Aug. 29, 2012 - Issue #880: LP
Wish You Were Here - Roadside attractions
Kristen Wilkins hit the road for Wish You Were Here
For many people, a cross-country road trip would not be the first plan to come to mind in the wake of an economic collapse.
However, this is exactly what artist and teacher Kristen Wilkins did, documenting her travels with the photo series Wish You Were Here. Wilkins craved new experiences and a chance to live in the present, capturing the beauty of local attractions that often go unnoticed by visitors. So she made good on a lifelong dream to buy a vintage aluminum trailer, pack her bags and hit the road.
"I don't know if it's about a sense of adventure or that childhood longing to explore, but why that kind of trailer? I think we can chalk it up to nostalgia, this idea of, you know, there was a time where things were better and awesome—whether that really was true or not—that harkens back to this idea of past time when we could explore and gasoline was cheap enough that you could," Wilkins says fondly, adding that her family had owned a Volkswagon bus camper when she was very young, but never one of the aluminum variety.
This time finally came on June 3, 2009. Wilkins bought the 1964 aluminum travel trailer and was trying to think of a name for it when she came across a coincidence she could not ignore. Wilkins did an Internet search to find out who had been the first person to travel across the United States. She discovered it was a woman named Alice Ramsay, who set off on her journey on June 9, 1909, and decided it was the perfect moniker for her trailer.
"I was coming on the 100th anniversary, so I said, 'Well, apparently I have three days to pack and leave because that is just too much of a coincidence, starting this road trip on this anniversary,'" she recalls, adding she felt it was a way to honour women driving across the country on their own. People have asked her whether or not she's afraid to take on something so daunting by herself, and her answer is "no" every time. "You always want to be mindful whether you're a man or a woman of what's around you, but I don't think that road trips are anymore or less dangerous than anything else in life."
With her cats Dharma and Torah for company, along with her fiance during different legs of the three-month, 6200-mile journey, Wilkins set off to document the corners and crevices of the country, get lost in the wilderness and discover hidden attractions along the way. She merged technology with a much simpler life, documenting her progress through her blog, Twitter and Google Maps, allowing people to join her vicariously on the cross-country trip.
Alice became the starring subject in many of the photographs Wilkins shot, becoming a surrogate for the nuclear family of a long-gone era. Positioning Alice in front of major monuments posed a challenge, as it was impossible to drive a vehicle up to many of them. Instead, she took to more homemade or rundown attractions that had been forgotten.
"There's something about those less high-production roadside attractions that were still very family-oriented, or a group of people got together and they built it, so I did kind of enjoy that—the more personalized experience, even it it wasn't as glamorous or high-production as some of those larger things," she explains.
Despite the company offered by her cats and brief visits with her fiance, life on the road can be a solitary one, but it is something Wilkins began to find peace in once she allowed herself to.
"I think there's something in loneliness that we maybe neglect. We're so used to being connected to everyone," she says, recalling her students who are constantly glued to their cellphones, even in social settings. "It's like there's always a dissatisfaction with the now and the present and trying to solve it by being with others. It's uncomfortable in the beginning to start off like that because it's almost like you're going through withdrawal, but then there's a point where you kind of ease off and you get to be with your thoughts and think wild things."
Fri, Aug 31, 2012 (6:30 pm)
Closing reception and artist talk
Wish You Were Here
Works by Kristen Wilkins
Until Sat, Sep 8, 2012
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