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Exhibitions > Fast Forward / Ron Arad




I never liked the idea of a retrospective, especially when you feel that you're just beginning, and still recovering from the Pompidou Centre, the MoMA and the Barbican. 

The way I dealt with it in those exhibitions was to make the display the biggest thing, making it something "new" that did not exist before, that I hadn't seen. I really don't like the idea of collecting the old stuff, putting it on pedestals with labels naming dates and materials and directing a spotlight on it. It gets interesting when you work on something that doesn't yet exist, something that will be as exciting for me to see as it will be, hopefully, for the viewers. I confess when writing this now, that although the date of the exhibition is fast approaching, there is not a single exhibit yet. Yes, I can close my eyes and imagine the look and content of the exhibition vividly. Best outcome is if what I get at the end is better than I deserve. 

* This is the title of a famous painting by Ed Ruscha from 1979, bearing the words in its title.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Sketch of exhibition design for In Reverse, 2012



Holon is a museum, a design museum. Their expectation of me is to have some sort of retrospective. The museum thinks it has a responsibility - an obligation to the visitors to show and put things in some historic reference.
Okay. The way I relate to this is by looking at the last three decades (yes, three decades) and observing the shift from physically handling raw materials (and at times found objects) by bending, forming, forging, casting, beating, cutting, and welding (a lot of steel in the beginning), to create usable if not useful objects, towards digitally and virtually making things on screen with the aid of light pens, mice and pixels. In the old days you had to first make a mock-up or a prototype, then produce something, and then photograph it. Today you start with a photograph or a film of something that doesn't exist yet, and like with a police photo-fit, you then try to catch the suspect, the real physical thing. In Reverse is an exhibition about the shift from the physical to the digital - except in reverse. Rather than manipulate materials to render them functional or render digital models towards a functional object, here I "reverse" perfectly functional objects and render them useless.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Installation view of Ron Arad: No Discipline, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009



Recently I spent some very interesting days in the engineering department of the Milan Polytechnic, squashing some immaculately-made parts of a stainless steel sculpture with very powerful presses. I embarked on a process where the results could only be intuitively imagined - I was prepared for some sort of thrilling chaos, but instead the machines yielded an object of mathematical beauty, surpassing my optimistic anticipation. That's where and when I got the idea of crushing Fiat 500s into "paintings", like pressed flowers - turning useful objects into useless paintings (of cars). The following days I brought lovingly made toys to the Polytechnic, models of Fiat 500s, and crushed them flat.

Again... I got better than I deserved.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Dats Et (detail), 2012



My first family car was a Fiat Topolino "Giardinetta", one generation before the Cinquecento. Early one morning a neighbor rang the doorbell telling us my father had an accident; his little car was run over by a huge garbage van. My brother and I (aged 13 and 7) rushed to the scene of the accident on our bikes. We saw a flattened Fiat and could not believe that anyone could get out of there alive. Then we cycled to the hospital and I will never forget my father's first words to us - "had my car not been made out of wood I wouldn't be alive now. " He's now 96 and unfortunately refuses to stop driving.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Fiat Topolino 500C “Giardinetta,” 1949



On a flight coming back from Rome some thirty years ago, I was contemplating Fiat 500s.
How come Rome is full of them, old cars from the 1950s, while there are hardly any Fiat 600s left on the streets? The 600s I think were slightly better looking, slightly more comfortable - how come they didn't survive? I thought the answer must be that ideas should not be compromised. The idea of the smallest thing that qualifies with the necessary conditions to be called a car (though it never qualified in the US), has survived over its compromised sibling. Making my way back from Heathrow, I saw one, a 500, at a traffic light. I shouted to the driver "are you selling it?" and he answered "yes." "How much?" "500." By fluke the address he gave me was in my neighborhood and the car is still  parked in our driveway. It is now rusting away, growing moss and not going anywhere - the functional has become useless but delightful. At one point in its life, it was painted in a glow-in-the-dark paint by two of my students, Arash and Eddie.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Arad’s 1960s Fiat 500 and new Fiat 500, 2012



When Fiat launched the Nuovo 500 they asked me to do an installation using vintage old 500s. I created a long crate for two identical pale blue cars, the front of one popping out at one end, and the tail of the other at the other end of the crate, giving the illusion of a long Fiat 500 stretch limo. I called it Fiat 5,000,000. Shortly after that they asked me to customize one of their New 500s. When they received my proposal - a red line drawing of the old 500 in real size painted on both sides of a new black 500 - they were initially reluctant to do it, because what is perceived and marketed as a small car seems huge in comparison with the old. But the idea grew on them and eventually they showed it in their launch events.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Arad’s new 500 with a 1:1 drawing of his old 500 parked at his Chalk Farm studio, London, 2013


Tel Aviv, August 10, 2012


In a meeting arranged to discuss the progress of the retrospective, I found myself improvising a verbal presentation of the In Reverse show to the Design Museum Holon team. It went down really well (I think). The only thing is, now I have to go back and think how to do it.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Digital collage of crushed scale model of Fiat 500, 2012



It is a real bureaucratic conundrum to get a car off the road in Italy. I thought it was a joke but it is very serious - it is illegal unless you hand it over to be crushed and shredded by an authorized, official scrap metal dealer. We sought the help of lawyers, museum directors and second hand car dealers - lots of promises but so far no good news.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Pressed Flower Faded Red (detail), 2013



The original plan was to go back to the Milan Polytechnic and flatten the cars there. Roberto Travaglia suggested doing it closer to Realize, near Como (Italy), the factory where he makes our metalwork (he also masterminded all the Cor-Ten work in Holon). This area of Italy is like one big workshop with lots of departments. Roberto decided to take the risk, buy a Cinquecento and experiment. He didn't want to tell me how he planned to do it; he didn't even want me to come and see the first experiment (but finally he agreed to have Michael Castellana, from my studio, there with the camera). Discussing this in London, I did a sketch in front of Roberto saying, "you're not going to do it like this, are you?" He went sort of white and admitted, "yes." He sandwiched the car between two steel plates connected by six threaded bars, and manually turned the nuts, squeezing the car down from one and a half meters to half a meter thick.

It needed a second stage. A week later we received some images of the car almost as flat as I wanted it. I assumed Roberto found a power press in the neighborhood with which to do the final squeeze. Back in London, Roberto hesitated before revealing to us how it was really done. He then showed us on his iPhone a film that even Tarantino couldn't have directed, with driving rain and all. The poor car was tortured by an obsessive anthropomorphic monster of a digger. What footage! Even the number plate of the little car spelled "MI NO." After the digger ran over it a couple of times it was
covered like a corpse to be taken back to be washed... this is not how I imagined it. Better or worse than I deserved? This footage is invaluable, but I'm still looking for ways to crush the 500s in a similar way to how the toys were crushed. The perfect place is waiting somewhere - maybe in England, 
maybe in Italy, maybe in The Netherlands or Germany. The search is on. The clock is ticking. The exhibition was delayed by two weeks for different reasons. (I found lots of videos on Youtube of trucks with powerful presses picking up illegally parked cars and flattening them on the spot - alas, only in America.)

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition

Sketch for manually crushing a Fiat 500, 2012



Getting Fiats out of Italy proved to be more difficult than selling ice to Eskimos. There is a nice little family garage, the Proietti family, specializing (still) in Fiat 500s. They looked after mine for 30 years. They have a nice yard with lots of rusting, rotting, moss-growing 500s (as well as Viscount Linley's immaculate blue one). At first it was very difficult to explain my project to them, "I'm not destroying them - I'm immortalizing them." Then they came around and prepared six cars for immortalizing - white, yellow, dark blue, metallic blue, and two shades of red - emptying the shells, waxing and buffing them. They are ready, waiting, not knowing if they will go to Brighton, Groningen, Bremen or Como. We'll soon know. Stefano Proietti asked to be present.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Fiat 500s at Proietti garage, Holloway, London, 2013


5,000 FRAMES OF 500

Not only are the cars not crushed yet, the real physical ones, but also the digital film is not yet made. All we have are some sketch videos, studies of digital crushing. There is a little clip of a yellow Fiat 500 (an old Fiat 500 but we are planning to digitally crush the new Fiat 500) being crushed by an invisible press and then coming back to life and being crushed again, and so on. Had we seen this clip, had we made this clip, some five years ago, we would have said, "good, happy, it's done", and we
would have been proud of ourselves - but not now. Now we are greedy, our aim is to produce the most realistic film that can possibly be made. 

We received super secret, state-of-the-art 3D models from Fiat - and we signed an NDA so we can't share it with you or anyone - to exercise the digital crushing on. We are working with the film and digial effects company Framestore (they are responsible for all the stuff that you think is real but isn't really in films like Harry Potter, Avatar, Warhorse and many others). In the process we were also joined by the HyperWorks car crash simulators, who are scientists, not artists. Better than we deserve. We are working on a film of the Fiat crushed flat by an invisible press and then reversed it to revive the car - with stationary camera, minute details and a soundtrack. Although we have a notion of the film there are lots of unknowns and a lot of room for improvisation - very much like a wet
canvas. We also plan to print a full-scale, 3D print of one single frame from the 5,000 frames of the three minute film. It will be like a white relief of a flattened car in polyamide. I hope it will be done in time. I'm sure the Holon team is very worried reading this piece for the catalogue now but that
makes it so much more exciting! 

Ron Arad | Fast Forward
Still from Slow Outburst, 2013



Before CNC (Computer Numeric Control), before 5-axis milling machines, before stereo lithography, selective laser sintering and fusion depositing machines - in other words, before computers - the industry relied on artisans, genius artisans. The wooden model, a forming buck of the first Fiat 500, designed by Dante Giacosa, is a skillfully crafted object of beauty.
I hope Fiat will eventually agree to lend it to our exhibition. The problem, they say, is that it is on the fourth floor of the Fiat Museum in Turin and difficult to move. "Would you be interested in the mould of the 600?"

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Centro Stile Fiat, Wood mould for Fiat 500, 1956



The only way to contain an object of beauty made by others in your show is to audaciously try and match it with one of yours. To win (or even come close to) Giacosa we had to draft not only our best drafting computers, the most sophisticate 3D software and computer controlled laser-cutting  instruments but also our best crafty artisans and their veteran tools. 

Roddy Giacosa (an homage to Giacosa in rods) is a stainless steel-rod shell of the Cinquecento, based on its wooden rival from the 50s. The making of this piece relies on total fusion between the virtual and the physical, man and machine. We know the piece so well already, from the many "photos" of the Roddy taken from every possible angle, including close-ups (one of which is my iPad's current screen saver) or in different locations, reflecting and refracting different environments, or from wire frames rotating on the screen and technical drawings that look like dense music scores. We've known it for a while now but only in the last days we started receiving real photos from Roberto. Do I say "better than we deserve" Definitely! 

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Construction of Roddy Giacosa on a laser-cut stainless steel armature at Realize, Como, 2012



Tomorrow morning I have to hand over this text for the catalogue because printing also takes time. Tomorrow morning we'll have John Elkann, CEO of Fiat, in the studio. We'll show him the work so far and we'll try to charm him into lending us the original Giacosa wooden buck. Tomorrow morning I have to talk to the shipbuilders from Groningen to see their conclusion about what they can do for us (I saw on the website that they had a press 16 meters long by 3.5 meters, which means we can lay down and crush six cars with one press of a button - and that will be so much better than we deserve!). Tomorrow morning we have to rule out (or not) the Light Brothers scrap yard in Brighton. Tomorrow morning we'll have some new pictures from Roberto. Tomorrow morning someone from the studio will go and check out a breakers yard in Sandwich, Kent, England - they have a machine called "Challenger." Apart from anything it would be really nice to sandwich the 500s in Sandwich! We'll be a lot cleverer by the end of tomorrow but this text has gone to print already. 

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Hydraulic press crushing scale model of a Fiat 500, Milan Polytechnic, 2012


February 25, 2013


The catalogue didn't go to print yet. Noa is still working on it so I have a chance to write a little update. Okay, so no Sandwich. The cars are going to The Netherlands and after they are "done" they will go to Italy for finishing touches (if they will need last touches at all). This morning we went to Proietti Garage to load the transporter - the driver was surprised that the wheels were separate. He wasn't as surprised or moved as I was when I found that every car had its key and a spare one dangling from the ignition. How strange. This morning the favorite one was a raw metal sandblasted one - didn't like the pink of the car that I understand belonged to an actress from EastEnders, a British soap opera. We convinced the truck driver to go to the Netherlands via our studio to collect some eight metal chairs, Italian fakes of some pieces of mine that were confiscated and took up a lot of space there. Very early in the morning I came to the studio to give them a gestural paint job. Luckily I didn't have much time so I didn't overdo it. A very emotional ride like some sort of difficult-to-explain cortege through Chalk Farm Road - we'll reunite with the cars on Saturday morning in Groningen. We just heard on the phone that the shipbuilders, the people who are going to press them for us, got hold of a Fiat 600 to do some tests before we arrive. What if we like it? 

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design Exhibition
Fiat 500s arriving at Centraalstaal factory, Groningen, The Netherlands, February 2013

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