BY BETH ALLEN
Not many van owners can use the line, “I would love to hook up sometime and show you my van ceiling” — and REALLY mean it. Andrew Junge does mean it. After all, his van ceiling is a work of art, a shag carpet self-portrait. In 2002 he completed his MFA thesis at CCAC in San Francisco, and his VAN was his thesis. Huh? We’ll let him explain!
Let’s get some stats:
My van’s a 1980 Chevy.
What gave you the idea to make your van your thesis project?
Well Beth, once upon a time I was painter of pictures who managed to get himself into a real artsy graduate program at a fancy school, in those days named California College of Arts and Crafts. (The word “craft” has since been dropped from the schools moniker in an attempt to be more “inclusive”, to shed once and for all any association with “common” arts that might involve glitter, glue, macaroni, or macramè, and to shave off the bumpy parts of the name - greatly streamlining it and lowering its wind resistance.)
Now, my paintings are pretty much representational ˝ a lot of still-lives and self portraits - and coming into this artsy program, which had a real slant toward conceptual and post-modern art making was, quite frankly, intimidating to me. Without a real plan for what kind of art I wanted to make and being that I’m terribly self-involved, I decided to contrive a “concept driven” project wherein I would do one self-portrait a day for an entire year. Eventually even an egoist like me tires of painting pictures of his own face, and over time I began to try and stretch the definition of what for me constituted a “self-portrait”. I started doing pictures of things associated with myself and soon enough my Van made an appearance as a symbol of me. In addition, had I taken a really artsy performance class with a famous local performance artist, Nao Bustamanti. As part of this class we once dressed in costume and went to shoot firearms at a gun range. I went as a “redneck” (no stretch there) but insisted that my hick Van with the Wyoming license plates was part of the costume. We drove there listening to hick tunes, spitting out the window and trying to jaw on the CB. Vehicle as an extension / reflection of persona. Duh. Then I got stuck on the idea of parking my Van in a gallery and calling it ART. It seemed so ridiculous and yet so natural & no-bullshit that I couldn’t let go of the idea and so I decided to do it for the graduate exhibition. After that it was more or less a case of being able to justify it, which brought about the rewriting the original owners manual.
Did anyone think you were crazy at first?
I had one painting instructor -one of those macho purists who paint with their dicks - who thought I was wasting my god given ability to push pigment, but generally - nah, it’s art school, they love that shit.
How many booklets did you print?
Three editions of about 30 each, but I will print more when those run out.
Did you get a good grade? (or is the thesis just pass or fail)?
Pass/Fail (don’t you just love it?)- I passed, and I was asked by my thesis advisor to come back and be a guest lecturer for the thesis class the following year so I must have done something right.
What elements were included in the project, aside from the Chevy Manual booklet, I know you did T-Shirts, stickers, postcards, anything else?
Well let’s see ˝ buttons, posters, an archive/scrap book of many of the trips taken, and of things hauled and a half-assed attempt to document other white beater vans as I spot them. There is also a sound element to the project, which was played on the Van stereo during exhibition that includes segments of the interviews I did with people somehow involved with the Van, a recording of how to talk on the CB radio, and mixed tapes made for various road trips taken. Oh yeah, and we had a little tournament of the 70’s CB themed board game “10-4 Good Buddy”.
How long did the project take you?
About nine months hardcore, but on and off (mostly off) since the summer of ’02. It’s an ongoing thingÍ
Tell us about the shag self-portrait you did, and how you went about planning/making it!
A couple of months before the graduate show, I realized that the original plain brown shag carpet was peeling off the ceiling because the foam backing was starting to disintegrate. I figured that this could be a good space for some self ˝portraiture, and that in keeping with that “rockin’ van” vibe it should be a shag carpet mural. I drew my grinning face on the computer in Illustrator so that I could size it up or down and change colors easily. I limited myself to a half dozen colors and kept the shapes hard edged - like a paint-by-numbers. Using a digital projector and a laptop I then projected it in reverse on the back of a high quality piece of white shag carpet. I traced the projected image and marked each piece in permanent pen with a code that I could use to put the piece together later. I then cut all the pieces apart with a utility knife and with the help of the CCAC Textile Arts Department (thanks again to my favorite textile artist, Stacy) I dyed the individual pieces their respective colors. May I add here that the dying process is far trickier than I ever imagined. Equal parts science, voodoo, and luck, textile dying is fraught with pitfalls having to do water temperature, soaking time, fiber structure, chemistry, and astral alignment among other things. I found it very frustrating to try and get the colors to match my original drawing and the dying required huge pots of heated dye, toxic chemicals, much stirring, and many, many test strips. Also the heated dye soup was hard on the rubber backed carpet pieces and there was tons of fiber shedding and the pieces required very gentle handling. I would recommend not attempting this without the proper facilities and supervision. After the pieces had been dyed and dried I reassembled them using a numbered map/key like a giant carpet jigsaw puzzle. They were held together from the back with fiber mesh tape (used to repair drywall) and much hot glue. The assembled carpet mural was affixed to the Van ceiling with contact cement allowing room for the pupils in the eyes for the rewired dome lights. Now when the door is opened, my carpet self-portrait eyes light up. Nine feet of smiling ME. Cute or annoying? You make the call.
I know you planned to display your van at an art opening of sorts, but had some problems with the CCAC (California College of Arts and Crafts) — what’s the story behind this?
I would like to put that bit of nastiness behind me, but since you asked ˝ thank you for the chance to rantÍ
So as I mentioned before, the idea was to pull the Van into CCAC and display it as a ready-made installation for the graduate show. My fancy art school term would be recontextualization - getting people to look at this thing in a different way than they would if it was parked on the street. Plus I wanted to wanted to work that auto show thing ˝ velvet ropes, mirrors under the chassis, theatrical lighting, making it all the more funny and ironic because this Van is more or less a clunker. Well, this idea was neither funny nor interesting to Julie Millburn -the person in charge of the facilities at CCAC San Francisco campus. As a matter of fact she hated the idea and insisted that it was not going to happen. The folks in charge of the show ˝ the curator, the graduate program chair and lead administrator insisted that it would happen and as time went by it became sort of a political power struggle (as in so many situations like this) between those that use a facility and those in charge of maintaining it. I mistakenly tried to stay out of it and trusted that the whole affair would either work itself out or blow over. A week before the show I actually did pull the Van into the building and started getting it set up for display. As the relationship between Julie Millburn and the grad show managers became even more polarized, I passively sat back and let them fight it out. Dumb. In the end, the neck at the end of the noose was mine. The ace up Julie’s sleeve was the SF fire codes, which, probably due to that 1907 earthquake thing, are draconian to say the least. In a clever end-around maneuver she called the SF Fire Dept Inspectors on her own institution, two hours before the show. With no time or contingency plan to get the Vehicle up to code, (emptying the Van of ALL fluids and removing battery) there was no other option than to push (not drive) the Van outside. Oh, the indignity. My cute response was to paint a set of tire tracks from where it had been parked inside to where it stood outside, with a sign that read “This installation has been removed by CCAC under order from SFFD”. I was of course disappointed and I think the piece was not really the same. I guess it was RE-recontextualized - begging the art school question is what does it mean to take something off the street, put it in a gallery, call it art, then put it back on the street. Is it still art? And who really gives a fuck anyway? I do know that I took up some prime parking real estate right in front of the building for the next week and kind of just hung out and held court. I think the real irony of the thing is that in a former life, the building that my Van was kicked out of was once a giant garage for repairing Greyhound buses ˝ really, really big vans.
What was the overall response to your finished project from teachers and students?
It was all pretty positive. Most people seem to like it and get it, but then again you don’t really hear too much of the bad stuff. I’m sure more than a few folks find the project to be a self-indulgent sham. And as with much ART, they would be at least partially correct.
Was it all a labor of love or did you get burned out on your van at any point during the process?
Labor of love. Oddly enough, this self-absorption thing just doesn’t seem to get old for me. Go figure. But my wife Ashley, bless her tolerance, might be getting a little fried.
How’s the van holding up these days?
As you know being an older van owner means never having to say, “it’s all fixed”. I could give you the comprehensive list of stuff that has happened to the vehicle since the writing of the thesis but it would be tiresome for you and painful for me. Suffice to say with almost daily use, it’s still running. As mentioned in the thesis, the odometer broke a while back so I’m really not sure how many miles it has on it, but I figure it to be at least 350,000 and possibly over 400,000. Go baby goÍ
Any other van project plans for the future?
I would definitely like to try and exhibit it again somewhere - at which point I would get together Andy’s Chevy Van Manual and Thesis APPENDIX to cover all the stuff that has happened to the Van since the initial project with room for lots more rambling pontification. I am working on a small mural for the ceiling of the cab, and I have been printing a series of etchings, screenprints and monotypes starring the Van. I am also planning to do a website that has most or all of the thesis material and hopefully some interactive graphics ˝ possibly some blog aspect to it. That would be a hell of a lot of work (as I am sure you will testify ˝ Rockinvan.com ROCKS!) but it I think it would be fun as well as an effective tool for shameless self-promotion. Then we could have links to each other’s sites - wouldn’t that be cool? Oh yeah, and I keep bugging MTV to “pimp my ride” but no one will return my calls.