Trans Am Totem

Marcus Bowcott, Canada


Title: Trans Am Totem
Artist: Marcus Bowcott (b. 1951, Canada)
Medium: Five refinished cars, cedar tree, metal column, solar panel, lights
Dimensions (H x W x D): 10 x 5.2 x 2 m (33 feet x 17 feet x 6 feet 7 inches)
Weight: 11,340 kg (25,000 lbs)
Location: Quebec Street and Milross Avenue in Vancouver

Thanks to a generous donation from Vancouver philanthropists Chip and Shannon Wilson, this artwork, a legacy of the 2014-2016 Vancouver Biennale exhibition, is a recent addition to the City of Vancouver’s public art collection.

Marcus Bowcott is a Vancouver-based artist working in painting and sculpture. Trans Am Totem is a 10-meter-high (33-foot), 11,340-kilogram (25,000-pound) sculpture, located at Quebec Street and Milross Avenue. It is composed of five real scrap cars stacked upon an old growth cedar tree. The artwork considers our consumer “out with the old, in with the new” culture in relation to the site, its history, and Vancouver’s evolving identity.

In his artworks Marcus Bowcott (assisted by his partner and collaborator, Helene Aspinall, in the creation of Trans Am Totem) arranges what remains of our throw-away consumer culture. As a metaphor, his work uncovers an unpleasant darkness in our society, revealing the emotional bankruptcy that results from our dependence on cheap consumer goods which are almost always produced by unseen people on other continents. His beautifully twisting sculptures attempt to find something redeeming in the detritus remaining from cycles of consumer desire and planned obsolescence.

“I draw inspiration and support from my family and friends. In the last few years I have made a full time commitment to my art, especially with the Vancouver Biennale’s installation of Trans Am Totem.”

 “The automobile holds a unique position in our culture. It’s a manufactured want and symbol of extremes; practicality and luxury, necessity and waste. We can see this in the muscular Trans Am, the comfortable BMW, and the workhorse Civic. Trans Am Totem also questions the cycle of production and consumption.”

– Marcus Bowcott

By stacking smashed automobiles and levitating them high above the roadway, Bowcott serves to remind us of the ultimate responsibilities we bear to our planet and future generations. Trans Am Totem fantasizes a justified end to car culture even as countless automobiles zoom past on asphalt and concrete ribbons and ooze pollutants and spent carbon fuels into the atmosphere. The artist’s vision of Nature triumphant subversively reminds us ultimately of our ongoing contributions to global warming and further environmental degradation.

Before the introduction of heavy industry, this site was a shoreline of tidal flats and massive forest with old-growth cedars and Douglas Firs in the vicinity of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Later, the False Creek neighbourhood became an industrial zone of sawmills and beehive burners, ringed with ever-increasing collections of log booms. Just before 1986 World Exposition the mills were removed, and the area transformed. Now the neighbourhood is a constant flow of transportation and interconnections: residential tower blocks, commercial business, and entertainment centers encircled by cyclists, light rail, and, most dominant of all, cars.

Honoring the traditional and unceded Indigenous territory on which Trans Am Totem sits and simultaneously referencing the significance of the forest industry in this particular site, Squamish artist Rick Harry (Xwalacktun) carved a bear claw into the trunk of the 150-year-old cedar tree of the artwork.

Photo credit: Squeaky Marmot

Media Coverage

The Peak at SFU

The Tyee

Georgia Straight


Michelle Morton

Trans Am Totem on CBC Radio

Vancity Buzz

BC Magazine

Press Release

Press Release for Trans Am Totem