An enduring trope of American media culture, the cross-country road trip celebrates individualism and mobility as twinned features of a supposedly essential national character, conjuring intoxicating images of freedom and speed, finding one's own way in the world, and open-ended personal discovery in an authentic, vast and empty continent. “Driving East Through Indian Country” takes the road trip as a point of departure in order to re-examine these romantic images and attend to what the mythologies of American touristic automobility conceal. The land through which families now speed over Interstate highways has been—and continues to be—subject to centuries of contest over territory, migration, mobility and immobilization in the form of land treaties, annexation wars, Indian removal, reservation policy, border surveillance, and the movements of desperate people looking for work. Through "chapters" organized around both well-known and more obscure episodes of manifest destiny, “Driving East" uncovers, recovers, exposes, and re-presents traces of these histories and conflicts still resonant, if barely legible, in the landscape.
Often popularly imagined as an east to west journey, the road trip can be seen as a compressed, individualized and largely unconscious ‘re-performance’ of 19th century westward migration. Reversing this trajectory, then, is a gesture of moving back in time and has often served, particularly in film, as a metaphor for complicating or contradicting American history and culture. The performance component of “Driving East” consists of a series of group west-to-east driving trips as a form of ‘historic de-enactment’ that may help us understand both where we came from and how we came to be where we are. Each performance is accompanied by an exhibition, a discussion, and a video and audio archive.
Is the road trip an inadvertant re-enactment of the history of Westward Expansion?
Does the celebration of unfettered automobility through open territory recapitulate the erasure of Native Americans from the landscape?
How are the close associative links among mobility, modernity, and the American ‘character’ being renegotiated in an era of tightening borders, heightened surveillance, and restricted migration