A CentralTrak Conversation With Diane Durant

Interview By Shawn Mayer

Artist Diane Durant took an 18-day road trip. What she brought back,and she brought back quite a lot, is currently being displayed in CentralTrak's main gallery. I spoke with her about her work and her current exhibition Between Cool and Here:

The road trip could be considered a uniquely American experience. It’s obviously important to you.  The American road story is the subject of your doctoral research.  What exactly draws you to the “open road”?

Driving itself is a very American notion, our emphasis on automobiles and automobility. Whether it's for the experience, to clear our heads, the feelings of freedom and adventure, or the wind in our hair, as a people, we are eager to get in the car and go. It's even part of our ancestral heritage, if you think about it: we've been always been exploring and moving in one way or another, and west, especially.

Many artists have used the road as a way to interpret what it means to live in America. You’ve specifically mentioned Jack Kerouac in your artist statement. What other artists, writers, etc. have influenced your doctoral work?

Kerouac and "On the Road" seem to be a given, but I was also looking at the road-trippers that came after Kerouac and the Beats, namely Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Hunter S. Thompson, guys who were especially interested in emphasizing and documenting their experience. Early documentary photographers like Walker Evans and Robert Frank were influential in my use of the camera to record the countryside and the people. Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore, and even Peter Brown, shaped my perception of the roadbook as an archive and really challenged my understanding of the road as a narrative. And I can't get too far without mentioning Vernon Fisher, whose work with image and text created an entirely new perspective for me when it came to the blending of storytelling and documentation, of image and text and myth and truth.

Your route on this trip took you through Cool, Texas; Cool, California; and Cool, Iowa.  I’m sure you visited many other random and wild destinations, but what originally, and forgive the pun here, drove you to settle on Cool? 

I googled. I'd been documenting Parker County for years, and a city named Cool is in far west Parker County. I grew up on the eastern side of Parker County, so the phrase "between here and Cool" was a literal place to me. It was measurable in miles. But I knew that I needed to go beyond that, step outside of my comfort zone, and even leave "home." So I googled. UTD was taking applications for graduate student research and I thought, why not? If there were other cities named Cool, I could go there and document the similarities and difference, and all of the American Dream in-between. The spirit of "between here and Cool" could become the Great American Road Trip, and that's just what it was. Eighteen days of driving and photographing and collecting, with all of the mishaps and misadventures you would expect from the road, flat tire and speeding ticket and all.

What was the coolest Cool: Texas, California, or Iowa?

Cool, Texas. My heart belongs to Texas…

 

Between Here and Cool is distinctly different from many shows in that it is not merely made up of photographs from your journey.  It is also filled with artifacts, memorabilia, and poetry. It appears that you are attempting to archive everything you encountered during your trip. Can you further explain this?

In short, I want to tell a complete story. Theoretically, the photograph is evidence, proof that what's depicted actually happened before the camera. And my trip was all about documenting my experience. But there was more to my experience than a photograph could sometimes capture. Some photographs were impossible. Understanding those limitations, there were times when an almost diary-like confessional was all I could do to "capture" the moment. Those writings, and some of the longer narrative excerpts from my road story, are on display to complement the photographic information. Like Ed Ruscha, I kept a logbook while I was traveling, and that's on display in the show, too, because it's proof of my experience as much as anything else, and why wouldn't I want the viewer to see it all? On road trips, junk accumulates, whether it's receipts, or corn chip bags, or empty cups. And then you buy souvenirs—more proof that you were “there.” For Between Here and Cool, the proof is the art.

You are going to be having a poetry reading here at CentralTrak this week. Can you tell us a bit about what to expect?

I will be reading some of my short writings from my trip that are included in the exhibition, as well as my own poetry, along with two former Texas Poets Laureate, Karla K. Morton and Alan Birkelbach. I am honored that they agreed to read with me. It will be a good time, I promise.

Finally, how do you feel about GPS? Or would you much rather go for something more tangible and analog like a map? Personally, I like to navigate by way of celestial bodies.  

I appreciate a good map, but on my trip I also consulted my phone and the app "The Best Roadtrip Ever" pretty frequently. I had to get from Point A to Point B to Point C rather efficiently given my schedule, so I did use a GPS, too. When somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, the voice changed from male to female, I named her Miranda and didn't feel so alone.

Between Here and Cool will be on display until July 27th. The poetry reading takes place this Thursday, July 25th, from 7pm-9pm at CentralTrak.

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