I took advantage of some time off pre-seminar to spend the weekend in Wellington, mostly because I realised that even though I get a break from teaching with the undergrads on holiday (and from the library, thank you Erich) with Masters looming, I wasn’t going to get a break for me, and I was beginning to feel a bit burnt out.
One of the benefits of a long distance relationship is the excuse for a long drive. I know I’m crazy, especially with night-flyer airfares being so affordable, but there is just something about the journey that I adore. That sense of really experiencing the passage of time and mileage… a one hour plane ride is all about the destination, a nine hour (more with regular stops) drive is about the process of travelling itself.
I went armed with my camera ready to stop and take photos that might be interesting to draw later. I like the thought of incorporating the idea of journeys into my art practice… but how? It’s a problematic question, and one I am no closer to answering; some things are just difficult to capture and pin down. Every time I stopped to take a photo, I was no longer travelling, everything before me was still, just as it is at home. A drawing, just like a photograph, implies a still moment even if it is captured from movement. More than that, the artist has to stand outside of time, they cannot participate in it; I cannot drive and take photographs or drive and draw.
It made me think about the role of an observer. We are all observers all the time, but we are not artists all the time. There were so many scenes I saw driving past that were fleeting and beautiful and would no longer have existed had I stopped the car to pull out my camera. If only my eyelids were the shutters of the camera! Then I would have that moment: a rainbow composed so perfectly with the road and landscape in my rear vision mirror before the rain set in in earnest. Click. A little boy walking to school turns to call over his shoulder to his brother, framed in the porch of a Victorian hotel. Click.
Those little moments will stick with me for some time, even though I have no record of them, and preserved only by memory, they will grow dark, unfocussed, they will become altered and then they will disappear. Was that boy really framed by the hotel porch? Even for a second? Images provide evidence, support (replace?) memory. Images fix a moment, give it a life beyond its own, an awareness, and perhaps most importantly a point of view. Photos and drawings are a way to allow someone else to see just what you see, they give insight into what the artist selects as being important.
But there is something even more strange and intangible about travel memory… I notice the way my mind skips ahead, giving me images of towns I haven’t reached yet, erasing vast swathes of countryside so that my perception of distance travelled and yet to travel is skewed. Allowing me to exist in my destination before I even get there.
Stranger still is the feeling I get when I reach that part of the Kapiti Coast where the road is right next to the sea and inexplicably I am convinced, every time, that just around the corner is Wellington, that somehow that road links up to Oriental Parade, even though I know you can’t enter Wellington that way, and you don’t get to magically skip Porirua and a handful of little townships. It’s the exact point in the journey where, for me, anticipation and the joy of travel is consumed by thoughts of getting there. Seeing my partner. More succinctly, just stopping. But how can you ever catch all that in a photograph? In a drawing? It can only be adequately recalled through experience, through memory, and perhaps it is an experience so personal it can’t be translated sensibly into something that could be read by someone else.