Gran Royal Turismo, 2003
Gran Royal Turismo is a table-sized automated model based on a road racing set.
It depicts a rather bleak, undefined little city, treeless, with dirty sidewalks and walls. A convoy of three black Mercedes emerges from a tunnel and just before they arrive at the town, palm trees push out of the ground, the sidewalks and walls flip over to reveal clean freshly painted surfaces, flags blossom along the route. The whole circuit lasts three minutes.It seems to be a sort of Potemkin Village display – perhaps for the benefit of a visiting head of state, perhaps the country’s own leader. This Official Visitor is quite an African figure, but the choreography of power is common to places ruled by a certain kind of authority. When Potemkin served Empress Catherine II, he took her on a tour of fake villages made out of hollow façades to impress her. The three cars in this model feel a little like the three Roman chariots, which arrive to mark the triumph of the Empire.
Many countries today know those big, suddenly clean white walls erected to hide shantytowns; police vans rounding up "riff-raff" from the streets; palm trees imported from the warm south, and paid greeters placed along the route. Inside that car is perhaps the one person with the power to make real change, and meanwhile everyone is working so hard to please him by deceiving him.
It makes me think of an extraordinary Spanish film, Bienvenido Mr. Marshall! (1953), where a Spanish village is told that everything is going to change under the Marshall Plan with the arrival of the Americans. All the people prepare the city for the visit; they even bring a bull upstairs and stick his head through a wall because they don’t have a stuffed bull’s head. And at the end, the Americans pass right through the village without stopping.
21.11.09 – 20.02.10
Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi