Alejandro Contreras’s In Work We Trust ¡Chamo, ¿qué hiciste con el carro?! at the ELM Foundation, his first solo exhibition in New York, is viscerally overwhelming. The sheer amount of material is difficult to process. Behind a sliced-open wall of yellow gypsum board and metal studs lay the desecrated body of his broken down 2000 white Jeep Cherokee, barely recognizable, its components strewn outwards, with seats positioned at broken angles, the grate once attached to the roof cast behind it, the roof leaning off kilter against the wall. Most of its windshield is gone, the remains of the glass cut along a curve. In Work We Trust is an installation that seems to exist on an environmental scale, entropic and apocalyptic while also distinctly gestural, the car moving from a closed fist to a flat palm. In the chaos it’s hard to distinguish between what is an intervention into the old boiler room and what isn’t—a complete mergence of site and creation.
At the center of the installation, the car’s engine is connected to the metal structure above, ascendant on chains like a butchered animal. It is no longer a part of the car but becoming its own object. Above the engine and behind it are large water storage tanks that originally connected to an industrial boiler. Altered by Contreras for the installation, his carvings into these tanks mirror forms seen elsewhere in the exhibit: the lower left is incised with the cylinders of butane tanks, the gypsum board’s concentric circles are replicated in the topmost tank’s outer layer.