True Colors. Sabotaging the deceitful ecological narrative of the automotive industry

Jeep claims to be “Inspired by Nature”, Toyota SUVs are engineered for off-road driving, other brands show their monster cars scaling the heights of mountain landscapes, crossing turbulent rivers, cutting through dense forests, speeding through deserts, etc. The use of spectacular and pristine natural locations in the advertising of mega cars, however, is at odds with the invisible pollution, the neocolonialist extractivist practices and the depletion of natural resources that their production requires.

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape Renault Austral & LVA – Bright Copper – Fiat, 2023

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape Mercedes Clase V Marco Polo 2014 & M6B – Lizard Green – Porsche, 2023

BOSCH_EDC17C46, 2022. The actual computer hosting the deceptive software that prompted the Dieselgate scandal framed in perspex box

With his project True Colors, currently on show at the EXPOSED Photo Festival in Turin, Mathieu Asselin sabotages the advertising material produced by the automotive industry as part of its deceitful ecological narrative.

The starting point of the project is the Dieselgate. In 2014, it was revealed that Volkswagen was using software to circumvent air pollution tests on certain car models. When it detected pollutant emission tests, the software modified the engine to reduce emissions. In real-life driving conditions, however, the vehicles emitted levels of nitrogen oxide pollutants that were considerably higher than the standards authorised by environmental institutions. It was later revealed that other car manufacturers, such as Audi, BMW, Renault, Fiat and Jeep, had put in place similar fraudulent practices.

True Colors confronts the industry’s environmental violations, lack of action, its “nature-rinsing” strategy and unwillingness to accept that the future of human mobility might not lie in individual cars.

Over the past few years, the car industry has been reinventing itself as an actor that holds the solutions to our environmental troubles. It is manufacturing “clean vehicles”, selling “zero emission” cars and developing biofuels and technologies that will “decarbonise our roads.” The claims sound wonderful but their main purpose is actually to keep the consumer demand for new cars growing. By repurposing the industry’s imagery, Asselin project sheds light on the gap between its professed environmentally friendly efforts and the unpalatable reality of its ecological and neocolonialist extractivist consequences.

The outcome of the artist’s research is a series of photographs, archive materials, an essay and some spectacular diptychs.

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape MERCEDES CLASE E CABRIO 2017 & B21 – ATACAMA YELLOW – BMW, 2023

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape VW PASSAT ALLTRACK 2015 & 462 – BLEU FJORD – FIAT, 2023

The “Exhausted Landscapes” diptychs bring side by side two panels, glossy and metallic like the bodywork of a car. One shows a landscape, the other is made of a solid colour stamped with a Pantone-like reference featuring a vehicle model, a colour and a biome.

The landscapes were appropriated from tv advertisements for cars involved in the Dieselgate scandal. The images were enlarged, given a new printing pattern and screenprinted on high gloss coloured steel plates. The black carbon-negative ink was produced from fine dust extracted from the exhaust pipes of diesel vehicles. The whole process involves capturing emissions, separating carbon from these emissions and then combining the carbon with oils and solutions. The process employs a patented device and a technique called KAALINK developed at MIT for soot filtration, capturing carbon and other pollutants. By using this ink, the artist makes tangible the invisible car pollution that permeates the air and the landscape.

The water-based colours used in the prints were selected from the wide spectrum of 257 colours commonly used in the automotive sector. Their names refer to invaluable ecosystems. A lake surrounded by pine trees appears on the backdrop of Volkswagen’s ‘Montana Green,’ a mountaintop is covered in Renault’s ‘Glacier Blue,’ an ocean view appears in ‘Atlantico Blue” of a Fiat vehicle and a desert is bathed in BMW’s ‘Arizona Sun.’ ‘Coral Red’ is perhaps the most uncomfortable of the colours because it evokes (to me at least) the vivid colours used during weather forecast tv programmes to signify the often unbearably hot temperatures that some parts of the world increasingly experience.

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape Renault Kadjar 2016 & P3/2 – Montana Green Met – Volkswagen, 2023

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape AUDI A3 2010 & 34/A – TUNDRA GREEN – FIAT, 2023

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape Blanc Glacier Renault, 2023

Mathieu Asselin, Undefined Landscape Blanc Glacier Renault, 2023

The curators of the EXPOSED festival were brave to exhibit this work in Turin, the Italy’s car capital, where Jeep sponsors the Juventus football club and many citizens have memories associated with the history of FIAT.

Mathieu Asselin, True Colors. Installation view at Villa della Regina

Mathieu Asselin, True Colors. Installation view at Villa della Regina

Mathieu Asselin, True Colors. Installation view at Villa della Regina

Mathieu Asselin, True Colors. Installation view at Villa della Regina

True Colors was curated by Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo. The exhibition remains open at the Villa della Regina in Turin until 2 June 2024. It is part of EXPOSED, the city’s brand new Photo Festival.