“To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps the exact paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.” —Rebecca Solnit, from A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Three months before his unexpected death in 2017, my father began a new job driving cross-country for Transland Trucking Company. Other than a short stint of working in the Montana oil fields, he rarely left his home state of Missouri. As a quintessential, blue-collar man, he was primarily driven by what he thought was required of him, resulting in points of intense depression throughout his adult life. His new job brought a renewed sense of accomplishment, security, and a desire for human connection, evinced through playful, humorous, in-transit phone conversations with his loved ones, including me. In my attempt to understand his path of finding himself and promptly passing, I wonder if he traveled so far into the unfamiliar that he drove his way into death.
There is a peculiar irony in the way life and death interplay. Death may mean to dissipate into nothingness. Maybe we find freedom in death—released into an unrecognizable, infinite space, leaving the particulars of life behind. Maybe we lose ourselves in the consummation of fulfilled potential contained within life and living. To live may mean to die; to die may mean to become lost.
When we are lost, we are no longer connected to identity or previous dispositions. We are absorbed into a space with no clear delineations or peripheries. Writer Rebecca Solnit muses on “the blue of distance”—the mysterious, obscured horizons, far from where we stand, hazy and blue. For every step we take forward, the blue recedes, holding itself at a perpetual and unconquerable distance, departing from spaces as soon as we arrive at them. I wonder if this is not so in death.
Theorist Guy Debord developed the idea of the “dérive,” which he describes as the practice of dropping all personal and spatial relations and responsibilities to embark on an odyssey, driven by the desire to explore compelling and unknown frontiers, and the preceding process of unpacking what has been found. I see my work as both an investigation into the distant blue my father has receded into, and as a commitment to unpacking what he may even still be discovering. Through the nonlinearities of associations and dreams, and in conversations with the fragments of memories, objects, places, and people, new narratives both can, and are, still being pieced together about the story of his life and loss. Over time, his death has become unimpressive. It is no longer a surprise, it is scheduled.
Central to my work is a motif of mobility, and within it, the way mobility underpins so much of modern American life—a route being cut through space, tools of transportation, a guide to lead the way, a glimpse of what may be found en route. Not limited to a specific medium, the work embodies a state of constant investigation of the rhizomatic narratives of his existence, tethered by the color blue.