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CulturePrintCritical dictionary

Journey

Eusébio Almeida

To speak of the broad concept of journey is to speak of multiple layers of meaning that seem to be far from being able to convey the several levels of meaning, often implicit in the unstable experience (liquid, soft, fluctuating, undefined, erratic, striated, grooved, nomadic and trajective), which results from the practice of a certain space (territory), as this space gradually allows the constant transformation of who covers it (torsion of the body), and of what is covered (torsion of space), almost as if we were in permanent conflict with that "other space", which Deleuze and Guattari called sedentary. This would be, by chance, a space with the ability to bind, exile, fix, and chain us permanently to the far too paradoxical stability of the real, thus keeping us from ensuring a practice of transformation and discovery of the covered and yet to be covered spaces, almost as if we did not want to penetrate the so-called "school of survival or bravery" of space, to employ an expression by Michel Crépu, written in a text dedicated to George Steiner, when the latter reflected upon the dazzling shine of Goethe's "life in action" . 

Keywords: current/contemporary; body; cyberculture; Land Art


In practice, will this be the original meaning of the aesthetics and politics of journey? Will this be the recurrent meaning of the search for a new way? Will this be the primary meaning of the freedom in the ecstasy of continuing to walk/travel as some sort of restless nomads? With or without these meanings, the truth is that it is between these and many other spaces, between these and many other mechanisms (between the real and the virtual, between fiction and life), that we will seek, each in our own way, for the conceptual assumptions, and for the wandering and trajective devices, that will allow us to continue to trace the disturbing outlines of this brief journey through the fluctuating margins of contemporary nomadism.   It is in this sense, by the way, that it is in our interest to continue to cover those "places of passage" which W. Benjamin spoke of, regarding his own experience of "traveller in exile/wandering walker", almost as if we wanted to pursue and practice the disturbing experience of the journey - not only from the flight from the real, which is always moving towards fiction, but also from the flight from fiction, which is always moving towards the multiple layers of the real. Almost as if this zigzagging movement towards the infinite uncertainties of the world's texture constantly impelled us to flee from the anesthetic space of being, towards the disquieting space of walking. There, where only a few of our steps, of our traces, of our gestures are inscribed, as "the nomadic space is an empty and infinitely uninhabited space. (…) a desert resulting in difficult orientation, which is the same as an immense ocean where the only recognizable mark is that left by walking itself, a mobile and evanescent mark (…), as the essence of nomadism is the place where the ritual of the eternal wandering is celebrated daily", would say Francesco Careri .   In other words, it is between this vertiginous need to constantly travel (physical movement) and the vertiginous need to walk without even moving (physically), as a kind of "sat down tourists" , that several artists have traced some of their most interesting artistic projects, almost as if they wished to compose and recompose some sort of "nomadic autobiography", i. e. almost as if it were still necessary to continue to surmount the wall, to break through the net, to jump over any border, and even if that border does not exist - and many times it really does not exist, or seems not to exist - the truth is that these artists continue to feel the need to map new "lines of flight" (Deleuze), in the attempt to intervene in the undulating plasticity of space (no matter how impenetrable it may seem).   It was from this thought that Smithson (unlike Richard Long, who called him a kind of "urban cowboy", incapable of practicing space) threw himself on the ruins of the world's suburbs, in search for a new journey , for a new space, and for a new landscape ("entropic landscape"), in the attempt to formulate new questions and answers on the countless contradictions of the micro-utopian space of walking (of "walking as an aesthetic practice"). Deep down, Smithson, between the "hunter of the Palaeolithic and the archaeologist of abandoned futures", tried to reflect upon some of the many ruins of thought and culture, not only in search for a kind of "symbolic transformation of the threatened territory", but also in search for a kind of "construction of new places", according to Rosalind Krauss' words. In this "expanded field" of the huge sculpture of life, Smithson said - regarding his exploration trips to the "virgin and marginal territories" of the Passaic River (his homeland) - that for him "journey" was a kind of "suburban odyssey, a pseudo-touristic epic that seemed to preserve the living presences of a space in the process of destruction (extinction), i.e. a place that thirty years later would be called, precisely, a non-place" .    Many of these journeys, made not only by Smithson , but also by Richard Long , Tony Smith, Walter De Maria, R. Morris, Dani Karavan, Hamish Fulton (who self-named himself, precisely, a walking artist), and many other artists, sought to document what we could call a kind of micro-utopia of "walking as an aesthetic practice", again to resort to the words of Francesco Careri.      This nomadic micro-utopia, just as we have come to draw it (symbol of the eternal wandering), also seems to refer to a sort of small history of walking. In this case, walking, not only as a form of social, cultural and human intervention, capable of containing all the symbolic ingredients of a first creative act (Adam and Eve), and of a first criminal act (Abel and Cain), but also walking as that form of experience that gradually covered the "ruins" of the "history of mankind" (which is, at bottom, the history of nomadism), until we reach the twentieth/twenty-first century, where we can find some of the most interesting experiences of this small/big history of "walking as an aesthetic practice".  According to Careri, some of those experiences would be connected, not only to Dadaism, but also to Surrealism, to the wandering of automatic writing, to the strolls of the flâneur through the streets of big cities, to the Letterist International, to the Situationist International, and to the 1950s/60s "Theory of the Dérive", as well as to the first images of a truly nomadic city - such as the one by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn -, or still to Constant's labyrinthic city in his New Babylon, etc. However, it was only from the second half of the twentieth century that the "practice of walking" began to be considered a real artistic practice (through the movement of Land Art), capable of allowing a new generation of artists the possibility of intervening directly in the disturbing landscape of the world (which was considered, for a long time, as their only medium of inscription/intervention). Some of those artists (already mentioned) would be, for instance, Walter De Maria, who, besides his famous Bed of Spikes (1968/69), will have also furiously covered thousands and thousands of kilometers, in search for any "dystopian landscape", only to refer to that type of construction without any type of modular structure, which is his 5 Continents Sculpture (made of rocks coming from five continents, placed within glass walls, almost as if he wanted to fix them in the system of double projection of the incandescent mirror of the desert).       In this view, we would also have the example of that tireless walker, Richard Long, who, from his Line Made by Walking, will have traced one of the most disturbing metaphors of the century, and of all centuries (the metaphor of the danger of eternal walking), i.e. a form of work in progress that seemed to gain autonomy from the tautological cartographies of his own absence/presence. We would still have the disquieting Smithson (A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic), and his attempt to "inhabit" the most obscure parts of a city, abandoned to its own future, almost as if walking through those "empty spaces" of the contemporary periphery were a form of feeling the ghosts of the vertiginous danger of being alive, etc. Moreover, we cannot forget neither the endless journeys of Tony Smith through the highways in construction in the outskirts of New York (published in the magazine Artforum), nor the 2000 kilometers (the total length of China's Great Wall), covered in 90 days by Marina Abramovic and Ulay (1988), as a sign of their definite separation as an artists couple. With the performance "The Lovers", Abramovic and Ulay walked towards each other, each one of them departing from the extreme opposite of China's Wall, to then separate again, now forever, thus transforming their personal experience (of definite separation) in the staging of a disturbing geometry of love, almost as if the painful division of their individual biographies seemed like the inevitable result of the disturbing laws of life, etc.  Finally, between these journeys and many others made by Stalker since 1995, and from the importance of his concept of "urban amnesia", as well as the trips of Guillermo Gomes-Pena and Roberto Sifuentes (those "sisyphuses" of a borderless world), the truth is that the practices of walking, of "walking as an aesthetic experience", seem to have fueled many of the countless journeys/long walks that came to characterize those trajective or nomadic projects (which we have come to refer), this before we were as if transformed in mere flâneurs of a virtual journey through the "Legible City" of Jeffrey Shaw/Dirk Groeneveld, almost as if each movement of the body, on top of that interactive bicycle, wanted to offer us an infinite variety of possible recombinations in that "euphoric" and "dysphoric" space - not very dense, wide, tense, flat, soft and radically virtual - of the on-line trajective journeys.   There, at that "point where the copy is no longer a copy to become the real and its own skill", that interactive skill that allows us to rummage the Roman Empire, the Mexican cities, the Greek gods and the continents - those discovered and those yet to be discovered - in order to extract that excess of reality and form the treasure of paranoid tortures and celibate glories, almost as if we were all the massacres, as well as all the triumphs of history (…); such is, according to Klossowski's formula (…) the true program of a theatre of cruelty, or the staging of a machine producing the real", that seems to carry the space of our dreams and of our highest ambitions, to some other space (cyberspace), where the world seems to be at the distance of a simple click. Almost as if we no longer needed to cover, to step on, to circulate, to live, and to practice the irregular space of secondary roads, where we once learned to feel the pleasure of covering the distances of (physical) space towards the freedom of the thread of horizon (where we could, after all, leave the mark of our steps, the trace of our gestures and the strength of our acts). It is true that we stopped covering those distances, almost as if we no longer needed to climb to the top of a mountain (even if magic). Are we perhaps fed up with bearing the reduced scale of natural largenesses? Are we perhaps fed up with breathing the fresh air of the lowest layers of the atmosphere, where we were made used to living? Are we prepared to question what is happening around us -  ("dark world, growing sea: a lonely machine snores on the beach, an atomic factory installed in the desert", a digital chip integrated into the skull, a rubber leg jumping of pleasure, a lens mixed with our flesh, etc; etc.)?   It seems, at last, we overcame all barriers, it seems we integrated all discoveries, tried all dangers, attained all forms of freedom. What is left for us? What is left for us? Paul Virilio would say, we have yet to "find touch, the touch of march, the touch of alpinism, the pleasure of the journey and of navigation (just as Gérard d'Aboville, to whom the walker and the rower were a sort of prophets in extinction), i.e. signs of another divergence, of a return to physics, to matter, signs of a rematerialization of the body, of space and of the world". But will not all of this be too unbearable? Will not all of this be too dangerous? Will we not be, henceforth, just mere interactive flâneurs of that big technology bubble which the world has - or will - become? Will we not be, after all, mere breathless runners, mere restless nomads, of a true interactive journey around the world - not in 80 days, as Jules Verne's, but in i-don't-know-how-many  nanothousandths of a second -, almost as if we had the strange feeling of having broken with all "the walls of asylum" (Roger Gentis), in the name of a little more of open air, of yet another new relationship with the outside, or merely in the name of that "free freedom", which Rimbaud spoke of?!  Or then, as Saint-Exupéry (the aviator, but also the writer) refers, when he writes about the journey that the Little Prince made to the strange planet Earth, by saying that "After having walked for a long time and only finding sand, rocks and snow, the Little Prince will end up discovering a path or a road". So, happy he who will make a good journey, as the journey, that one, never ends.



Bibliography

1 Steiner, George - O silêncio dos livros (seguido de Esse vício ainda impune), de Michel Crépu, Lisboa, Gradiva (2007), p.62.
2 Careri, Francesco, Land&ScapeSeries: Walkscapes - El andar como práctca estética/Walking as na Aesthetic Practice, Barcelona, Editorial Gustavo Gili, sa (2002), pp.38 e 42.
3 Hoje em dia, somos cada vez mais uma espécie de «turistas sentados» à frente do computador. Esta urgência de andarmos sem sequer nos deslocarmos (fisicamente), será uma das abordagens a fazer, posteriormente, quando desenvolvermos mais detalhadamente algumas das questões relacionadas com a hiperficção, a interactividade, e as múltiplas «retóricas» do link...etc.
4 Para uma análise mais detalhada desta noção de «viagem», para além do Anti-Édipo de Deleuze, ver também Jacques Besse, «Le Danseur», in La Grand Paquê, ed.Belfond, 1969 (toda a primeira parte deste livro descreve o passeio do esquizo na cidade; a segunda parte, «Legendes folles», descreve o processo algo alucinatório da viagem a partir de determinados episódios históricos). Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari - O Anti-Édipo-Capitalismo e Esquizofrenia, Lisboa, Assírio&Alvim, pp.88-91.
5 Careri, Francesco - Land&ScapeSeries: Walkscapes: El andar como práctica estética/Walking as na aesthetic practice, Barcelona, Editorial Gustavon Gili, SA (2002), p.160. Para uma análise mais detalhada deste conceito convém consultar também o livro de Marc Augé, denominado precisamente de «Não-Lugares. Para uma Antropologia da Sobremodernidade» (Bertrand Editora).
6 R.Smithson (cujos projectos favoritos eram a recuperação artificial de zonas mineiras abandonadas, espaços pós-industriais sujeitos às forças infernais da natureza), parecia perseguir ao longo dos seus percursos, não só as marcas contraditórias de um projecto de intervenção social e artística (a partir de um dos seus principais conceitos -«esculturas de um sítio»), mas também as marcas ou os «passos de uma terra esquecida pelo tempo» (partes de um certo local em transformação), aí  onde pareciam habitar, suspensos, o «presente, o passado e um qualquer futuro, ainda por vir...». Careri, Francesco - Land &ScapeSeries: Walkscapes...: Walking as na aesthetic practice, Barcelona, Editorial Gustavo Gili, SA (2002).
7 Os seus passeios épicos nos Himalaias, Andes, Austrália, Japão, Islândia, são uma das marcas inconfundíveis da história da Land Art Internacional.
8 Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix - Idem, pp. 91-92.

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