7-1 | Table of Con­tents |DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.NBW.7-1.12 | Ashen­hurst­PDF


AbstractDis/Appearances on a High­way con­structs ele­ments of a road trip from Van­cou­ver to Stew­art, BC. Jux­ta­pos­ing frag­ments of text describ­ing a per­son­al nar­ra­tive with pho­tographs of the land­scape that appear to be tak­en from the secure dis­tance of a car, the work explores a ter­rain expe­ri­enced as an oth­er­ness. The high­way does not offer its user an ide­al­ized coun­try­side or untouched wilder­ness but is instead an artery run­ning up the province, around which clus­ters of towns present grim motels, aban­doned mines, and church­es. For this dri­ver, the moun­tains grow into a fore­bod­ing pres­ence.

At first glance, the pho­tog­ra­phy in Dis/Appear­ances could be read as unas­sum­ing snap­shots, but there is a fraud­u­lence and play­ful­ness in their con­struc­tion. By dis­rupt­ing the tra­di­tion­al road-trip snap­shot with the illu­so­ry lay­er of the mod­el wind­shield, the images cre­ate a fic­tion­al sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. In Dis/Appearances, the vast­ness of west­ern Cana­da does not sig­ni­fy the jour­ney of an adven­tur­er, but rather an unsta­ble rela­tion­ship nego­ti­at­ed through the win­dow of an ever-tran­sient vehi­cle.

Résumé Dis/Appearances on a High­way met en scène les élé­ments d’un voy­age en voiture de Van­cou­ver à Stew­art, en Colom­bie Bri­tan­nique. En jux­ta­posant des extraits de textes décrivant une his­toire per­son­nelle avec des images de paysages qui sem­blent avoir été pris­es depuis l’intérieur d’une voiture, cette œuvre explore un espace perçu comme une altérité. L’autoroute n’offre pas à ses usagers un paysage rur­al idéal­isé ou une nature intacte mais plutôt une artère tra­ver­sant la province et autour de laque­lle de petites villes exhibent des motels lugubres et des mines et églis­es aban­don­nées. Pour ce con­duc­teur, les mon­tagnes sont une présence menaçante à l’horizon.

A pre­mière vue, la pho­togra­phie de Dis/Appearances pour­rait être perçue comme une série d’images sans pré­ten­tion si ce n’était pour la fraude et l’aspect ludique que l’on voit dans leur con­struc­tion. En bous­cu­lant les normes des images d’un voy­age en voiture tra­di­tion­nel par le biais d’un pare-brise illu­soire, les images créent une sub­jec­tiv­ité fic­tive. Dans Dis/Appearances, les vastes éten­dues de l’Ouest cana­di­en ne rap­pel­lent pas le périple d’un aven­turi­er mais plutôt une rela­tion insta­ble nav­iguée au tra­vers des vit­res d’un véhicule en mou­ve­ment per­pétuel.


Erin Ashen­hurst |Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Artist and Writer

DIS/APPEAREANCES ONHIGHWAY:
A Model Drive

Dis/Appearances on a High­way con­structs ele­ments of a road trip from Van­cou­ver to Stew­art, BC. Jux­ta­pos­ing frag­ments of text describ­ing a per­son­al nar­ra­tive with pho­tographs of the land­scape that appear to be tak­en from the secure dis­tance of a car, the work explores a ter­rain expe­ri­enced as an oth­er­ness. The high­way does not offer its user an ide­al­ized coun­try­side or untouched wilder­ness, but is instead an artery thread­ing through the province where small towns host tired motels, church­es, and aban­doned mines. For this dri­ver, the moun­tains grow into a fore­bod­ing pres­ence.

At first glance, the pho­tog­ra­phy in Dis/Appear­ances could be read as unas­sum­ing snap­shots, but there is fraud­u­lence and play­ful­ness in their assem­bly. While pho­tographs tak­en on loca­tion ges­ture to cin­e­mat­ic stag­ing, the fram­ing of the car inte­ri­or is done using a Play­mo­bil toy from a kit appro­pri­ate­ly titled “City Life.” By dis­rupt­ing the tra­di­tion­al road-trip snap­shot with the illu­so­ry lay­er of the mod­el wind­shield, the images cre­ate a fic­tion­al sub­jec­tiv­i­ty from what might oth­er­wise be seen as doc­u­men­ta­tion. While pages of prose jux­ta­posed with imagery are con­ven­tion­al­ly used to sig­nal the devel­op­ment of a lin­ear sto­ry­line, here the frag­men­ta­tion of text and the fal­si­ty of image test a viewer’s desire to form a cohe­sive nar­ra­tive. Indeed, in one image, the glimpse of a plas­tic deer threat­ens to push things towards the absurd.

Though the trip described tra­vers­es less than two-thirds of the province, it is a dis­tance of almost 1,500 kilometers—the same dis­tance of a dri­ve from Rome to Paris, or less than Madrid to Mar­rakesh. In Dis/Appearances, the vast­ness of West­ern Cana­da does not sig­ni­fy the jour­ney of an adven­tur­er, but rather an unsta­ble rela­tion­ship nego­ti­at­ed through the win­dow of an ever-tran­sient vehi­cle.


It was August and it seemed as if we had spent the
sum­mer dri­ving and watch­ing things die. They died all
day in sud­den, lone­ly blasts of yel­low cream, and red
jam, and clear jel­ly. We would com­ment on how big or
bloody, and then I would yank for­ward the lever for the
wind­shield flu­id and the wipers would spread their exot­ic
car­cass­es in half-moons across the glass.

7-1-12-1_ashenhurstwebBy the time we made it to the town of Clin­ton,
British Colum­bia, we were des­per­ate to escape the
shape of the car. Hours on the road and the catch
of our knees like a reluc­tant fold­ing chair, wood
bloat­ed in the heat.

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On the high­way, human den­si­ty was exchanged for
insects, bunions of brown grass, and trees with crooked
white arms. Grav­el shoul­ders hissed under tread and
the wide sky turned robin’s egg blue to seething sepia.
There were stars.

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As the sky grew dim, the insects thick­ened the air with
the vehe­mence of a death drum. In a pink sun­set towards
Williams Lake, we mis­took the rapid explo­sions of their
bod­ies for rain. Then, in the dark, oncom­ing head­lights turned
their ruins opaque and I had to squint through the smears
to keep on the road. We turned the music up and the twists
of the canyon were abstract­ed in orange reflec­tors and the
float­ing tail­lights of mon­strous big rigs.

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One night, after the evening had throbbed with light­ning before the
qui­et, deep black, the haz­ard lights of a hatch­back ahead flashed the body
of a deer. The car was pulled off the road and the deer lay behind on its
side, head point­ed towards the near edge of the high­way. We slowed to
see the haunch­es, hooves per­fect­ly aligned and motion­less. A pick­up
truck had pulled in front of the car and a large man walked between the
vehi­cles, cig­a­rette smoke snaking around his face.

I turned the high beams on through the mask of insect sludge as we
lunged into the val­ley.

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At the mouth of Van­der­hoof, we saw a bill­board for a miss­ing
woman. Her face was three meters tall, blonde, beam­ing.
A num­ber with a long string of zeros mea­sured the val­ue of her
return. She had been at a lake par­ty two years ago when, just
before dawn, she slipped into the unknown. I saw a poster for
her in a cof­fee shop and one taped to the back win­dow of a grimy
gray van. The mes­sage was clear: care­ful, this high­way
could con­sume you.

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I could feel he had changed once we passed the city
lim­its. Become calm and loose. He had done this dri­ve
for years—a fever­ish marathon in a bat­tered Ford Tem­po
hot with sum­mer, or a cramped doze in the back of a
Grey­hound bus on Christ­mas Eve. I had only flown to his
home­town before, where the sud­den dwarf­ing prox­im­i­ty
of the moun­tains made me ner­vous.

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In these towns, video stores thrived and phone recep­tion
wavered. Build­ings were brick and wood, stuc­co, and
alu­minum sid­ing. It felt as if the rules were dif­fer­ent,
but then I thought of my husband’s dis­ap­prov­ing look when
I explained why I had decid­ed to leave the pleas­ant malaise
of my tow­el to wade in the lake. “I had to pee,” I said.
It had seemed nat­ur­al, clear­ly the best place.

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The cou­ple had an RV and two Siber­ian Huskies
named Smokey and Ban­dit. They said a par­ty of three
had made it through the tun­nels last spring. It had
tak­en most of a day with their head­lamps illu­mi­nat­ing
the rust­ed debris aban­doned in the dark.

You shouldn’t try in those flip-flops,” they agreed.

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We drove for days and I won­dered if,
at the end of this high­way, the moun­tains
would swell and swal­low me up.

Per­haps, I thought, I could just wait in the car.

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