6in x 9in pigment ink on transparency in acrylic
UNTERWEGS is a recursive project that explores self portraiture and deterritorialization. In 2007, long before I understood what deterritorialization meant, I moved to Switzerland as a high school exchange student and created online videos about my personal experience living in a foreign country alone. For the next ten years — through university and art school — I kept returning to Switzerland in my mind and my art. In 2017, therefore, I published a book, titled UNTERWEGS, that tied together all of my own artistic preoccupations with Switzerland, while also exploring how travel is a muse for artists and academics around the world.
Left: Neeko finding the letter that he wrote to himself and hid in a cabin in the mountains (2012) // Right: Neeko writing the letter (2007)
Pages from the book UNTERWEGS (2017)
My Swiss Journal (2007)
My Swiss Journal was a YouTube video blog that I started while I was living as an exchange student in Bern, Switzerland. Using a cheap Fujifilm point-and-shoot, I could capture experiences and edit them into a mini-movie. And this was the heart of My Swiss Journal. I took videos at big moments, like Christmas and my birthday, yet, I also took videos during the everyday moments, like riding the train into Bern and drinking wine with my friends in a park. Practically everything became “filmable,” which meant that everything became a part of My Swiss Journal.
Along the way, I started gathering followers online. They commented on my videos and they shared their own videos as well. Seeing as we were all living abroad at the same time, we created a small community of exchange students and documented our lives online.
I noticed that there were familiar threads in all of our videos. At first we missed home and felt isolated in our host countries. Over time, however, we noticed ourselves changing. Every day we would shed another layer of identity, and our videos captured these changes. Slowly, I began to make these videos less for the people back home but more for myself.
Over the next year, I would create twenty-nine videos in the My Swiss Journal series. My goal was to reach thirty by the end of the year. But I didn’t. The only video that I did not make was my farewell video –– number thirty.
For the final video, I wanted to write myself a letter and film it. I would hide the letter in the attic of my host family’s cabin and use that footage for the final My Swiss Journal video, but I couldn’t make it. I didn’t want to finish the series. I left the footage on my computer and never edited it for YouTube. I always knew I would return to Switzerland and read the letter eventually. When I did return, five years later, it only seemed fitting to bring a camera with me.
And that’s when I filmed Wanderweg .
60 min digital video | password: wander
The modern road movie manifested itself in the late-1960s, catalyzed by an emerging youth culture in the 1950s – the Beat Generation. This youth culture had access to self-mobility not available to any generation before it, since the United States of America, following WWII, invested in the establishment of cross-country freeways. These freeways connected the distant coasts in an expansive, interconnecting network; these roads traversed the heart of the country, allowing unexplored areas of the map to be accessible. In archetypal terms, the road movie captures the movement of its protagonists from one place to another (ie. the journey). Whether that movement is an adventure, an escape, or a return home depends on the movements of the protagonist.
During a road movie, the protagonists shed their identity upon entering their quest. The unmarked and boundless terrain symbolizes the liminal identity of both the landscape itself and those travelling through it. Put differently, “the process of the road travel provokes an internal, psychological process (or journey), thus implying a casual bridge between quest and questioning” (Laderman, 2002). Thus, the space between home and away becomes a traversable space of self-exploration (Birkeland, 2005).
Wanderweg (2013) is a postmodern road movie, meaning the film is aware of its own creation. The film is riddled with moments of reflexivity, bringing the film to a stand-still as I constantly break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience about struggling to make the road movie. Reflexivity distort the feeling of time in art –– think of M.C. Escher’s Relativity or Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas.
Comparable films include Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I (2000) and Frank Cole’s Life Without Death (2000). Both road movies place their directors/creators in front of the cameras, allowing the viewer to see the product and the process of the film simultaneously.
Visually, my main inspiration for Wanderweg are the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, specifically the ones featuring a solo traveller in a vast landscape facing away from the viewer. In Borrowed sight: The halted traveller in Caspar David Friedrich and William Wordsworth, Joseph Leo Koerner describes Friedrich’s paintings as:
6in x 9in pigment ink on transparency in acrylic
The thoughts of a lonesome traveller (2015)
The thoughts of a lonesome traveller draws upon my continued fascination with the mountains in Switzerland, where I created my first film Wanderweg (2013) and book UNTERWEGS (2017). I discovered that I was an artist in the mountains — a time of both struggle and euphoria.
Cover of UNTERWEGS (2017)
UNTERWEGS is a book that draws together all the artistic threads of my artistic relationship with Switzerland. In addition, it brings together artists and academics from around the world who have used travel as a muse for their work.