacrificed his life as a whole to the motorcar, like someone who, demented with passion, wrecks his home in order to lavish his income on a capricious mistress who promises delights he can only occasionally enjoy." Putting aside the madmen language, he does have a point, I feel.

And it's a fine subject for art.

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