Just look at it, take some time, checkout the Airbump® technology, those headlights, roof bars and detailing. Have a look inside at the reoccurring Airbump® theme repeated on the door cards and across the interior, the twin digital displays, Sat Nav and truly unique glove box. Is this the first Citroën that we have seen on the roads of this green and pleasant land of ours for quite some time that attempts to merge the traditional Citroën Avant-grade style and feel with the more conservative direction required to become a sale success. Is a mixture of quite such opposing philosophies even possible?
Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the facts as far as we know them. According to the Tate Gallery, the term Avant-garde is originally a French term, meaning in English vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest). It first appeared with reference to art in France in the first half of the nineteenth century, and is usually credited to the influential thinker Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the forerunners of socialism. He believed in the social power of the arts and saw artists, alongside scientists and industrialists, as the leaders of a new society.
Perhaps more relevant to our Citroën C4 Cactus is what the term began to be used for and what the majority of us believe the term to mean today. That the term Avant-garde was originally applied to innovative approaches to art making in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is still applicable to all art that pushes the boundaries of ideas and creativity, and is still used today to describe art that is radical or reflects originality of vision. I suppose then that the obvious next step is to consider the question of cars being art. Can a car be legitimately classed as art or as having artistic merit and worth.
Again we can look to the Tate Gallery who have shared with MotorMartin that the notion of the Avant-garde enshrines the idea that art should be judged primarily on the quality and originality of the artist’s vision and ideas. Indeed, because of its radical nature and the fact that it challenges existing ideas, processes and forms; Avant-garde artists and artworks often go hand-in-hand with controversy. If we take this argument forward with respect to Citroën and assume that we can class Citroën, in this case, as the artist and therefore the C4 Cactus as the artist’s vision then we have to ask ourselves the following. Does the Cactus give enough of itself to really be considered to have a radical nature and… challenges existing ideas, processes and forms? And if so, is it on a par with works from Paul Gauguin, Alberto Giacometti, Julio González or Natalia Goncharova?
In MotorMartin’s opinion, different is good, different is interesting, different is what makes a car memorable, makes you take that all important glance over your shoulder as you walk away, different is what causes a car to create moments for you every time you drive, to notice something different, something small and insignificant but somehow makes you smile. And continue to smile for each and every journey. The Citroën is certainly different, perhaps even controversial. I can’t think of another car in recent times that has elicited such strong feelings one way or another over in so many different people, its styling choices and colour combinations melding together to present something truly original, interesting and controversial.
But is this a bad thing? Certainly for the Cactus, a car that gets people to stand up and take notice, whilst seemingly driving against the tide of silver, generic, monotony suggests to MotorMartin that Citroën have got it right first time. Perhaps it’s because their reputation for thinking differently to the majority of their competitors has predetermined us to be more accepting of this C4, those of us that stand firm against the doubters at least. Maybe it’s because we believe in what the Cactus is trying to do, how it is attempting to answer the question that others won’t, or can’t, ask.
So let’s address the elephant in the room head on and decide what it is about the Citroën C4 Cactus that creates such division and discussion. Looking back on MotorMartin’s original musings about the origins of the term avant-garde and how it relates to artists and their art, we must decide if the Cactus represents that radical nature and does indeed, challenge existing ideas, processes and forms if we are to see Citroën as the artist and its Cactus as controversial and Avant-garde.
It’s quite clear that an extraordinary amount of care and effort was expended on the Cactus way back at the design stage, I think that it’s fair to say that Citroen took the opportunity of starting with a clean sheet of paper and thought about, really thought about, driving in the twenty first century. They spent time considering what it is that we need from a family size hatchback whilst throwing away any preconceived ideas that might sway the process.
Rather cleverly, in MotorMartin’s opinion, and using Citroën’s own reputation for the quirky and unusual to their advantage, the team were able to then use their Airbump® technology as a feature and as a by product, created a unique selling point rather than hiding the idea away. After all, where is this car going to spend most of its time and what damage will inevitably be caused by errant drivers or pedestrians? Questions that were at the forefront of the design brief and questions that required fresh thinking to find an answer.
Below we can see the thinking behind the innovative new technology that was a product of all of the above work and the main reason for the Cactus’ controversial new look. Provided by Citroën from their excellent YouTube channel the short film allows us access to the design process and is a unique opportunity to meet the team.
With the Airbump® technology forming such a large part of this car and its reputation, repeating itself on all four corners and, more interestingly, the pattern forming a large part of the interior styling as well, the Cactus is all for celebrating its differences. Would another manufacturer the size of Citroën be able to pull of such a trick, would they even try? MotorMartin certainly doesn’t think so and for that, the work of Citroën must surely be celebrated as something bold, new and exciting. If we return to MotorMartin’s original question and think about whether we can see Citroën as the artist and its Cactus as controversial and avant-garde, we must return to those heady days in France when Avant-garde art first came to prominence amongst the great and good.
To help us feel what that may have been like, let’s leave the Cactus how we first met it, with the thoughts of the Tate Gallery. After all, it’s the Tate who can help us to understand the effect that this new direction within art had on the general public by using information from their excellent website: Innocent though she may look to us today, Degas’s ‘Little Dancer Aged 14’ caused an outcry when she was first exhibited at the 1881 impressionist exhibition in Paris. The figure was described variously as ‘repulsive’ and ‘a threat to society’. Critics and the public were upset by the realism of the work but also because Degas had represented a provocative modern subject…
Perhaps the response from the public when the Citroën C4 Cactus was launched back in 2014 wasn’t quite so forceful as that which occurred 135 years ago on what must have been an amazing day in Paris, but for some, the reaction has still been strong. As with anything new and innovative, it always takes time to become the norm but you know what? I don’t want the Cactus to become normal, MotorMartin loves it just the way it is, out there on the edge, causing sharp intakes of breath and astonished looks wherever it goes, continuing that tradition of art eliciting a response whether good or bad. Can we truly see Citroën as an artist and the C4 Cactus as controversial and Avante-Garde? I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself but for MotorMartin, it’s a most definite yes. It looks truly fantastic.
Checkout part 2 for a more conventional look at the technology and driving experience offered by the unique Citroën C4 Cactus Flair PureTech 110. I can’t wait.
Where will you go?