Having spent a full day searching in vain, I had pretty much given up on ever finding what I was looking for. So I drove back to Vernal and checked into room 133 of the Econolodge. Come the dawn, I noticed that a mud-spattered black Jeep was parked right next to my white Pathfinder. Lashed to the Jeep’s luggage rack was a twelve-foot-long silver ballpoint pen. The very thing I’d been searching for!
Around eight o’clock, Wolfgang Aichner emerged from his motel room and commenced rolling a cigarette. By and by, Wolfgang was joined by his fellow performance artist Thomas Huber. Then came Juergen, the so-called invisible member of the team. I asked Juergen if he’d like to join Thomas and Wolfgang for a group shot, but he declined—preferring to remain invisible.
This is not to say that Wolfgang and Thomas are publicity hounds—not by a long shot. In spite of the giant ballpoint pen they’d been dragging across three Western states, pausing at regular intervals to conduct press conferences, the two visible Germans have managed to generate precious little in the way of publicity. That’s probably because said briefings are unannounced.
“In the first place,” explains Wolfgang, “we thought there’d be nobody turning up anyway—still, we film it like it’s a press conference. In the desert, we put up our table, our microphones, and camera. But there was nobody to ask a question.”
The team’s final press conference took place at ten a.m. on the plaza in front of Vernal’s city hall, a building whose curvilinear façade acted as a parabolic antenna, amplifying the sound of passing trucks on U.S. 40 and thus drowning out portions of Thomas Huber’s prepared declaration.
“Dear fellow humans. A magic pen followed a line for hundreds of miles and marked out a rectangle, which GAEG (Global Aesthetic Genetics) declared apparently, without reason, their territory. Throughout history we have witnessed the ruthless taking over of territory all over the world…territorial aggression is an animal instinct, and therefore also part of human behavior…our penmen received positive feedback from all over the world while drawing a line in the countryside…GAEG acknowledges this as encouragement and therefore has it their mission to redefine the geo-ecological order…without pursuing their own interest, Global Aesthetic Genetics is not ashamed to act like a godly power–but not to initiate plans of a new world order. Others have already done that. Thank you.”
As for follow-up questions, Wolfgang told me they tend to be predictable.
“They always want to know how many kilometers or how much time. Did you have to suffer? Whatever—they tend to think about survival, like a sporting event. German people can also be like this. You do something extreme, they want to know HOW extreme.”
That said, the pair have enjoyed interacting with the few natives they’ve encountered over the course of four weeks spent wandering in the wilderness.
“IF somebody turns up—hunters or whatever—you really talk,” explains Wolfgang. “They want to know everything about it. It’s very far away from their everyday life, and that’s what we want, to be on the base of the people, people who are not in touch with arts normally. They’re often more open than the ones who are into art.”
Basically, the project entails drawing a conceptual line in the sand—a straight line across a landscape where straight lines rarely exist.
“The absurd quality of ‘linear’ symbolizes the attempts we make to assign meaning to our humble endeavors in general and to those of the artist in particular,” reads the artists’ statement.
“And it’s quite tricky,” adds Wolfgang. “Because the story we are telling is the story of one man in a suit, carrying a pen. But we are two, and we are changing. And one is the cameraman, and one is the penman.”
Performance art takes place mostly in the mind. The first part, or layer, occurs on the Internet, where remote viewers can follow the pilgrims’ progress. The second layer will arrive in the form of a short film, slated for release in February, 2018.
In the meantime, don’t go looking for terrestrial tracings—wind and weather have already wiped them away. As for the giant pen, it breaks down into three sections and is already on its way home to Munich—that is, providing TSA inspectors can piece together what it’s all about.