“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”-Pablo Picasso*On Sunday night during the Memorial Day weekend, I had the exciting pleasure of attending one of Mountain Springs Arena’s regularly scheduled demolition derbies. I was fortunate to attend with a great group of friends. And as this sort of exhibition is a people-having-fun-together experience, it was really enhanced by our mutually unbridled enthusiasm for the gasoline-and-adrenalin-charged event.On stage, the Journey tribute band, Worlds Apart, started the festivities. They are a solid group of rockers who deliver enough punch to set things right for the raucous metal mentality that rules the night at this sort of venue.Ironically, for this writer, the car show starts out as an art exhibit. A trophy for the best paintjob is awarded to a driver/team for showing up with the most audience-pleasing appearance (as measured by audience cheers and applause). There’s a car with a nocturnal spiderman theme, one sporting a flaming eightball, another has a snarling shark on the side, and so on. This is the best these cars will ever look. Appearance-wise it’s a downhill slide that starts immediately afterward.I see things in an aesthetic context and from start to finish, the screeching, metal twisting, smoke slathered evening was a pure performance art spectacular. The initial state of affairs presents itself as sort of a crowded parking lot situation. The small concrete-buttressed rectangular exhibition area has just enough space for the twenty-plus soon-to-be-total wrecks to park – with a single lane left over in the middle to navigate. Through six heats and a final feature the cadence is the same: start from a parked stop; back up into the field; free yourself up a little room to steer; and proceed to crash into as many of your opponents as possible until you are one of the final two to remain mobile at the end.Along the way, the audience feasts on the amassed devastation as metal crushing pileup after pileup ensues. The crowded parking lot becomes a chaotic continuous traffic accident. We’re drawn like stunned commuters into this singular opportunity to rubberneck ourselves to satiation. Soon after the dangerous game begins, one hears the sounds of radiators exploding in the din. Thick plumes of steam begin rushing outward from the embattled machines. Spinning tires shoot mud spray over the fence and into the stands. Fires break out from the dark innards of the splattered wrecks and force things to a halt while brave firemen rush in with extinguishers. After a moment the fracas begins again. One gets the sense that some cars are simply invincible, unstoppable, immortal. The extent to which a vehicle can continue to operate after all recognizable form is demolished and turned into a shrubbery of jagged steel edges and shredded rubber is uncanny. The third heat was simply awesome. Three cars pitted against each other at the end seemed to possess some alien undead force that could energize them from beyond the auto graveyard toward invincibility. Pummeled by dozens of violent incidents, these wrecks kept on running after all semblance of their former appearance was irretrievably lost. The assembled multitude in the grandstands echoed the shattering concatenations with collective gasps and groans while the mechanical orgy being played out before them escalated toward chaotic crescendos. All in all, this was a heroic evening in which the man/machine drama was played out to its fullest extent.The idea that machines are uniquely suited to self-destruction is not a new one. It seems to share a heritage with the idea of machines themselves. They are, after all, our armored selves – extensions of our bodies that encompass powers beyond mere mortal coils. They are hard while we are soft. They experience no pain. They multiply our ability to wreak destruction by their very nature. It does seem entirely appropriate to pit them against themselves in ultimate combat. What makes the Demo Derby so compelling is that these are piloted vehicles. There’s a human being inside the behemoth. And this fact draws our empathetic response to what is, in this instance, a situation of constant calamity.*Digital images from the series “Deconstructions,” Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2005

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