Back to the Future

Duncan Campbell tells the story of John DeLorean

Text by Jack Orlik

Vol 6iss 28

Duncan Campbell, Make It New, John (2009). Courtesy Chisenhale Gallery, London


The rise of John DeLorean, the son of a Romanian immigrant foundry worker, to the top of Chevrolet, the most revered of the companies beneath General Motors’ wing, seems almost mythical, the American Dream made manifest. And having achieved the unimaginable, he then marched on to the frontiers of the impossible, persuading the UK government to back his dream of producing an idiosyncratic luxury sports car in Dunmurry, near Belfast. Yet the car’s sharp lines and futuristic sheen could not conceal the shaky internal structure of both the machine and its parent company, the latter soon tarnished by repeated allegations of embezzlement and corruption that culminated in DeLorean’s arrest by the FBI in 1982. Make It New, John, a film installation by Glasgow-based artist Duncan Campbell, documents the breakdown and implosion of DeLorean’s unrealised dream, and also the lives of the 2,000 workers in the Dunmurry factory who were dragged down with it. The film blends imagined scenes with archive news and documentary footage to question accuracy and truth in reporting, highlighting the surprising contrasts between the DeLorean vision and its spectacular downfall, and examining the cult of the automobile and ideas of social mobility. §

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