In search of In Search of the Miraculous
In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles) (1973) is a series of fourteen photographs documenting artist Bas Jan Ader’s walk into the LA night. It was the first part of a proposed three part project, which culminated in Ader being lost at sea attempting to undertake a solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1975. Both works engage with romantic notions of the sublime and reference German Romantic painting, a formal category I have linked to contemporary video games and vestiges of romanticism in the digital/virtual.
The often indistinct, occasionally banal images that constitute In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles) have a spectral, mysterious quality heightened by the shadow cast by later events; a man walks alone into the night, and eventually the sea. However, the pathos of the images is disturbed by the inclusion of pop lyrics and there is a tragic humour in much of Ader’s work that alludes to the silent cinema of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
In Search of In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles) is an ongoing, online collaborative attempt to map Bas Jan Ader’s walk that night in 1973. I created a thread on the social network reddit and its subreddit /r/whereisthis with links to selected images from the work and a request to help identify the locations. Members of the reddit community have taken up the challenge and, using Google Maps and Google Earth, been able to identify locations in the images from the most indistinct details – an illegible freeway sign in the distance, the positions of buildings on the horizon, etc.
This work, like Ader’s, comes in three parts. The first is the reddit thread and materials contributed by the whereisthis community. The second is a series of composite images bringing together Ader’s photos and contemporary digital images from Google Maps and Google Earth, and also an online map of all the locations and likely route. The third part will be a full approximation of Ader’s walk, but this time located in Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos, a virtual facsimile of Los Angeles. The work is concerned with notions of authenticity, particularly narratives in art history, digital travel and cartography.
Mapped locations and distance
The three locations I’ve been able to identify so far are:
The shortest distance between these points, as the crow flies, is close to 50km. Considering the number of locations photographed for In Search Of The Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles), it seems inconceivable that the documented walk took place over one night, as I had always assumed. Hence, the walk becomes even more constructed and illusory, which is perhaps appropriate given that it traversed Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills.
Perhaps naively, I have always primarily located Ader’s work in relation to notions of the sublime, romantic and the tragi-comic or absurd. Evidently, there is a much stronger emphasis on how art (or any medium) apprehends, constructs and mediates experience. The axis from which I view his entire body of work has shifted to an oblique angle where my assumptions about its emotional candour are no longer reliable.
In a sense, I feel like I have just ‘got’ his work, and it raises some interesting questions about the second part of In Search of The Miraculous.