Styrofoam Hummer                                                           
Information / Artist Statement

The Hummer H1 originally was developed in the 1980’s by the AM General Corporation for military purposes. Named the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or HMMWV, it was called a Humvee by the soldiers, which evolved into Hummer as a joke reference to an oral sex act. Generally, H1s used by the military are referred to a Humvees while the civilian varieties are called Hummers.

The military Humvee can be configured as a wagon or sedan, hardtop or convertible and can be outfitted with a machine gun, cannon or missile launcher. With uses as diverse as armament and cargo carrying to troop transportation and ambulance, the Humvee’s durability and adaptability in the battlefield was proven during the first Gulf War in 1991.  Its 4x4 capability, low center of gravity and speed make the Humvee highly mobile in a variety of terrains. However, this mobility is in direct proportion to its vulnerability to enemy fire. Many of the Humvees currently in military service are lightly armored or unarmored in order to keep them light and fast. This vulnerability is reflected in the high number of casualties sustained in the current Iraq war from improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs.

In 1992 the Hummer began to be manufactured for, and marketed to, the general civilian population. This is in no small part due to the interest taken in the vehicle by actor Arnold Swarzenegger, at whose request the very first civilian Hummer was created. When first introduced, Hummers were available only from the factory or through the Nieman-Marcus Christmas catalog, and only in the color tan. Since being introduced in 1992 almost 12,000 civilian H1s have been produced.

In 1999 General Motors purchased from AMG the right to sell the civilian Hummer, which GM now called the H1. GM also purchased the right to create new vehicles with the Hummer brand name. The result was the Hummer H2, a completely new vehicle built on a Chevy Tahoe frame and suspension and offering a long list of creature comforts. GM has also introduced a scaled-down, midsize Hummer SUV called the H3. These new vehicles have prompted debate among Hummer owners as to whether or not H2 and H3s can be regarded as “real” Hummers.

Considered by many to be the ultimate civilian off-road vehicle, the Hummer H1 capabilities come at a cost – a hefty price tag of $60,000 - $120,000 and fuel usage of less than 10 miles to gallon.

Styrofoam, the Dow chemical company trade name for expanded polystyrene, is made up of 5% polystyrene solids and 95% air. Polystyrene is a commercially manufactured polymer made from monomer styrene, a colorless liquid hydrocarbon derived from crude oil and natural gas. Originally CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons were used as blowing agents to expand the foam but more environmentally safe agents are now used.  Expanded polystyrene is typically a white material used for packing and shipping electronics and other breakables, as well as for sound dampening, padding, and floatation in water. It is also used for food packaging and consumption because of its light weight, low cost, and insulating properties. Examples include Styrofoam drinking cups, restaurant take-out containers, and ice chests.  In its solid form, polystyrene is relatively inert and resists breakdown by water, light, freezing, rotting or other organic processes. It is flammable, and the burning of polystyrene creates water, carbon dioxide, and toxic soot. While it is technically possible to recycle polystyrene, it is not currently cost effective to do so in San Francisco.

This life-size model of a civilian Hummer H1 was constructed from Styrofoam scavenged from the trash, during a three-month residency at SF Recycling & Disposal’s Artist In ResidenceProgram. This program gives artists the opportunity to create art from materials found in the San Francisco dump. SF Recycling & Disposal provides a studio on the dump premises, tools, a small stipend, and most importantly access to SF’s waste stream. This experience culminates in a two-day show of the artist’s work at the end of the residency.  Styrofoam Hummer was the centerpiece of this show, entitled American Detritus.

The Styrofoam Hummer was handcrafted brick by Styrofoam brick from thousands of individual pieces of shaped polystyrene, glued together and then either shaved and sanded down, cut with a hot-wire tool, or skinned with a sheet of polystyrene veneer. The assembled pieces sit on a frame made of plywood and 2x4 lumber, also scavenged from the dump. Held together with five gallons of StyroWeld glue, a case of Liquid Nails, a case of PL polyester adhesive, and various screws, bolts, metal rods and pipes, this model weighs between 400 and 700 pounds. It is 17 feet long, 6 feet high, and with mirrors, over 8ft wide. It probably floats. Flexible sheets and tubes of polyethylene, a cousin of polystyrene, were also used to create some things for the Styrofoam Hummer, such as the soft top and brush guard. To construct the vehicle to the correct proportions a 1/25 plastic model was used and then scaled to life size. Measurements were also taken from a real Hummer H1, which, incidentally, is owned by a local SF man who runs his H1 on bio-diesel fuel.

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