Showing posts with label Patrick Beaulieu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Patrick Beaulieu. Show all posts

13 September 2015

Translation: The Art of Drift

This article by Catherine Lalonde was originally published on Le Devoir on August 10, 2015 in French.

Patrick Beaulieu let himself float from the Missisquoi to New York following the water’s flow.

In his projects, he has already followed the American winds (Ventury, 2010), the migration of monarch butterflies (Monarch Vector, 2007), and chance, Vegas-style, leaving it all up to the roulette (Vegas, 2012). For the artist Patrick Beaulieu, the loss of control, abandon, the effacement of will before hazard and the forces of nature are like daily bread and the yeast of creation.  

In 2014, the visual artist, who devotes himself to these “performative trajectories,” dove into another improbable tour with “Meander” in his Yakaty Yak — his hand-made, cedar kayak — leaving from the source of the Missisquoi River for New York. For 30 days, he followed the flow of the water in this mythical maritime route, paddling as little as possible. A conversation with a man who literally practices the art of drift.

Let’s say he practices road art with this very American, continental fibre, which gives rise to road movies or road novels for others. Scaled back Odysseys, played out over one month rather than Ulysses-style; Patrick Beaulieu likes “the probation,” the “poetic motive and the principle,” which he respects to the letter, the meetings, and the “desire to then give back the experience, sharing it with a body of works.”  

[He also likes] crossing borders, the leitmotif of his journeys. “Crossing borders with such dubious, impalpable motives, it’s an adventure in itself,” says the traveling artist all smiles. “Border officials cannot put you into the tourist or traveller box — work papers required — nor the visitor box. You are a poet, and they don’t know what to do with you. These are hours of interrogation: every time, I speak to border agents about research, exploration. I want to really tell them what I am going to do, even when faced with their coldness. It’s not a good experience to go through. But I am neither illegal nor dangerous, just incomprehensible to them.”

During “Meander,” crossing checkpoints was more fluid, with the border agents associating the kayaker with an athletic aesthetic.

From Silver Lake to the Big Apple

This time, Patrick Beaulieu wanted to depart from the source of the Missisquoi River — mythical from the very first drops of water — and to the water’s slow rhythm jaunt from Silver Lake all the way to the Big Apple.

[He chose] the Missisquoi because it’s of its intimate landscapes — where he lives — but also “because for First Nations, it has been a navigation vector for a long time, allowing them to get to Maine through Lake Memphrémagog, portage to portage. And because it’s an alternative current, which runs very slow and allows for getting to one of the biggest metropolises of the continent, starting from the backyard here at home … It criss-crosses the meanders of Vermont, arriving to Lake Champlain, through which you can get to the Hudson River and the Atlantic to New York.”

A Story about Water

“The extreme slowness of being adrift is really a shock at first,” recalls Patrick Beaulieu. “But after a few days, you realize that you have access to subtleties that would normally escape you. On a kayak, you are at eye level with the water: you have access to small reflections, quick changes, the noise of surfing on the surface.” Through a fixed camera, the artist filmed a series of short videos, his points of confluence, the key moments of his contemplation, letting the current frame his images.

During his downward journey, forces that amplified over time emerged. “It’s very difficult to navigate on Lake Champlain with a small boat. The winds change every second, seven-foot waves can suddenly appear when you were just [drifting] on a mirror. This bodily fight against the forces … it’s something else. Then the tides came from Albany, and I had to adapt myself to them.”

He departed in July 2014 with his iPhone as the only form of technology, interfering the least with a natural pathway, sleeping on his hammock or motels that were not too far from the banks, accepting the forced contemplation, collecting videos, looking for meetings, stopping in marinas — natural access points — and visiting with the wealthy, who were very wealthy but not so free that he would not rub shoulders with them otherwise, Beaulieu arrived 30 days later, in tears, exhausted, under Manhattan Bridge, alone in the backwash of urban noise and the feeling of accomplishment. 

Waves of Emotions

“I experienced three states of water that were very different from one another: first as a solitary person in nature, somewhere wild, with calm, silence, slowness, humidity; then, during the second chapter of the journey, in the landlocked sea that is Lake Champlain, it was the arrival of uncontrollable forces, an extreme, but terrifying beauty — like the storm that is coming. Then, on the Hudson, during the last chapter, it was the influence of the large city that was appearing, rubbing shoulders with pollutants, nuclear power plants, hydro-electric plants, also tides … I even crossed an abandoned factory …”

He also experienced swaying, unstoppable after 8 to 10 hours spent before drifting, regardless of firm ground under his feet. “You continue to feel the wave that pulls you back from behind, and you catch your balance. After two or three beers, it’s really a trip …”   

“Meander,” the exhibit, will be presented at Pacific Sky in Oregon next fall, and at the Art Mur Gallery in Montreal in winter of 2016. Images and videos will be on display, but we will also hear, says the artist, audio tracks of extracts of the advice he received during his journey. “I remember a bluesman, who came to see me at last call, who told me, ‘Remember: keep your head above the muddy water.’ Or all of those ‘Water under the bridge’-s … I collect them.”

An year later, Patrick Beaulieu remains touched by the experience — full. “What I learned are the preciousness of slowness and the state of abandon, very difficult states to attain in our professional lives and through the choices we make. Making contact with them, it reminds us of the regenerating force. It recalls the importance of a fine degree of attention that we forget.”