Maria del Camino 

Bruce Tomb

With his project ‘Maria del Camino’, Architect Bruce Tomb furthers his research and personal love affair with all things American. In Bruce’s own words, ‘Maria del Camino is a love poem to the automobile and her demise. This is a project acknowledging our relationship to the car as a tool: a social activator, altering the environment and our sense of freedom and adventure’.

For a video link to this project on the Wired website, click:  Maria del Camino

As in all of Tombs work, the cultural reach of Maria del Camino is ambiguous and vast, generated and informed by local cultural and / or site specific conditions, while considering global issues… his work and research ties the specific characteristics of Americana to deeper, broader universal scope and to primitive cultural, artistic and scientific systems.

To fully understand ‘Maria del Camino’, it is necessary to survey the broader career and oeuvre of Tomb.  Bruce was raised in Oakland, California, the older of two brothers, in the context of boat builders and the heritage of three generations of artists. It is important to note that Oakland / Berkeley and the broader Bay Area in the 60’s and 70‘s was a haven for the beat generation in the 50‘s and later, the hippie movement of the 60’s and 70’s.

In the cultural world of San Francisco and the Bay Area of that period, musicians, poets and artists were highly inclined to question with vengeance and openly criticize the social / political stigmas and status quo rather than accept them. The Bay Area of that time (as currently) produced innovative thinkers, ranging from radical politics, economic theorists, proponents of new shelter and land use, deep holistic systems, and advocates of the demise of the industrial food production and a return to zero kilometer consumption. In this same cultural arena, during the 80‘s and 90’s,  the Bay Area offered the birthplace of the personal computer, the internet, social media and the information technology revolution. In addition, diametric yet symbiotic, the Bay Area during these periods has been a center for Aeronautics, Defense and Military development.

This history is present in the work of Bruce Tomb and Tombs work is part of this history. His hybrid approach, as such, it hard to classify, due to its rough, interdisciplinary,  incomplete, and non-commercial nature.

I had the pleasure of working with Bruce in the ‘Office Of Interim Architecture’, (I.O.O.A) which Tomb founded with John Randolph in the late 80s. The office was located in San Francisco’s  South of Market area, which at the time was a renown enclave of gangs, homeless, runaways, transvetites and hookers which  slowly transformed to the it’s present state of hosting the hipsters and internet startups living and working there today. I.O.O.A  thrived in this environment, and in a sense, absorbed some of their ideas from this rough and tumble American urban reality. More importatnly, Bruce and John were enthralled with the conceptual art of the ’70’s, which had a stronghold in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Land Art, Light / Space Art, , Minimalism, Body Art all owed a great deal to the synthesis and cross pollination of science, technology and art, surely symbiotic and sympathetic to the ‘California Attitude’ and approach. These influences, as well as their friendships with figures such as Turrel, Irwin, Ginsberg and with their background in Architecture, saw to it that the work of I.O.O.A could be nothing other than innovative, relevant and intriguing.

Projects active in the studio during my stay at I.O.O.A include a house for famous photographer Lewis Baltz, a photography exhibit for Richard Misrach (Desert Cantos) , a loft/apartment for graphic designer Tom Bonaro, the epic Headlands Art Center Latrine project, a handful of contemporary art galleries for Marin County Art barons, collaborations with Industrial designer/artist Jeff Sands and cross pollination with the jarring machine art performances of the Survival Research Lab.

In addition, I.O.O.A was producing amazing furniture pieces, many of which are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NY.

With that premise, the Maria del Camino project is quintentestial Tomb.  It strives to be non-judgmental in a Zen-like manner. The project, while observing the automobile and its far reaching system(s) with admiration and abomination, enthralled with its power, comments on the Industrial world at large.  Like all of Tombs work, the focus radiates away from the object itself.  Instead, it is a project which observes the mystical nature of territory, space, and the cultural and functional occupation of a population within that territory.

This project deconstructs (or partakes in the deconstruction) of a period of history, with equal doses of humor, humility and nostalgia. With Maria del Camino, modernism is admired and questioned. The Virgin Mary gazes, hollowed from the the modern metal shell, with timeless sadness as Bruce too observes ( a grinning mad scientist ) the flow of primitive dream-time sweeping us from this period into the next one, whichever it may be.