Callum Morton’s sculptures combine incisive social observation, ideas about urban design and contemporary living, and an interest in the legacy of minimal sculpture. ‘Motormouth’ continues his consideration of the intersections between public and private space and in particular the ‘non-spaces’ of urban design such as freeways, shopping centres, service stations, cinemas and convenience stores. These are the generic buildings and sites that are designed as transit zones between destinations or as backdrops to their intended function. We don’t usually notice their architecture except as an indicator of this function. Morton’s sculptural versions reintroduce narratives that are at odds with the social design of these places and yet are somehow entirely appropriate for the setting.
‘Motormouth’ is a sculpture of two freeways, scaled 1:10 and perfect in detail down to the dirty realism of their distressed, water-stained concrete marked with graffiti. It appears to be a realistic model but is in fact an elaborate representation of what a generic freeway should look like rather than being a copy of an existing structure.
The freeways are raised on pylons above eye height, frustrating our desire to see what is on the superstructure, though logically it should only be scaled-down cars. Freeways are designed to move people efficiently and rapidly between city centres and satellite suburbs, from home to work, from boardroom to bedroom, or at the very least to get you across town in time for your meeting. They are the key people conduits of modern urban design and, as with other mid 20th-century projects, they had a progressive utopian agenda to make life more time efficient and productive. And on a good day they still do this. On others they are a battleground where the tensions between the private and public functions of cars and freeways erupt.
In ‘Motormouth’ you can hear the sound of a traffic jam on the lower freeway. Inevitably in the frustration at being kept waiting, anger boils over and conflict ensues. Cars are a private, personal zone in which we move through a public arena, one in which we feel empowered and in control. Despite the social contract that keeps us on the correct side of the road and heading in the same direction, in our car our rules count as we adjust the seats, the climate, the music, to create a pod between us and the world. However road rage is a rapidly growing social issue and while studies have come up with several interlocking reasons for this phenomenon, it seems to hinge on the tension between the collective rules we need to regulate cars, roads and driving and our rampant individualism. There is no doubt that contemporary city life is faster: we have more to do, so we don’t expect to be kept waiting. As the title puns, we are the inevitable product of our own social and technological designs.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006