Van Art: Objects and Events

Vans viewed as art can be defined both as objects and events. They are certainly objects. But street art is a living art. Street vans specifically are not meant to be objects primarily for display. They are functioning vehicles. Therefore, street vans can also be viewed as events. For many devotees of vanning, it is the process of customizing that is critical. Thousands of hours are spent in modifying drive trains, tail lights, acid etching vent windows, etc. When the van is completed, it is often driven for a very short time, then a new series of modifications is begun. For the avid customizer the object is not the van but the process of creating that is critical. Van art for this type of producer is an event. For many audiences, it is also an event. Van art is perhaps most often experienced as a glimpse in the other lane of traffic, or the chance to examine details while stopped at a traffic signal, or walking through the grocery store parking lot. Therefore, in at least two senses, van art can be viewed as an event as well as an object. (111)

The straightforward assertion by Sherri Deaver that van art is an object and event is remarkable. A very useful way to start the ‘Vanning’ prelude to my Street Machine chapter!

Functioning versus display? Is this a residual binary of ‘active’ versus ‘passive’? I would rather frame it more as a general question of affects. The customizer selects and teases out the various affects, on multiple registers, that constitute a ‘custom street van’. The display functions and the function is displayed.

Deaver actually diagrams the major three determinants of a ‘custom street van’: custom (not stock), street (not strip or show), and van (truck-based vehicle rather than car or bus). Which shall be very useful for me in defining the Australian Panel Van scene as different from the US ‘large’ van or truck-based vanning scene. Australia’s Panel Vans (which occupied a similar cultural niche to the US vans) are based on commercial vehicles derived from passenger cars. The movement from commercial vehicle to leisure vehicle is otherwised shared.

I really don’t understand how I have missed this article. It did only come online in 2004, which might explain it as I did my major lit review work in 2003. Works such as Moorhouse’s on Hot Rodding (let alone the Australian stuff which doesn’t seem to make any connection to US car cultures) largely ignore these other cultural forms of enthusiast car culture in their sole focus on rodding.

Deaver, S. (1983). “Van Art: Prosaic Images.” Journal of Popular Culture 17(2): 110-122.