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 of the so-called ‘New South’ was the rise of the interstate system. The explosive growth of the region was shaped by the interstates in the form of shopping malls, subdivisions, and the abandonment of the cities. For the privileged, the interstate became synonymous with progress, prosperity, and modernity. For me personally, the interstate came to symbolize liberation from a limiting and restrictive culture in rural Georgia and transformation from the confines of childhood to the independence of adulthood.
As a child, my father left each Monday morning to visit clients, the new industries springing up throughout the Southeast along those new interstates and did not return Friday afternoon. Our visits to relatives always included a stint on Interstate 85 and every summer vacation destination was reached via interstates. As I grew to be a teenager, I saw the interstate as a way out of our small town and I spent many restless nights driving toward Atlanta, pretending I was on my way.
As an adult, I found myself returning to the interstate in times of uncertainty and emotional distress, seeking the kind of introspection a long journey in the private space of my car offered. Bardo is a Tibetan term, meaning ‘the space between’, usually the space between death and rebirth. I find driving on the interstate to be a kind of bardo. 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 this most common mode of modern travel, I feel I step outside the confines of time and space. In such a place, I can drop out of the narrative of my life and lose myself in an internal journey of contemplation and introspection. This is the aspect of the interstate that I’m exploring in my project – the unique opportunity offered by a drive on the interstate to disconnect from demands on our attention and engage with our internal life instead.