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Adventure Art

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James Dodd, Heysen Tall Bike Adventures, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide.

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Place can be a wonderful thing to discuss, it’s a concept that can link many objects, thoughts and pursuits. In this instance it got me thinking about some things that present themselves as both subject and methodology within my practice. This writing also offers me a chance to propose ideas that are unresolved in my work and to invite response.

I find myself continually attracted to places that are ‘between’ other places - alleyways, vacant suburban blocks, industrial wastelands and abandoned architecture are each places that I would suggest. These are often referred to as liminal places in their physical sense but, of course, invite the interpretation of being places where liminal acts occur.  Things such as graffiti, vandalism and gutter punk ritual might occur here. An additional idea that sits in this steaming bain marie of discussion is that of the threshold - the edge, cusp or beginning of something.  Although I do find the sheer joy of listening to Van Morrison’s Dweller on the Threshold somewhat regularly interrupted by my art school nerdery.

I have spent a lot of time articulating what it is about these kinds of spaces that is attractive to me. Mostly it is the sense that these places are unpredictable - they don’t have a clear set of rules of operation, as most of suburbia does and the process of exploring them invites a sense of unpredictability. For me, this invokes a heightened sense of being - one of increased alertness, of acute observation, something close to a creative act.

It’s apparent through my articulation of place that I employ words such as discovery and exploration. I find this closely related to the concept of adventure. In fact, I harbor an innate drive to pursue adventure as I do creativity.

This is the bit that I have been thinking over lately, sparking questions such as “How do art and adventure meet? Are adventure and creativity inherently related? and is there such a thing as adventure art?” There is a character who is perpetually lurking around these discussions - the flâneur.  French in origin, and born of industrialised modernity, the flâneur devotes themselves to wandering the streets and arcades of busy cities; their primary purpose that of observing and consuming the myriad activities of these places. The flâneur is most significantly employed in the writings of glamour philosopher Charles Baudelaire and, later, Walter Benjamin as a means to physically, conceptually and psychologically explore a sense of what it means to ‘be’ in a modern city.  The flâneur’s adventure is ongoing, one of osmosis and one that represents a fusion of both subject and methodology.

Bas Jan Ader, Fall II, Amsterdam, 1970, 16 mm film, 19 sec.
Bas Jan Ader, Fall II, Amsterdam, 1970, 16 mm film, 19 sec.

Closely related, though not as often cited is the concept of dérive, to drift, wherein one embarks upon an unplanned journey, mostly through urban space, guided somewhat subconsciously by the ambience and surroundings of a place.  (If you are a fan of glam philosophy you can check out Guy Debord’s examination of dérive.) The goal of this pursuit is to try and encounter an entirely new and authentic experience.  The ‘drifter’ is an established figure in North American pop culture, reaching critical mass during the Depression and Post-war years, pan-handling and train-hopping their way across the continent. The gently fading drifter in contemporary history has received somewhat of a revival in recent years via a new embrace of train-hopping, dumpster-diving, capitalist-resisting cultures. Jeff Ferrell delivers multiple articulate accounts of this, best encapsulated in his book Empire of Scrounge. Ferrell’s interpretation of dérive is that whereby a sense of enlightenment is reached when the individual is able to posit themselves in a perpetual state of drift; as a way or place in which you find yourself in a situation, or place, beyond your imagination. Once again, we are presented with a context of compound sense of place and state of mind.

We can consider this as a sense of purposefully getting oneself lost, of purposefully pursuing a place that has the least amount of known references, undertaking an exploration or going on an adventure. I like the idea of extending this to become a sense of ‘inviting the strange’. This is a pursuit that we can construct within familiar surrounds, by either removing familiar components or adding unfamiliar ones.  For example, riding a strange bicycle might be a way to pursue this. Better still, riding an unusual bicycle in a heavily populated space, amongst pedestrians who thought their day would be safe and normal. This is a way that a routine might be transformed into an adventure.  A little bit like adding a slice of carnival to an unsuspecting worker bee’s day, except that we must remind ourselves that within the context of carnival there is the expectation that the strange will occur. This brings us closer to concepts of the uncanny, whereby much of what we experience seems familiar, though something most definitely, is not. The elements of surprise, discovery and the uncanny are human experiences that bring about a heightened sense of being. This heightened sense might be akin to wonder, which we can comfortably frame as being both part of the process of and the outcome of creative acts; or Art.

So, if we can make a link between small adventures, the unexpected and invoking a sense of wonder, can we then invite a discussion of bigger adventures being art? More specifically, I wonder about ‘mild’ adventures being given an extra boost by way of execution in unusual or unexpected ways. For example, riding a strange bike on a camping journey to a new place or proposing an unusual looking boat for a journey down a river? Of course, it is clear that the degree of strange, perhaps we can call it the ‘strange factor’, has the greatest potential influence on whether we decide that something is art or not. Maybe I need to pursue some particularly strange adventures to frame as art? Maybe the ‘strange factor’ is quite relative and simple things might become much more significant interventions for others?

James Dodd, Apollo 13 (with stranger), 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide.
James Dodd, Apollo 13 (with stranger), 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide.