STOCKHOLM- ISTANBUL :a paddle trip through the Baltic, Danube and the Black Sea.
Istanbul and Tirana Biennial 2003

I have been interested in finding ways to shape ongoing processes and social relationships in relation to time and geography. Paddling between Stockholm and Istanbul can be seen as a gesture intended to express an idea. An interest to experience a physical reality that we are often lacking today, becoming more and more passive observers. In contemporary society optical illusion is converted to reality, capital to images, and escapist endeavours dominate. An attempt at a mobile perspective,becoming a mobile subject, on how we live and occupy space. 



Paddle nearly 5 000 kilometers from Stockholm to Istanbul … could it be possible? Could it possibly be a work of art? A year of preparation: physical training, planning, measuring out the itinerary across the Baltic, along the Oder, Danube and the over the Black Sea. Studies, flights of fancy and a burgeoning library grew like singular corals around the route. Before is the tense that constructs the journey, allowing free scope for philosophical speculation, ethnographic and geopolitical hypothesis. Before took shape in an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Stockholm with maps, photographs, a model of a kayak and, of course, a shelf of books – Conrad, Magris, Castell, Foucault, Virilio …

It was raining as they set out. The first weeks along the eastern Swedish coast was into a constant headwind. Bodies ached, and every night pure exhaustion brought Homeric sleep. Days were filled with routines, endless paddling, stowing gear, making camp, cooking and sometimes idle waiting for the weather to improve or a border control. Such physical closeness to the physical Europe, no longer an abstraction or a simulacrum but the subject of myopic phenomenological scrutiny from bodies in motion. Borders were crossed – were they lines drawn arbitrarily on a map, did they correspond to natural changes in the topography or delimit fictitious national identities?  They encountered villages beyond modernity, curiosity and suspicion, unstinting hospitality and violence. In this arduous performance finally they experienced the feeling of merely being, of existing. And the relationship between the two of them took on a stark reality, so close to each other in the kayak for day after day of friendship, irritation and dependence. After nearly three months they arrived in Istanbul, the destination of their post-modern pilgrimage where east and west, north and south merge into a seething heterotopy.

After: an exhibition that resembles Before. As in a museum, a terse, down-to-earth presentation is offered of a fantastic journey. It did take place – and at the same time new layers of reflection and fiction flourish around the actual journey in those sharing in the exhibition: in us and in the travellers themselves.

                                                            Peter Cornell