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 ON A HIGHWAY:
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.

7-1-12-2_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-3_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-4_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-5_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-6_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-7_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-8_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-9_ashenhurstweb

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.

7-1-12-10_ashenhurstweb