In 2004 I left a note on a Hummer. It read: Dear owner of this vehicle: It is because suburban Americans drive Hummers that Middle-Eastern men fly airplanes into our buildings. Your greed has consequences.
I realize that I am predisposed to think of the Hummer as a manifesto on four wheels, and not just a consumer choice. My upbringing, among the liberal, environmental culture of Northern California, has prepared me to be quite judgmental of Hummers and I have to work hard to not see those who drive them in a two-dimensional manner. After hearing a radio program featuring the author Danielle Allen, who claimed that the key to the function of a democracy is the existence of conversations between strangers, I devised this project to allow me to talk to these people, to bridge the gap between us and to push myself to be more compassionate.
I wanted to explore my ability to utilize diplomacy and friendly conversation to discuss issues of ethics and politics with members of the population who I am normally inclined to judge, and with whom I normally maintain a certain angry, self-righteous distance. I also was curious to test the limits of the use of gift-giving as a tool for opening otherwise closed doors of social interaction. The gift in the Hummer Project is a drawing.
I seek out Hummers in parking lots of shopping malls within several miles of my home in Memphis, Tennessee, and sitting in the parking lot, I race to draw the vehicles (using charcoal on paper) before the owners return from their shopping and drive off. When an owner approaches their vehicle I offer them the drawing in exchange for a fifteen minute recorded conversation. I focus the conversation on issues of ethics and politics related to the Hummer. I find myself, in these conversations, working hard to achieve a balance between my attempts to assuage the nervousness of the Hummer owners by pointing out some of the logical inconsistencies of those who oppose Hummers and conceding points I might otherwise argue with; while at the same time, trying to argue with them enough that both of our positions might evolve or change.