The Rhythms of Travel

What does »home« mean to today’s itinerant artist, who alternates between countries, jobs, exhibitions, and residencies? The multifaceted project »Architecture for Travelers« by poet and former Solitude fellow Joshua Edwards meditates on this question. It entails a 1000 kilometer walk across Texas, 230 photographs taken at one-hour intervals to document the walk, a book of poems and a »travelogue,« and – finally – a house that Josh and his wife, Lynn Xu, are building right now in Marfa, Texas. Josh recently talked with Akademie Schloss Solitude about how things started and the many aspects of making a home.

CH: In summer 2014, you and your wife Lynn Xu began building your own home in West Texas. At the moment, you’re building the walls and the roof. It became a collaborative project at some point. In what way and where did it start?

Josh Edwards: We had the idea to build a house for ourselves, with the help of our family, several years ago. The idea expanded and became a collaborative project when we were living at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, a time which was hugely important to both of us. We were very inspired by the architects and multidisciplinary artists we met there, and the opportunity to add dimensions and collaborative elements to our own work was really exciting. Ideas kept finding us through the work of others and collaborative relationships naturally unfolded at the Akademie.

CH: You are both traveling artists and have lived together in five countries and ten apartments, alternating between teaching gigs and residencies such as Akademie Schloss Solitude, since you met in 2007. What does »home« mean to you?

JE: That’s a great question, and really part of what we were trying to figure out through the different aspects of Architecture for Travelers. In one sense, the answer is of course that home is love, that it is family and friends. More specifically, for me, home is Lynn. Speaking in geographical terms, the answer is much more complicated. Despite our peripatetic lifestyle, Lynn and I both very much want to belong to a place and a community (a pueblo). We love Marfa for its landscape, community, night skies, culture, art, and proximity to Mexico, and for those and many other reasons it seemed the place for us to settle down. Then there’s the question of home as an architectural space for collecting memories and objects. We’ve never really felt at home in any of the apartments where we’ve lived, so building our house is the first step.

CH: Your multifaceted project »Architecture for Travelers« itself is about the inveterate artist-traveler: It entails a 680 mile walk across Texas. Your walk was documented in 230 photographs that were taken at one-hour intervals. Each photograph has been printed in an edition of three and the work is also collected in a book, Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa, published by Edition Solitude. Could you explain the context of building a house, doing a walk, writing a book – all together as one project?

JE: Essentially, each element is a different journey to the same destination. There are physical, psychological, intellectual, and even spiritual aspects to the process of making a home, and the documentation as well as the house itself stand as metaphors for the idea of home.

CH: Explaining the project on your website, you quote Robert Walser: »A walk is always filled with significant phenomena, which are valuable to see and feel.« Walser was a Swiss writer from the Twenties who loved long walks and even died on a walk in wintertime. His oeuvre and life were always full of movement, from one place to the other, with a jumping, restless language. – Talking about the »travelogue« written during and after the walk from Galveston to Marfa: What is the relation between your poems and the walk?

JE: In a general sense, walking is very important to me as a writer. The rhythms of travel and the movement of the body are central to my work. As for this book, it contains poems within the travelogue, which I wrote during the walk, and poems written before the walk, when Lynn and I were at the Akademie. Some of these were written for collaborations or about the work of other fellows, our friends Charlotte Moth, Rebecca Loewen, and Peter Jakober. A good many of the poems were written as a sort of lyrical instruction manual for another friend, the architect Alan Worn, who was also a fellow and who worked with us on the design of our house. So these poems served as an endpoint for the walk. I didn’t notice until after the book was published, but the first poem in the book is called Winter Solstice, and the last day of my walk was December 20, the day before winter solstice.

CH: What did you do during the long walking hours and at night? Did you think or speak a lot or remain silent? Did you listen to music or read any books?

JE: I brought no headphones, but I would occasionally sing to myself. I also had books that I would read while walking. During the first half of the walk I read Basho, Shakespeare, and Wallace Stevens. During the last half of the walk I read The Odyssey. My mind was often quite blank, as if I were meditating. Much of the time I was in pain from shinsplints, and so I thought about pain. Since I was walking an average of nine hours a day, I had very little energy at day’s end, and as soon as I lay down I would fall asleep. One thing that surprised me was that I was never bored. It seems we really are built to walk (although not on pavement).

The shell of the house in Marfa.
Photograph by Joshua Edwards, taken at one-hour intervals during the 680-mile walk across Texas (2014)
Photograph by Joshua Edwards, taken at one-hour intervals during the 680-mile walk across Texas (2014)
Photograph by Joshua Edwards, taken at one-hour intervals during the 680-mile walk across Texas (2014)
Photograph by Joshua Edwards, taken at one-hour intervals during the 680-mile walk across Texas (2014)
Photograph by Joshua Edwards, taken at one-hour intervals during the 680-mile walk across Texas (2014)
The house in Marfa, photograph by Joshua Edwards
Poet Joshua Edwards and his wife Lynn Xu infront of the shell of their house in Marfa.

CH: »Travelers need a house,« you write in a poem for the project, »not only comfortable / for daily life and good / to come back to, but also / easy to live without.« The poem is also titled Architecture for Travelers. What is your life going to look like with your home in the next years?

JE: We’ll still travel a lot for the next year or so – we’re soon heading South America for a couple of months, then Mexico, then after a couple of months finishing up our house, we’ll go work in Taiwan and travel a bit more. After that, we intend to be a bit more settled. Now, even if we return to Europe or Mexico or China for a year, when we’re asked where we live we’ll be able to have a definite answer: Marfa.

CH: What future book projects are coming up?

JE: Well, Lynn is working on some wonderful things that I’m not at liberty to disclose, and I’ve been doing a series of photographic travel notebooks for a project called Castles Islands. It will eventually manifest itself as a book of poems, which will include more work done for collaborations with Solitude friends, but in the meantime the photographs are being published as zines (the first two Giapan and Formosa are recently out). Some of it can be found at:

CH: Was Solitude a »home«?

JE: In the sense that home is family and friends, it most definitely was a home. We made so many dear friends there, and we definitely still feel like we belong to Solitude’s incredible community and history. Because we knew it was temporary, however, it also very much wasn’t a home. That was actually a great motivator: We had to be very present and grateful in order to get the most out of the experience. Although we’re settling down in Marfa, there are a few places we would go back to at the drop of a hat: Oaxaca, Kyoto, and Solitude.