Journeys:1900/2000 was commissioned by curator, Alison Nordstrom for the traveling exhibition, Voyages (per)Formed. It premiered in August, 2000 at The Institute for Studies in the Arts at Arizona State University where it was created in residence. It then traveled to the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida and opens at Boston's Photographic Resource Center in November, 2001. In the exhibition catalog, curator Nordstrom tells us that, "Voyages (per)Formed is an exhibition of old and new objects that explores the relationship between photography and travel. At its heart are the photographs American tourists bought on their trips abroad, and the albums they made of them. In recognition that these albums are complex in meaning and awkward in the logistics of their display, [the museum] invited four artists to contribute to their interpretation and to do so in a visual language." The artists include Peter Goin, Lorie Novak, Abelardo Morell and myself. Nordstrom goes on to say, "The results are as varied as the artists themselves, both in form and in content. Together they amplify the viewers' experience of past and present, and establish a discourse that extends the reach of photographic history and links today's practitioners to the visual culture of the past".
"Journeys:1900/2000 [is] a computer driven installation by Carol Flax that places the museum visitor simultaneously in the roles of wonderstruck traveler, covetous voyeur, and oblivious cultural imperialist. Flax is less concerned with nineteenth century images of travel per se, than she is with their relationship to the received knowledges of the travel experience and to the way that experience was and is shaped by the values travelers brought along with their bags and Baedekers. ...The story she tells in Journeys is intentionally complex and ambiguous as travel is. ...The piece, like a journey, is never the same twice." (Nordstrom, exhibition catalog)
Journeys:1900/2000 is an interactive installation about a journey in which the viewer is complicit and it cannot occur without their active engagement. Using bend and touch sensors imbedded in a reproduction of a 19th century travel album, video and audio is triggered as the pages of the album are turned. I have constructed an album which is composed of fragments of memory, pieces of voyages, and bits of history, taking single images from various existing albums, reproducing and recontextualizing them to create a voyage of my own devising. Each of these fragments is enhanced by video and audio which may support, amplify or contest the visual information we are receiving from the photographic print on the album page.
This piece plays with notions of memory, presence and the idea of voyage as a metaphor. The voyages documented in these albums from the last turn of the century were significant events in the formation of our cultural history. We now approach them with hindsight, filling in the missing pieces, allowing our own interpretations to guide our experience. These albums stand in for a century of history and change as we begin the new millennium with entirely new notions of privilege and access. Both the voyage and the voyager imply possibilities never imagined a hundred years ago.
Travel by its very nature is transformative. We relive and retell our experiences through the visual device of the photograph and the photograph album. As it has historically functioned, the travel album is the bridge between experience and its retelling. In Journeys: 1900/2000, this literally becomes the case. The album functions as the actual interface, it becomes the prosthesis that allows the present to merge with the past. Through technology we find ever expanding possibilities for lived and imagined experience.
People travel for many reasons. We may search for the exotic, travel to acquire both objects and culture and to have temporary access to the unobtainable. 19th century travel in many ways was vicarious and mediated, one went where one was expected to go, traveled in the appropriate fashion and easily purchased photos of locations both visited and not seen. The photograph then served both as an aide memoire as well as an aid to reinvention. As the rhythm, speed and immediacy of the world changes, we can continue this tradition if desired, although many more choices are available to us. We can have entirely vicarious experience through the use of technology. In the past, only the photograph allowed us the privilege of adventure without leaving our seats, in the more recent past it has been the slide show, television, film. Now with thoroughly immersive technologies, we sometimes no longer know if we have in fact left our seats. We hover at the liminal, sit on the threshold, wonder where we've been.
The camera has always served as reassurance of the real. As the new technology of the late 19th, early 20th century it mystified and amazed, but most importantly, showed us that which we could not see for ourselves. It provided evidence of the exotic, the unvisited, reminded us that all was well with the world. The new technologies of the 21st century have all but removed that privileged position from the camera, allowing for the creation of believable simulations. We enter the new century no longer assured of the presence of that which we cannot see or even that which we can see. We reconnect with a past where our imaginations must fill in, without the power of photographic evidence, the world is again a strange and exotic place.
Time based media, being the language of myth, permissions us to suspend disbelief. It allows us the leg- up to adventure. New technologies take us beyond the suspension of disbelief, beyond the exotic, into new and unimagined worlds. What once was the dream of the voyager is now hovering at our doorstep. We can finally be in two places at once.