Artist Crushes Tesla with Colossal Olmec Head Sculpture

Sculptor Chavis Mármol has never owned a car, but that’s never inhibited his drive. Earlier this month, the 42-year-old Mexico City-based artist (who travels largely by bicycle) dropped a nine-ton replica of an Olmec head onto the roof of a blue Tesla Model 3 in a crushing display posted to Instagram on March 11. Mármol told Hyperallergic that his intention was “to satirize the Tesla brand and its creator.”

Made of quarry stone, the large-scale sculpture is a copy of the ancient Olmec Colossal Heads — distinct archaeological remnants of the Olmec civilization that once flourished along Mexico’s gulf coastline around 3,000 years ago. Mármol’s untitled destruction performance, which took place on March 5, was the third and final part of a series called Neo-Tameme involving the stone replicas and contemporary objects.

The car was donated by Colima 71, a boutique hotel in Mexico City, although the artist said that he was “unaware of the conditions under which they obtained it.”

“My job was to work on the stone while they looked for the car, which I emphasized should be a Tesla; otherwise, the work wouldn’t function,” Mármol said, adding that the sculpture required around six months of carving with the assistance of artists from around the country. In total, he said, the project took two years to complete.

Since the original discovery of the Olmec artifacts, artists have periodically made replicas of the massive structures, as was the case of the late sculptor Ignacio Perez Solano, who created various casts of a megalithic head originally excavated at the San Lorenzo archaeological site in 1946. Solano’s copycats can be found at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC and the University of Texas at Austin, and Chicago’s Field Museum.

Mármol cited the late artist Jimmie Durham’s piece “Still Life with Spirit and Xitle” (2007) as an inspiration for his performance. A satirical critique of the historical colonization and present-day corporatization of Mexico, Durham’s work consisted of the destruction of a 1992 Chrysler Spirit by way of dropping a smug-faced volcanic boulder onto the vehicle’s roof.

In a similar vein, Mármol’s work is a manifestation of the artist’s criticism of the automotive company and its founder, Elon Musk.

“I didn’t just want to crush an expensive car. I know there are more expensive cars out there,” Mármol said. Pointing to the impossibility of acquiring the electric vehicle for many Mexican residents, the artist said that the overall goal of the project was “to crush an object that represents a sinister figure like Elon Mollusk,” intentionally misidentifying the Tesla billionaire.

In December 2023, Mexico’s federal environment ministry approved land-use permits for Tesla Incorporated to build its new “gigafactory” in the northern state of Nuevo Leon. With the assistance of $153 million in local government incentives, the automaker is slated to manufacture a cheaper electric vehicle at the facility, but Musk’s reported doubts about the global economy have delayed construction of the Nuevo Leon factory.

“I also wanted to crush this object with another iconic element from the oldest culture in America — a beautiful archaeological piece of which, at least in Mexico, we are very proud,” Mármol added.

For his Neo-Tameme series, the artist has also created other works employing Olmec head sculptures. In the first work, Mármol used the sculpture as a replacement for a Mr. Potato Head toy, dressing up the stone face with the plastic toy’s signature accessories. Another performance work in the series consisted of swapping the Olmec head for a delivery cyclist’s backpack.

The artist said he has not yet received a response from Tesla or Musk about the work.

“I doubt they care about what a Mexican artist does or says,” Mármol said. Hyperallergic has reached out to Tesla’s press team for comment.

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