Thursday, 28 October 2010

‘U.S.80 Exotic County’ – Let No Man Come Back Alive

Having recently posted something on Found 0bjects about Left London, their previous collaboration, now seems like a good moment to take a look at the latest offering from photographers Alexander Shields and William Eckersley to be published by Stucco Press. U.S. 80 Exotic Country follows a ragged route across America from Savannah in Georgia to San Diego in California: the first human highway to stretch from coast to coast and restlessly trafficking in people guns, drugs and gold – which is to say, history – for almost a century now. So what defines Exotic Country here? What fences it off? Separates the domestic from the alien? It’s a certain sense of isolation that arises when the energies of conquest and exploration have spent themselves across distance – the great push West is also towards exhaustion.

After the enclosed interior spaces of Left London come the wide open horizons of U.S. 80 – to pretty much the same disturbing effect. Once again Shields and Eckersley show great sensitivity for the abandoned and empty sapces – be they motel rooms or shacks, museums or concert halls, superhighways or parking courts. The civic search for the institutions of public life reveals only chaos, while the mythological search for a better life wears space down to nothing. Ruins multiply much more effectively in the open air.

The most startling feature about their newest collaboration are the portraits Shields and Eckersley present of individual people – holding handguns to their heads, hawking refund loans, carrying skateboards or simply standing around looking sharp. I was particularly surprised to discover one of my former students pictured among their number, sporting a repeating rifle and a shadowy mass of stubble and standing outside a California shack, looking a lot less lost than I remember him. I hope he will always remain that way. Order details for the book can be found by clicking here.

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