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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008
    The vagrant and the pilgrim on the M62
    Paul generously dropped me an email today to introduce me to the work of Shaeron Caton-Rose, an artist who sited a series of 'wayside shrines', one at each service station along the M62, in 2005. Her website features pictures of these and a video piece 'documenting the journey from Hull to Liverpool, and vice versa, stopping at each service station to view the shrines along the way'.

    It was W.H. Davies, in his poem Leisure, who created the lines, 'What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?' Davies was a vagabond writer, whose books described his shambolic journey through a life of extreme and intentional squalour. Interesting, then, that Shaeron chooses Davies's words as her signature phrase as she hopes 'to highlight' [to motorway travellers] 'the need for space and time out that busy contemporary schedules such as the need to get from a to b as quickly as possible, do not always allow for'. And so an interesting tension emerges in her project: the tension between the traveller-as-vagrant and the traveller-as-pilgrim.

    Of these travellers the former, epitomised by the self-proclaimed 'super-tramp' Davies, makes a virtue of excessive leisure, spends plenty of time in loitering, turns stopping into an art form. The latter only stops for a reason, to take 'time out' to visit the shrine. It's a devotional reason as it happens but it makes the pilgrim's journey look very like any other contemporary motorway traveller's, ie, 'a need to get from a to b' [from shrine to shrine] 'as quickly as possible', stopping at the service stations for some form of respite.

    Shaeron's video reinforces this idea, as she fast-forwards the road journey and slows the frames down as the traveller approaches each service station, the camera coming to rest at the shrine installed there. Accompanying the rapidly-moving road images is an ear-splitting squeal of speeded-up digital motorway sound; by contrast the shrines rest in silence. Shaeron has opted to convey a very particular type of pilgrimage - one which is concerned solely with marker-posts and arrival-points. The journey itself is subordinate, it lacks significance, it is subsumed into the story of the shrines.

    So at these shrines the pilgrim claims the vagrant's perspective, but is aligned with the contemporary motorist in the rush from a to b. Maybe it's not a tension. Maybe it's a fascinating connection. It'll be interesting to hear from Shaeron what people on the road said they experienced at her shrines.