Image of the Road represents an ongoing research project by Helen Kirwan and Simon Pruciak, which begun during the summer of 2013, when the artists embarked on a 17,000 kilometre return journey by car. Over 54 days they travelled through France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The work explores the phenomenology of a route known as the E40, which extends from Calais in France to Ridder in Kazakhstan. Conceived by the United Nations to facilitate communication of goods, cultures, people, ideas, beliefs and inventions, the E40 is a trans-continental, long-distance trade route uniting ten nations. It follows in parts ancient pathways of the so-called silk routes.
This far, the E40 video and photographic material has been shown in Contemporary Art Centre, Delhi, Palais des Nations, Geneva, James Hockey Gallery, Farnham, UK, Sallaumines, France and Baku, Azerbaijan. In each case, it has been edited and installed with each specific exhibition space in mind, ranging from a one-channel video presentation to a large-scale four-channel installation.
By undertaking the performative act of making the journey, the artists explore the indeterminacy of space and the experience of movement along the route. For Kirwan and Pruciak, the E40 is both a concept and a complex physical and communal social space – a dynamic trans-national and multi-cultural web of connections and disconnections. Although almost 50 years have passed since the E40 has been designated, little attention has been heretofore devoted to this ‘grand’ European project or to arising questions concerning new colonial mechanisms for global commerce, as well as to the inherent ethnologic, cultural and socio-political complexities of the route. Similarly, the aesthetic elements of the E40 and their significance are yet to be considered.
Kirwan and Pruciak’s methodology is analogous to Walter Benjamin’s ‘botanising the asphalt’ and Jean Baudrillard’s subsequent ‘botanising’ of American culture, while also identifying the deadpan in the ‘every day’ in the manner of Ed Ruscha. The assertion of existential phenomenology that meaning and intentionality inhere in the body’s motility provides a starting point for elucidating the relationship of motorised (and video) technology to embodied vision. Drawing on a range of sources from Proust and Wordsworth to Davidson, Strawson and Heidegger, the artists seek to elaborate the nature of human thought, experience and identity as established in and through the ‘space’ of the E40. Explorations of the phenomenology of motorised transport in the ‘modern’ age suggest how the experience of travelling along a road ‘at speed’ can disorientate and unsettle perception and identity, thereby inducing a liminal state of mind and being.
The video material is installed in a way that attempts to accentuate the sensorimotor dimensions of the performative process by making various shifts from geographic and scenic elements to the emotional and psychic space of the locations and situations encountered.
Download the conference leaflet – Tracing Lines Calais to Kazakhstan, UCA Farnham, Kent, January 2015 here.