Off the Path

[Summer 2024]

by Jérôme Delgado

A trajectory involves movement and, implicitly, evolution or even advancement (read, progress). It is the contrary of a point, which represents immobility, stopping, the status quo. As we move from point A to point B, we change position, context, point of view. The trajectories followed by the three artists in our thematic section show them on the lookout, searching for something that can open new perspectives – and our minds.

In the images, moving or still, by Francis Alÿs, Patrick Beaulieu, and Justin Wonnacott, the idea of motion is evident. Yet, the trajectories that these artists film, photograph, and even experience to a certain point are not necessarily linear. Oblique or circular, they countermand the idea of progress imposed by society. Instead of the advancement idealized elsewhere, their path is punctuated with play, absurdity, and wandering.

In his video series Children’s Games, Alÿs directs our attention to two universal concepts: childhood and the plea­sure of engaging in non-profitable activities. The boy who kicks a plastic bottle up a sloping street, as shown in the project’s first video, is simply the playful, contemporary version of Sisyphus. After this beginning, Alÿs travelled the world – he is still travelling, as the series isn’t finished – seeking those moments of escape that children know so well how to fill, inventively, fearlessly, sometimes even at the risk of their physical safety.

Beaulieu’s quest oozes absurdity: it consists of finding the unfindable – the “Forgotten Road,” as he puts it. On board a vehicle dubbed El Perdido (The Lost), he visited Oklahoma, Texas, and part of Mexico, guided by his intuition and the vague directions he gathered. His images show forgotten, even desolate landscapes, traces of a civilization that, in its incessant progress, leaves behind a destabilized world. It’s
a world calling out for being cared for, if that’s the message we take away from “Don’t Forget Me Walk,” where Beaulieu ended up.

Strolling around, camera in hand, Wonnacott perfectly embodies the historical figure of the street photographer. The images of crowds on sidewalks that he has been accumulating for decades, some of which have been brought together under the title Figureground, reveal his thirst for knowledge of human beings and their behaviours. His urban tours are universal and unifying: from Berlin to Tokyo, and in Canadian cities, the same expressions, fashions, and compulsions emerge. Wandering among them, as Wonnacott does, we realize that each and every one of us is swept up in this portrait of society.

All three bodies of work evoke the destiny of the world. Can we change the fatal trajectory that they portend?

Translated by Käthe Roth

[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 126 – TRAJECTORIES ]
[ Complete article, in digital version, available here: Off the Path ]