12-channel video installation
May Gallery, New Orleans, LA
“Trail Magic” is a phenomenon which expresses itself on long-distance pilgrimages during moments of synchronicity or good fortune. In the gross realm: Trail Angels, altruistic trail guardians, offer Trail Magic to pilgrims in the form of consumables (food, medicine, alcohol) or services (rides, beds, showers) throughout their journey.
On the Appalachian Trail, the act of bypassing sections of trail is known as yellow blazing.
Greber’s immersive exhibition at May gallery reflects an interest in—or desire to bypass—lengthy spiritual or literal pilgrimages as a catalyst for inner growth or easy satisfaction. Dave’s exhibition at May will conflate the common human desires—which are at odds with one another—of inner growth and immediate gratification. His recent completion, and occasional yellow blazing of the Appalachian Trail has lead him to study and employ traditional labyrinth forms in juxtaposition with pop-culture’s dimensionless, ephemeral, but immediate trappings of satisfaction.
-May Press release, 2016
Trail Magique: a reflection
We had been waiting for hours. On the sandy shoulder of an empty highway, working on a hitch up to the trailhead so we could find a place to sleep before dark. My wife picked up a stick and started doodling in the sand to pass the time. She drew a head with a long neck. “Are you drawing a bird?” she nodded. “What kind of bird is that? “An owl?” She drew long legs. “A loon?” She shook her head. “It’s a flamingo.” “A flamingo? Why would you draw a flamingo?” Just then a minivan skidded up, and slid the side door open. Five raucous middle aged women, demanded we squeeze in. We did. They asked us our names and where we were from, we told them: AHNX and Caramello from New Orleans. One them took a picture of us with a pink cell phone. We asked them if they were from around here and they said “Yeah we have a little camp up the road. Camp Flamingo.” They were all wearing pink. I got chills. Caramello had summoned the flamingo women to come retrieve us. OMJesus.
That was a truly great example of Trail Magic, a phenomenon which expresses itself on long-distance pilgrimages during moments of synchronicity or good fortune, but this sort of thing happened to us all of the time. Everyday while we on our journey from Georgia to Maine on the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail, we experienced the interconnectedness of life so powerfully. We came to expect this sort of thing to happen.
Why doesn’t regular life work like this? Actually, I think it does, but we can’t pay enough attention to it. On a long, quiet journey, the dirt under your feet, every conversation you have, and the synchronicities that occur: their meaning is enhanced, richer. It’s really how we should treat every moment of our lives, whether we are on a pilgrimage or not: as precious and magical. But on a pilgrimage you just have more time to reflect and evaluate the symbolic significance of everything that happens to you. You are also more flexible to pursue whims and explore your intuition than in “normal” life. You can let the natural magnetism digest you. You can go with the flow.
Also, to go on a pilgrimage one sets an inherent expectation that evolution will occur within one’s self. To anticipate what exactly what the change will be is foolish, but some sort of change is inevitable when you put yourself through a ritualized adventure with an emphasis on transformation. Whether you believe it’s the cause of magic, hypnosis, the law of attraction, behaviorism, or God/Devil, the truth remains: if you repeatedly tell yourself that something is “very important,” it will be so.
I experienced this vividly on my thru-hike. Everyday I would say to myself, “you have finally made it to the important part of you life. The time you get to walk all day, breathe, heal and change through nature.” The Japanese call this Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” A practice which is said to decrease stress, elevate natural mood and strengthen your immune system. Sometimes I would intuitively bless the trees back. It made me laugh, but I felt like they were asking me to.
But not only were the trees and animals which were healing points of focus. The trail itself is a collaboration between man and environment which aims to bring the two closer together, without compromising the right-to-exist of either. Most man-made sites offer some sort of service to the pilgrim. Like privies and bear cables, they are not pretty, but they are beautiful in function to ease the friction between civilized man and nature.
The Appalachian Trail itself is a narrow path, very much the vision of man. It runs through the woods, over mountains, and through small towns, and is never the easiest way from A to B, never flat, never straight. There are occasionally signs which will point you in the correct direction, but mostly, your journey is guided by white 2” x 6” blazes painted on trees, rocks, streets, signs, fence posts… whatever material can be painted on. To do the trail “properly” one must follow the white blazes. It is the authority and it knows best. If you are pure, and only follow the white blazes, you will be rewarded with a lifetime reward of accomplishment. If you cheat, you are cheating yourself and you will lose the respect of your peers and the trail itself.
The trail is linear: one correct way in which to walk for 2,200 miles. But, I would argue that the sphere of influence the trail extends about 15 miles on either side down the ridge. A.T. Hikers are not self-sufficient by any means. They need to re-enter civilization to get supplies, medical attention, a phone charge, about once a week. There are additional paths, literal and metaphorical, which one can leave and return to the trail.
In trail lingo: white blaze is to be focused and disciplined on your path whereas to yellow blaze is to be nihilistic and defiant. We met a group who had been yellow blazing for a month because they had been smoking too much hash oil to walk. One of the major temptations of yellow blazing is that there are many wonderful hiker support systems that can act as an enabler, if you find out that you don't have the desire to hike at all. You can still “do the trail” without walking. Hitching is easy and you could spend 6 months island hopping between between little trail communities partying with the suckers who are actually hiking.
When Caramello and I began our thru-hike, we didn’t know if we were purists or not. We started out that way (I guess everyone does), but it didn’t take long for us to find ourselves in a situation that we had to ask “what kind of people are we?” A man was giving us a ride back to the trailhead, after we purchased some supplies. He said “Where do you want me to bring you back to? The spot where you got off, or a mile north, where the trail crosses again?” I we looked at each other, both afraid to be the first one to back down from a challenge, but both equally giddy at the prospect of skipping a mile. The idea was so deliciously mischievous. We had to whisper about it because we didn’t want to be judged by the man driving (or each other). We sheepishly defended ourselves: Maybe it’s not the end of the world to skip that mile, I mean, we’ve walked plenty of extra miles in town, and the approach trail was 8 miles so, really we have a bank of spare miles to draw from. We can probably do it when we drive back down in October, if we feel like it”
And that’s how it started. We were now yellow blazers. Our purity had been corrupted.
My challenge in creating an exhibit around this, was one that which could bring back the gifts that I received while on my journey to the other side. So I made the exhibit in language that I consider universal, which is an area of public space, where the guest is invited to interface with the artwork in a physical way.
Instead of writing a script, as I often do, I composed a panel to discuss the ideas that I was interested in. Maybe a more democratic approach to understanding ideas? I asked questions that which pertained to each station and let the participants respond however they chose. I then edited together almost everything they said, almost randomly. Then I used Youtube’s automated closed captioning to create the captions, which creates many errors and combinations of sentences
I don’t fully understand this project, but I feel great about it. I feel like that mystery gives it power. But if any of you have any insight, I would love to hear it. I can explain the “hows” and you can help me with the “whys”?
A panel was constructed as part of my “Trail Magique” (2016) exhibition. I wanted an authority figure to explain the exhibit, in the form of CRT TVs, suspended throughout. Instead of writing a script, as I usually do, my “host by committee” created the content of the videos by answering pre-determined questions connected to the themes of the exhibition.
Every panel-member answered differently. I took their answers and edited them together to create a linearly pleasing dialogue, which gives the audience context in which to better understand the sculptural elements, in which they are encountering. I didn’t want the questions I as asking to be self-evident to the viewer. The original videos were optimized for the resolution of a CRT television. This internet-specific video is a composite of the original SD video and an ambient, digital, HD frame.
The featured Trail Magique Host Panel:
Phil Rached, Rajko Radvanović, Alison Radvanović, David Little, Kezia Kamenetz, Mario Padilla, John Isiah Walton, Imani Brown, Roel Miranda, Jennifer Aguiluz, Felix Aguiluz, Alex Yazigi
Cleansing transitional thresholds. I asked my panel about the sanitising stations outside of grocery stores and their feelings when passing through airport security.
I asked my panel about going viral. How many likes does it take to satisfy us?. A never ending stream of likes might actually not be enough.
I asked my panel how they feel when their phone is dying and how they feel when they can plug it in again.
The panel speaks about how it feels to unburden themselves.
The panel talks about boundaries and how to engage with them.
The 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail is itself a secular pilgrimage. But like the many global religion-based pilgrimages, the Trail is a network of trails created by nature and the collective experience of its travelers. Over time, sites develop significance as the recorded and oral documentation of past experiences pollinate the narrative of the journey. Places take on legendary personality and symbolic relationships to the pilgrims.
My friend Shimmy and I were sitting on a log, on the side of the trail, talking about the state of the world. We were having a conversation about how people that do the work of violent corporations/weapons manufacturers, should be held accountable for their actions, even if they are just cogs in the machine. I started saying how “it was everyone, everyone contributes to this system…” As I was talking an older hiker, whom I knew nothing about, was about to pass us. I stopped him and said “excuse me, Sir, you work for Lockheed Martin, right?” He said, “Well, I just retired actually, I worked there for 35 years! Did you guys work for Lockheed, too?” I was shocked that I psychically called this guy out, but also not surprised, at all. I said, “No we don’t work for Lockheed Martin, we are just a couple of hippies.” And he looked at us very confused. How the hell did I know that about him?