I am currently walking from a spot just outside Omaha, Nebraska, historically known by my Mormon ancestors as Winter Quarters, to my current home (and ancestral home) of Salt Lake City, retracing the footsteps of my great ancestor Thomas Bateman who did this four times starting at my same age in 1850. This is a walk of over 1100 miles. I began on April 28.
My art has been an exploration of the aesthetics of the West. I have looked at how we create architectures (physical and cultural) that affect the aesthetic and rhetorical function of the landscape. This has been explored through looks at regional landscape painting, irrigation, and institutional tourism. I have spoken many times about how recreational landscape tourism is a ritualization of westward expansion and manifest destiny. I think the most systematic example of manifest destiny is that of the Mormon settlement of the west. The following is a description of a project I'm looking for help to fund.
Keeping Things Whole
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
Travel through space can be an end in itself. The act of walking as art is as much the action of the art-making as it is the product. In a literal sense, the act of walking parts the air and makes a negative-sculpture of the space my body occupies over time. There is a huge precedent for walking as an end. In art there are many examples, most notably Richard Long. Most wilderness/landscape-focused tourism involves travel as an end as do contemporary religious pilgrimages of all types.
My action is an investigation of the rhetorical and sculptural qualities of tourist and recreational travel in the west. It is an exploration of how a sense of place, and more specifically, travel though space is fundamental to experiencing the American West.
In addition to the robust history (and industry) of recreational travel in the west (think motorcycle tourism/ATVs/hunting/national parks/wilderness backpacking/roadtripping), there is a strong literary tradition that ties landscape travel to American identity. This tradition ranges from books like Blood Meridian and The Road by Cormack McCarthy to Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and On The Road by Kerouac, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abby and the list could go on and on. It also includes immigration narratives by lots of people from the Navajo to John Winthrop to Brigham Young to the current wave of Latino immigration.
It is central to my thesis that a reason our literature and recreation so often center around travel in the landscape is because of a ritualization of a romantic relationship we have to founding/pioneering-related travel of the past. When we visit national parks we are ritualizing manifest destiny.
I also have a personal relationship to that historical travel. I have over 60 ancestors who walked the Mormon Trail from Winter Quarters, NE to Salt Lake City, UT. That trail overlaps significantly with the Oregon Trail of video game lore, the Lewis and Clark blazed trail, and the trail used to populate California during the Gold Rush. Among those ancestors is James Morgan Bateman, my namesake and first in a line of six James Batemans of which I am the last (James Adam Bateman). James Morgan was born outside of Nauvoo and lived in Winter Quarters for a couple years then crossed the plains as a child with his father Thomas and mother Mary Street Bateman.
An effect of our ritualization of landscape travel is a romanticization of past landscape travel and mythologies are built up from the nostalgia surrounding those heroic feats. Part of my intention with this action is to de-mythologize previous travels—to reduce them to actions instead of mythologies.