Copyright 2012

Meris Angioletti

Travel Tales, 10'41'', 2006




Fear, anxiety, estrangement, and their psychological counterparts, anxiety neuroses and phobias, have been intimately linked to the aesthetics of space throughout the modern period. Romanticism, with its delight in the terrifying sublime, saw fear and horror lurking in landscapes, domestic scenes and city streets. Modernism, while displacing many such spatial fears to the domain of psychoanalysis, was nevertheless equally subject to fears newly identified as endemic to the metropolis.

During the last century, space has been increasingly defined as a product of subjective projection and introjection1, as opposed to a stable container of objects and bodies and at the same time the subject located in this space has been more and more caught in spatial systems beyond its control2, that have become both a place for the mise en scène of such fears and reason for the fear in itself.
We can therefore identify a series of mental diseases that are directly correlated with the perception of the space, where the space itself becomes the object of fear (agoraphobia), but also the effect of fear, which create a distortion in perception, permeating the formal with the psychological3.

A particular mental disease connected to the space is analyzed by Ian Hacking in the book Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses4, in which he describes the “wired case” of Albert Dada, an employee of the gas company of Bordeaux, that one day suddenly decided to abandon the house, the job and the everyday life in order to begin a long journey starting from Algeria, then to Moscow and finally to Constantinople, in stages of 70 kilometres a the day covered on foot, until the day he was arrested for roaming. He obsessively travelled, bewildered, without any identity documents and perhaps without even an identity, therefore without knowing who he was and why he was travelling, aware only of the next stage. At the moment of his return he didn’t remember at all where he had been and only when hypnotized he could live again every stage of his travel.

Together with this first case, apparently a small epidemic of mad travellers took place, at least inside psychiatry’s books, whose epicentre was Bordeaux, but that spread rapidly through all of Europe. The specialists started to look for a new name for this new illness, like automatisme ambulatoire or dromomania or poriomania. Although escapes and unforeseeable travels had always been part of human life, only after the denomination by the specialists did they become an illness, which in the psychiatric handbooks lasted till the 20s and then disappeared. From the handbooks or from reality? The aim of the project is exactly to enquire into this blurred area between the idea of travel as exploration (also of the self) and of the mental disease, in order to achieve a representation of physical space through memory and the experience of walking in itself. In this way escape can become a tool to explore space from the point of view of experience in contrast with the traditional cartography of places. In order to describe the perceptive space of the patient during one of these escapes, the project will proceed like a scientific experiment, trying to avoid any aprioristic definitions of this inner space, reconstructing it through a series of samples, which will help in the creation of the spatial experience. Starting from the hypothesis that the experienced space can be meaningful for the creation of a physical space, the project will collect witnesses’ accounts of escapes and organize them in a sound installation. In collaboration with doctors, who, through hypnosis or other psychological therapies, will help the patients to remember places where they have been, the project will record these memories (as narrations) and select only the sentences which refer to a specific spatial description (paths, description of buildings, personal measurements). Each experience will become an autonomous track. When, through the patients’ descriptions, it will be possible to recognize a real, physical place, another track will be recorded (and then remixed) with the sound of the place itself.

Travel Tales was broadcasted in June 2006 by the radio L1, Maastricht.





Meris Angioletti


1 Anthony Vidler, Warped Space, Art, Architecture and Anxiety in Modern Culture, the MIT press, Cambridge-London 2001. (pp. 2-3).
2 Ibid., p.30.
3 Ibid., pp.12-13.
4 Ian Hacking, Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses. Italian edition: I viaggiatori folli: lo strano caso di Albert Dada, Carocci Editore S.p.A, Roma 2004.

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