The Seventh Bardo, features portraits and landscapes shot entirely while driving on American interstates. This not a documentary work, but a conceptual project that presents the interstate as a unique liminal space where we can step outside of time and geography, pausing our lives for an introspective journey inward or staying in the eternal moment.
I grew up in the Southeastern cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia during the 70’s, a time of major transformations in that region. One of the driving forces of change in the so-called ‘New South’ was the rise of the interstate system. Enabled by air conditioning and structured around interstates, the explosive growth of the region produced shopping malls, chain restaurants, subdivisions and new industries that all grew along the new highways like crystals on a string. For the privileged, the interstate became synonymous with progress, prosperity, and modernity. For me personally, the interstate came to symbolize liberation and a way out of a culturally meager small town outside of Atlanta and more than once I circled the city on I285, calming my teenage angst.
As an adult, I found myself returning to the interstate in times of uncertainty, seeking the kind of introspection that I could only find on a long journey through its empty landscapes. The sealed environment of our cars, the high speed of travel, and the limited access of the interstate itself, all serve to separate us from our fellow travelers and the landscape we traverse. In such a place, I can let go of demands on my attention and just be: with the thrill of speed and my forward momentum, with the intimate dramas I witness in other cars, or with an internal journey of contemplation and reflection. On the interstate, I feel I step outside the confines of time and space and hang suspended indefinitely between where I was and where I will be. The project is titled The Seventh Bardo because ‘Bardo’ is the word that best describes my experience my experience of this liminal space. The term’s origin is Tibetan and translates literally to “a space in-between.” There are six bardos total but most often the term refers to the state of existence after death but before rebirth. What differentiates a bardo from a liminal space is that they are a place of transition and in transition is the opportunity for transformation.
Exhibitions begin with a landscape to set the emotional tone for the viewer. The landscapes are printed 40”x60”, large enough to feel monumental and immersive. Blurred scenes of highway structures and views are familiar yet other-worldly, signaling that this is not a literal description of a specific geography. After the initial encounter, the landscapes appear singly in between groups of portraits allowing the exhibition to unfold just as a journey on the interstate does; you pass few cars then your attention drifts to the landscape, and then it returns to fellow travelers.