In 2017 and 2018 Patrick Beaulieu set out to find The Forgotten Road, a fictional destination located beyond the reach of a map. Accompanied by Alexis Pernet, a geographer and landscape architect, their journey began in Lost City, Oklahoma, a point of departure that intimates loss from the start. Driving a 1977 Dodge campervan called EL PERDIDO, they mapped their trajectory through encounters with strangers who gave them directions along the way. El Perdido, which translates to ‘the lost,’ provides the project with its title and thesis statement. By deliberately engaging in what Pernet calls a process of disorientation, the pair chose to rely on chance and intuition in their search for a place that does not exist. Their journey led them through small-town America and ended 3000 miles away in Mexico City.
The material Beaulieu collected over the course of two summers resulted in EL PERDIDO (2018-2019), a series of works that include installations, videos, photographs, geopoetic maps and journal entries. In a set of digital prints called Signs of Disorientation (2018), the artist photographs the decay of forgotten places. Road signs hang upside down or point the wrong way. Billboards tower over viewers, displaying a palimpsest of images accumulated over the years. Marked by the passage of time, they stand as modern-day ruins, somewhere between here and there, or in this case – nowhere. Pernet’s diary entries paint a slightly different picture. His poetic prose gives Lost City a Lynchian feel. Far from an idyllic, small-town life, Lost City has a touch of the uncanny, with locals reclining in lawn chairs to stare into the sun, and drifters cackling while high on crystal meth. People seem scarce in a world changing rapidly around them, just beyond the city limits.
EL PERDIDO hints at paradigm shifts brought on by new technologies in modes of knowing, mapping, and moving in and around the world during the digital era. In Nulle Part (2016), unassuming guides gesture and point in different directions. Shot from above to protect people’s privacy and projected without sound, the silence in the video refers to what Pernet calls “the absence of a reply to an impossible question.” From Lost City, a real place that has fallen off the map, to The Forgotten Road, a fictional destination that remains “a blank that Google Maps cannot fill,” Beaulieu chooses to engage in alternative modes of travel. Described by the artist as a performative excursion, the work builds on Nicolas Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics and highlights the interrelationship between human beings and their environment.
While Beaulieu’s earlier projects focus on natural phenomena, EL PERDIDO hinges on his interaction with people, who become an integral part of the work. The added human element raises questions about discourses on mobility, from privileged forms of travel to displacement and exile. What does it mean for an artist to cross into Mexico when the international refugee crisis and debates over the Mexican border have dominated discussions on migration in recent years? Bearing in mind the contentious histories of some of these sites (Lost City is located in Cherokee County), Beaulieu’s performance takes on a different meaning and enacts border-crossings that are as transgressive as they are disorienting.
This exhibition is presented as part of the satellite program of the 16th edition of MOMENTA | Biennale de l’image, and it is accompanied by the book launch of EL PERDIDO by Patrick Beaulieu with Alexis Pernet (Graphic Design: FEED).