Markéta Soukupová’s installation of paintings and objects comprises several layers of meaning, linking social topics with the phenomenon of motorism. In doing so, she uses her own DIY aesthetics, which are Markéta’s trademark, as well as the elements of cartoon humor, even kind irony, combined with the ability to empathize and keep a critical distance. The car simultaneously figures as a job, a status item, a fetish, a hobby passion, a symbol of a surefire climate destroyer, but also as a means of getting out of the city for a while to recharge our batteries, or as a rescue in the form of a roof over our heads.
In the spirit of the schematic simplification typical of a joke or a caricature, I dare say that at least our social bubble is quite critical of fetishistic car ownership and overuse. In an ideological argument of “Brno autem” (Brno by car) or “Žít Brno (na kole)” (Live Brno (on a bike)) the majority of us would probably share the same preferences. In Markéta Soukupová’s exhibition, the globally high share of emissions from road transport is emphasized by clouds of smoke from cars racing up the once green, now rather sun scorched hill, which symbolizes nature as the counterpoint to the sprawling concrete city and our escapist travel fantasies. In various formal forms, in paintings, objects and prints, tires become a metaphor for this ubiquitous moral dilemma translated into a seemingly practical question: what to do with the accumulated used tires? Examples of folk DIY upcycling in the form of flower pots, swings or “tire minions” are probably not the right solution.
It is also possible to take them to a tire shop or selected waste collection yards to eventually turn them into energy fuel for one of the concrete plants, so that the growth cycle of the city beyond the fence of the imaginary tire shop is completed.
In addition to the background of piled up tires, the environment of tire shops or car repair shops forms another important layer of the exhibition. It presents the car as a source of work, a hobby passion, but also as a primarily male domain. The invitation to swap wheels or license plates on wooden car models can also be interpreted as a small symbolic disruption of dominance in this gendered activity.
I also see the section of the exhibition dealing with work in a broader context. For many people living outside the infrastructure of large cities, owning and using a car daily is the only way to commute to and back from work. For many of them, especially in poorer or even excluded locations, the electric car will not become a reality for many years after 2035, the year the European Union has approved a ban on the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines. They will not be able to afford a new electric car, just as they could never afford any new car. France’s already pro-climate measures, though different from those of the EU, culminated in 2018 in massive demonstrations of the so-called yellow vests, symbolizing the reflective vest mandatory for drivers in case of an emergency stop. In particular, people from villages and small towns took to the streets to rebel against the introduction of an environmental tax on diesel.
For residents of regions where the car is the only means of transport, such a measure would be a blow to their already tight budgets. Protesters vented their frustration regarding worsening living conditions and growing inequality.
A much more romantic solution to another kind of crisis, the housing crisis, may be to own a motorhome. The popular caravan-style holiday from the shores of nearby dams or the Adriatic sea has been transformed by a generation of millennials into the elusive freedom of digital nomadism. However, this decision is not just a mere matter of desire for adventure; not paying overpriced rents is also a pleasant side effect. Perhaps these are the first swallows of a phenomenon that has created a community of nomadic seniors in a different social and economic system. Perhaps it depends on whether an expensive fuel or energy source will be cheaper than expensive housing, or it is always possible to sleep in a car with a flat tank or a dead battery and flat tires.
Markéta Soukupová uses shorthand and a slightly ironic humor that mocks stereotypes to name various aspects of social inequalities caused or perpetuated by capitalism. The latter often uncompromisingly condemns the “unsuccessful”, groups marginalized to the edge of survival for various reasons. The exhibition is imbued with a sincere and likeable ambiguity, it does not moralize, it does not impose great truths and clear solutions, rather it observes, perceives and seeks at least some individually functional outcomes. But the question remains, what to do with the used tires?