Type “Burning Car” into Google, and the search engine responds with eleven million videos. A car burns eleven million times. On YouTube, one learns that one car can burn better than another, with one video called “The best burning car video on YouTube”. In this potential hierarchy, one thing is certain: a burning car is a spectacle. A good spectacle, or a bad one, a performance of varying degrees of success, but one that always induces the same fascination. What is this spectacle? And moreover, why is it so interesting? There are in fact two spectacles, united here in this photo series curated by Nicolas Poillot. The burning car, and the car that has burned. The fire, and that which is left after it has been extinguished. In the car on fire, there is of course the joy of destruction, the convulsive and sublime spectacle of death at work, as Warhol represented in his Green Burning Car I. But there is something else fascinating, and contradictory. Up in flames, the car will never die.
Nothing better pronounces the eternal erotism of the car than this apocalyptic striptease.
First, the interior is consumed, setting free high flames which dance and lick the bodywork. The paint then curls up into little painful abscesses. The tires set alight. The engine explodes, if we’re in a Hollywood film. But the carcass that remains intact beneath these final flash fires, this car has beaten the flames. What is fascinating about this spectacle is the car’s mechanic resistance, her obstinacy not to die, as determined as the unmasked Terminator coming out of the inferno that seemed to block his path. The car has not disappeared under these flames, she is simply transformed, to reveal paradoxically her all-powerfulness. When the passenger seat burns, the car herself spits out flames, becoming a dragon. On fire, she speaks, crying out revolt at the foot of tower blocks or the entrances of council blocks (read, on this topic, Mike Davis’s compelling History of the car bomb, published by Verso). Attacking leather, paint and plastic, the flames undress the car slowly, finally leaving her naked. Nothing better pronounces the eternal erotism of the car than this apocalyptic striptease. And there is nothing more sad, in the end, than the second kind of spectacle, of the carcass eventually liberated from flames, scorched under grey dust (this carcass is also the charred skeleton of an animal); the melancholy remains of the car, which has survived, but that awaits, nonetheless, the car graveyard.