PERPETUAL DEPARTURE: A PAEAN TO THE ART OF TRAVEL

July 20, 2013 Arts WritingUpdates

The terminal is congested, but I am travelling light: a solitary suitcase scarred with tactile memories of past adventures; an archaic notebook, chrome skin stained with coffee, black keys worn by corrosive blogging; a creased paperback, crisp pages softened by touch, tinted by exposure, faded and fading still. Here, we wait and wield the heaviest burden of all, beyond measure or estimation: nervous, abiding anticipation. ‘Now boarding at Gate 43…’

Why do we travel? How do we account for our movements? In what ways can they be documented, visualised, recollected? These enquiries serve as powerful catalysts for the art compiled in Estimated Time of Arrival.

Curated by Wetrecht (Tara Lasrado and Georgia Robenstone), this collective exhibition enlists the talents and accomplishments of ten visual artists from across the globe (including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway and Pakistan), with each interpreting the intricacies of travel in light of their journeys into new contexts, their habitation of manifold sites and spaces, their interpersonal encounters and interactions, and experimentation with new media and technologies.

CORRESPONDENCE & CIRCULATION

To venture near or far is to approach one’s surroundings through the conditioned nature of perception. It is fitting, therefore, that a number of the artists foreground the visual and linguistic conventions that frame their perspectives and mediate their experiences of where they have been and what they have seen.

For Adriana Ramirez, ‘traveling is an issue of body and mind but especially of relations between them and the environment’. In AIDA (in-between-ness), a series of subtle and schematic renditions of linear figures frequenting familiar contexts and interacting with mundane objects, Ramirez attempts to give expression to the experience of space, the ambiguity of borders, and the liminal perceptions and ideas that our relations with different environments engender.

The postcard is an iconic travel accoutrement, one that combines the archetypal appeal of a souvenir (an idyllic representation of a specific space) with the functionality of mail. And the content of a postcard, as Jacques Derrida observed, is at once intimate and open, intended for a specific recipient and yet accessible by others.[1] Using ‘the postcards and all the pictures that people shared with me’, Eduarda Estrella’s installation On Words and Things endeavours to convey the intersubjective, dialogic and collaborative dimensions of travel and artistic production.

Comparatively, Sheena Colquhoun deploys the visual vernacular of advertising in her installation No worries, either way, to explore how subjectivity is articulated and communicated. Colquhoun tactically adopts the cold, flat, corporate idiom and format of real estate signage in order to ‘locate parallel concepts relating to the occupation of space and communication and the female and male position’.

Sobia Zaidi, likewise, explores questions of habitation and subject positions in her composite and interactive aesthetic. ‘Travel,’ Zaidi observes, ‘is one of the most effective ways of meeting more people and making connections with strangers’. In her installation/performance Not All Who Wander Are Lost, Zaidi constructs an intimate space within the gallery as a locus for staging verbal conversations with visitors about their travel experiences, inviting them to openly ‘share stories of their encounters with strangers, various cultures, religions, smells and tastes’.

22:00. The night sky is ripe, glistening like the taut, nubile skin of plump, violet grapes. We surge at ferocious velocity, wings slicing sparse clusters of lavender clouds like celestial fairy floss. High altitude. Pressurised cabin. Stressed tympanum. From the cool, flat screen, a frenzied procession of images flash across my retina at the speed of machine gun fire. Red-Eye Flight DJ666.

PERFORMANCE & INTERVENTION   

The proliferation of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) since the turn of the new millennium has marked a paradigm shift in the dynamics of communication and rendered problematic strict demarcations between public and private information and actual and virtual interaction.

‘How do we in society open up to others?’ in the wake of social media, ask artistic collaborators Tami Harmony Panik Vibberstoft and Rafaël Elders. ‘How do we use social/new media to open ourselves up to everyone and is this different if it happens without the comfort of your own house, your computer?’ With their installation Echo, Vibberstoft and Elders ponder these questions by renegotiating the relationship between themselves and their audience, inviting the latter to approach, interact, intervene and, in doing so, transform entrenched notions of perception, voyeurism and intimacy.

Hiroomi Horiuchi similarly welcomes the audience to participate in his performance Who would shade my blank pages with a pencil to discover what I wrote? Exploring the synthetic nature of personal history and its construction through inscription and erasure, Horiuchi recounts his journeys to foreign lands from a travel diary.  At the completion of the reading, the audience is invited to approach, access, peruse and even contribute to the contents of the document.

At this hour, a rhythmic ballet. Of darkness and light. Dazzling. Hypnotic. Ethereal. Arabesque rivers of brilliance flowing through the nocturnal terrain like liquid, incandescent amber. The scorched country is a network of plates floating softly on a honeyed, labyrinthine luminescence spawned by darkness. Seat 21A, aerial view, twilight Sublime.    

 FAILURE, DEATH & DREAMING

Every journey that we undertake is entrusted to faith but tinged with fear, from an overseas vacation to an artistic expedition. Georgia Robenstone’s installation Two Tree Stumps at a Distance the Artist Cannot Reach investigates what she describes as ‘ideas of trust and fear, specifically fear of failure’. This is dramatically conveyed through Robenstone’s attempt to physically traverse the unbridgeable distance between two strategically placed objects. Here, the adventure of art lies in what the artist cannot accomplish rather than what is merely achievable within the sphere of possibility.

If travelling is fraught with danger and prone to potential disaster, then why we do risk such an undertaking? For Jonas Brunvoll, it may have something to do with coming to terms with our own mortality. ‘In many ways travel and death goes hand in hand’, Brunvoll opines.  ‘We travel away, with and/or towards death. Death as a drive to travel’. In Travel with Santa Muerte, Brunvoll employs a spectral and nebulous medium – photography, as the preserver of fleeting life and a form of ‘flat death’[2] – to chart the excursions of a skeletal feminine saint who surfaces in a variety of contexts (from the mundane to the monumental) and symbolises Death as a companion and a memento mori (the reminder of one’s impending fate).

Brunvoll’s comically nightmarish vision finds its counterpart in the dense, sprawling, phantasmagorical imagery of Sebastian Gonzalez in Psychocartography, for whom ‘dreaming in itself is a way of travelling’. The symbolism and forms in Gonzalez’s eclectic repertoire are responses to the forces of ‘irrationality, intuition and logical contradiction’ at work in both the “reality” of dreams and, conversely, the routines of waking life.

ART & ESTIMATION

In an age of ever-increasing programming and calculation, the phrase estimated time of arrival’ commonly refers to an approximate moment when a mode of transport is expected to arrive at its intended destination.

As the title of this exhibition, this commonplace also alludes, perhaps, to the nature of the artworks as approximations, abstractions, estimations. I am reminded, here, of Alain de Botton who, in The Art of Travel, ponders: ‘If we are inclined to forget how much there is in the world besides that which we anticipate, then works of art are perhaps a little to blame for in them we find at work the same process of simplification or selection as in the imagination’.[3] But is it not the selectivity of artworks and their strategic framing of their subject matter that ironically compels us to keep moving, continue exploring, pursue alternative avenues?

The contributions to this exhibition – with their emphasis on dialogue, circulation, movement and duration – ostensibly suggest so, and compel us to reconsider travel as a plethora of ventures that are irreducible to a single source, activity or end; at once circumscribed and potentially limitless.

It’s after midnight and I’m here: disoriented, unkempt, nauseous. Struggling to adjust. Searching for bearings. I have arrived. Everything is familiar, nothing is the same. Does a destination mark the end of a journey? Consumed by memory and fearful of forgetting, there is, already, a desire to re-embark, to alleviate a restless, peripatetic longing. Know this: every arrival nurtures a new departure.  

Dr. Varga Hosseini


[1] J. K. A. Smith, Jacques Derrida: Live Theory, Continuum, London and New York, 2005, p. 59.
[2] R. Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, London, 1980, p. 92.
[3] A. De Botton, The Art of Travel, Vintage International, New York, 2004, p. 13.