I don’t know where to start with Paul Kwiatkowski’s new online photography series ‘Eat, Prey, Drug’. Its inexplicable. Its form is both intoxicating and deranged, a maniacal road trip through America, a psychological journey that takes us into a heart of darkness at the bottom of a dream, into a place that seems to be lost, scrabbling around for meaning in a country that has come to represent the epitome of materialism, a supreme capitalist state that has lost all sense of itself.
I’m not American yet the USA is a country that has informed my cultural life and intellectual curiosity for decades. Its literature, art, films and TV have influenced me beyond measure. Its richness, madness and capacity to enlighten is extraordinary. It’s a country of vast differences that has grown up with a self made history. Perhaps this is what makes the country so fascinating, so beguiling, makes me want to explore every fissure that opens upon its plastic surface. It doesn’t have the weight of history thrust upon it, it has nothing to shoulder. It is also a country undergoing great change. While the 20th Century can be seen to be the epitome of American culture the 21st has seen it flounder. We no longer look to America for guidance rather we look at and see the fall of capitalism, the tyranny of wealth and the military industrial complex, the failure of democracy and the homogeneity of culture.
Yet beneath this blanket of ubiquity there remains a indolence, a capacity to change and a disarming openness that has always underpinned its greatness. And this is where I introduce you to Paul Kwiatkowski. Earlier on this year I came across one of the most remarkable series of photographs I’ve ever seen called ‘And Everyday Was Overcast’. It’s Kwiatkowski’s record of a life that cannot be returned to, a world that cannot exist in a digital dictatorship. In the dying embers of the millennium there was space for chaos to play, to create, to express, to emerge out of.
Like Kwiatkowski the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were a defining period for me, I had left school, was in art college, being swept along by seismic events, actions and moments that were happening across the world. This expression had its roots in America; in music, literature, film, art and protest. All of it a scream against the system, a rage that was fuelled by injustice, inequality and the desperate need for independent thought. However it was an anger that was soon subsumed by marketing executives and repackaged and sold back to us a pup. A bland facsimile of what we felt. That was the beginning. These days that psychedelic recklessness seems innocent in the wake of Google, increased surveillance, the rise of political extremism and the re-appropriation of our lives by corporations who make their billions with our data.
Enter into the fray ‘Eat Pray Love’. A road trip that takes us across the plains of America and into the strange fucked up lives of the people Kwiatkowski comes across while contemplating his own sense of his country, of where he’s been. Where he’s going too. It is a mash up of text, photography and video. An immersive project that draws on a early 1990s aesthetic to inform us of the present. It remains a psychic trip. Its philosophical stream of consciousness flows into the outer reaches of the mind and questions everything we see, take for granted. Know. Understand. It’s a project you really need to see for ourself. My short riff on it doesn’t do it justice. Its an open book, a strange Lynchian story that touches on the stimulating magic of the America story while remonstrating on its sense of self in the 21st Century.
Kwiatkowski sent me some excerpts form the project. It’s divided into eight parts of which only five are completed. It’s a road trip like no other. It is the story of an artist with a truly original voice. A startling vision of a country he’s in love with despite its shortcomings. I for one would love to be in the passenger seat for this journey. If only to tap into the deep emotional connections that Kwiatkowski makes along the way. Here’s how he describes the project:
Eat Prey Drug began as a cross-country assignment to investigate alternate perceptions of consciousness, but quickly derailed into a series of fever dreams. Reporting on consciousness in a traditional sense is difficult because it’s like staring into a one-way mirror: You keep seeing yourself when what you’re really looking for is behind the glass.
Below I’ve added in some of the excerpts he sent me. I include them as bait. They’ll make you want to read more, see more.
I escaped the polar vortex by replacing it with another vortex: Los Angeles. I burned through winter in L.A., where — compared to the silvery winter of New York, with its edges like crumpled aluminium — it instead felt like being inside a sunny defunct fridge. The blocky pastel storefronts were all stained, and even the new things were rotting. Coming from Florida, I thrived. I liked that L.A. was all at once seedier, cleaner and dirtier than Miami.
During the final month of my stay, two earthquakes happened. The first one rattled me awake at 5 A.M. I was asleep in my apartment when a surge jolted my eyes open. Outside, the patio floor separated from the house. A crack ran down the wall from the ceiling to the tile. It was much less dramatic than I imagined a 5.4-magnitude earthquake would be. I didn’t feel the second one or the aftershocks. Back East, my friends joked that if stayed in L.A. any longer, this would be the year that the city finally broke away from California.
Kelly moved to Portland from West Virginia via New York to be with a guy who dumped her for opiates. Kelly was what adults acted like when they played doctor too much as children. Kelly was fun.
I was driving through Idaho, aware of traffic and my relation to it at the speed the car was travelling, but, really, I was someplace else. There’s a weird harmony that happens when your thoughts proceed at the same pace as your ride. I hadn’t had a dream — waking or lucid — since Los Angeles; the ability to conjure up sub-conscious scenarios had been rattled out of me. Instead, there were now drugged-out hallucinations that bled across memories. I’d been fucked up enough times to recognize that this was the good feeling before the bad one set in.
Thus far on my road trip and into my assignment, the only absolute I’d reached was that we’ll never have direct access to reality. We don’t exist outside of ourselves. We’re born having no knowledge about consciousness; it’s something we become aware of through science, images, language, interaction and experience. Most of it is determined through culture and geography. Reality is not at one with the mind.
Two years in, Rick married a German named Regina. They met at a line-dancing night off base. Regina liked loud country music or pretended to; she absorbed anything Rick projected. He liked that her ass was small enough to fit in his hands; it made him think his cock was bigger. According to him the love was instant. After Rick completed his tour, they moved to his grandparents’ farm in Avoca, Wisconsin.
There’s a great interview with him on Hotshoe International. Have a look.