Image of the Road represents an ongoing research project by Kirwan and 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.
This far, the E40 video and photographic material has been shown in Contemporary Art Centre, Delhi, India ; Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland; James Hockey Gallery, Farnham, UK and Maison de l’Art et de la Communication, Saullaumines, France. 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.
An essay by Jane Madsen, accompanying the Image of the Road exhibition at the James Hockey Gallery.
Image of the Road by Helen Kirwan and Simon Pruciak explores the trans-European route: E40, which stretches across Europe to Central Asia from Calais in France to Ridder in Kazakhstan, through ten countries – France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Image of the Road considers what links Europe and Asia and creates a tension between them as geographical and political entities. Edward Said identified the spatial, conceptual and political questions of place: ‘Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography.’ 1
The E40 traces a line across the conjoined landmass of Europe and Asia utilising ancient elements of the silk routes and prehistoric migratory tracks it is a physical reminder of tens of thousands of years of mobility of the European and Asian peoples. Kirwan and Pruciak’s artwork is a construction of many layers of time – the time of the journey, the time in the car, the time of the moving image and the archaeological layers of time beneath the material surface of the road. The road is the subject and the object of the installation. The artists do not insert any self-referential experience of undertaking the journey and there is an absence of the biographic from the work.
The persistence of the road is the compelling image of the materiality of a black line – sometimes in the newly laid surface as it is in Poland or other times fragmented and crumbling as in some parts of further east, but always there. The road appears in the installation in two ways: firstly, through the windscreen as a vanishing point stretching out in the never-ending distance and secondly, in the horizontal shots from beside the road where the lateral movement of the traffic bisects the image. The horizontal exploration of the road is the continuous thread throughout, as the geography of Europe unfolds to the Central Asian republics. There is an absence of the vertical intersect of the political borders on the E40, the difficult crossings and the demarcations of separate political terrains are not shown, instead the E40 as a continuous space becomes a conceptual, but unintelligible and uncertain unity.
1 Edward Said Culture and Imperialism p. 6
The dead time of driving is measured in the accidental, mismatched score created by the incidental sound of the radio inside the car – popular music, cheery voices, advertisements, and news, and in the delays of traffic jams where engines, car horns and everyday life intermingle and in the swishing, slip stream rush of wind as the traffic passes the camera when it is parked by the side of the road. While Kirwan and Pruciak set out to avoid the picturesque concentrating instead on the poetics of the quotidian E40, the scale of the landscape of the steppes of Central Asia where the sky, horizon, and road meet finds an unintentional sublime through the scale of these unknown and largely unrepresented places.
Throughout Image of the Road Kirwan and Pruciak ask questions about place and space, and about the pointlessness of such a venture to the end of Europe and all the way across Central Asia. The E40 stops, but does not really end, despite reaching its limit in Ridder, a seemingly arbitrarily chosen, unremarkable small town in Kazakhstan near the borders of Russia and China. Ridder, on the E40 is an uncertain edgeland, it is not a boundary; yet is defined by negations: it is not Europe, not the end of Central Asia – it is not China, not Russia, and at the same time not quite on the absolute delineation of the border – it is a place, but not somewhere. As such, there is no sense of a destination, no arrival and no ending to the journey. Travelling to a place of no significance and empty of meaning underscores the pointlessness of the E40 as a total entity that is at the same time a space and a place and an idea envisaged with reference to possible need for movement. Throughout Image of the Road the concept of the part and whole is questioned since the road is both a single place, and, a series of points that are joined together in an aggregation of parts. Perhaps, the only way the vast geography of the E40 can be understood is as fragments of the whole.
Jane Madsen October 2014
JANE MADSEN is an artist working in film and video, installation, experimental film, and documentary. She teaches at London College of Communication, UAL. She is currently completing interdisciplinary research in a practice-based PhD in Architectural Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Slade, UCL.