When Yann Gross has a yen to travel, he fixes a trailer to his moped, packs his things and sets off down the Valley of the Rhône. There, surrounded by mountains, a traditionally secular people has farmed and forced a living out of the land. It’s hard to imagine that on this land, some of them, having rejected the idea of ‘here’ have sought for themselves an ‘elsewhere’—an ‘elsewhere’ that is right here. The America they have created in cunning disguise, ‘here’, is the America of the pioneers, the conquerors of the land. And Yann Gross’s journey plays on all the ambiguities. It is constructed as a documentary leap into an imaginary community of people drawn together by an apparent certainty about their identity—an identity that is strengthened by the fact that it is local. Welcome to Horizonville.
David Lynch’s film The Straight Story, which is based on a true story, recounts the odyssey of Alvin Straight, a retiree who drives hundreds of miles on a lawn-mower to visit his dying brother. It takes him about six weeks to get there, the time he needs for a philosophical meditation on the subtleties that shape his journey. In this, as it were, parody of the road-movie genre, Lynch paints a very human portrait of eccentric trajectories, somewhere on the outskirts of the American dream. Far from the desolate spaces of Iowa and Wisconsin, Gross was inspired by Lynch’s paean to slowness to explore the Valley of the Rhône and thereabouts. With his camera equipment and a small tent stowed in a little trailer towed by a moped, he had the independence and mobility he needed to follow the rhythms of the valley. Eschewing the fast main roads, he made a virtue of taking things slowly. This patient style of exploration brought him into contact with marginal life-styles and gave him the opportunity to observe those elusive details that escape the hurried glance. Horizonville, then, is a meticulous photographic investigation with continual changes of scale. It hovers subtly between fiction and documentary, enabling us to question the ways in which we usually pass through any given environment, how we perceive it and give meaning to it. This out-of-sync road-movie also raises questions about the symbolic re-appropriation of a geographical site, the creation of an imaginary community, and, perhaps, a new take on the hackneyed codes of a particular genre of movie. As in The Straight Story, this modest ‘art of the fugue’ proves to be an effective means of tracing forms of exoticism that are hidden by the very localness of those communities. Horizonville is nowhere. It is a compression of time and space, a mythic horizon, an exotic vision of America in which dreams and gaze converge with impunity. Through his choice of models and his discreet arrangement of the settings, Gross enters into a kind of partnership with these people, increasing the charge of glamour that feeds their collective fantasy. He draws particularly on codes which belong at times to the aesthetics of the cinema; at other times to documentary photography.