Here they answer questions about their upcoming InTRANSIT Festival exhibition (19 to 26 June).
Shifting Sands is described as an artist-led installation about traveling across North Africa and the Middle East in a 1971 Land Rover. Wow. Could you be more awesome?
Haha! Glad you like our project. We’re actually really ordinary people living in London – a bit stubborn perhaps, but nothing special. It may be that pushing ourselves beyond what we’d normally do is why we had such an incredible experience. And we met some genuinely awesome people in all the countries we visited.
In these ‘bleak economic times’ you both took a massive risk in quitting your steady jobs to go on a road trip. What on earth were you thinking?
The idea of Shifting Sands came about because we wanted to tell a positive story from North Africa and the Middle East to add a fresh layer of information to the picture portrayed in the mainstream media – a personal tale interweaving the stories of the people we met with our own. As we worked on our idea it became increasingly important to us and we got to a point when our project somehow became bigger than we were: we knew that if we didn’t really try and make it happen we would regret it for the rest of our lives.
Security wise the whole region is constantly changing – hence our name Shifting Sands – and whilst we were advised by many to wait until it became more stable we knew that this meant we could be waiting forever.
We couldn’t sit around waiting for funding either – although we did apply (unsuccessfully) for every grant under the sun – and discovered the hard way that nobody really takes you seriously until you actually start doing your thing. Quitting our jobs was a necessary part of this process – although even then some people didn’t believe we’d go until we literally started driving.
I’ve been personifying my bicycles since I can remember, so I love that you named your car ‘Landy’. How has Landy – a classic British vehicle – matured since your excursion?
As you say, we left England in a classic British car, but by Morocco the noise from Landy’s engine had become unbearable and we knew we could not continue as we were. So we worked with local craftsmen to install cork soundproofing – and gorgeous brass detailing – which gave birth to an idea. At the age of 43, Landy was a thing of beauty but pretty basic so we decided to adapt her to meet the needs of the expedition working with people in each country on our route. Landy picked up a flavour of every country we travelled through and behind each modification lies a story. These stories (and Landy herself) will be the focal points of our exhibition.
What do you think people can learn from inanimate objects? This is a serious question.
It’s a good question! Having a beautiful car made our journey much easier – everybody was immediately attracted to Landy and consequently they became interested us as well. Working on her with local people took us to areas where we would never normally have gone – workshops, industrial areas, art shops and people’s homes – and allowed us to meet and interact with people we would never otherwise have met. Our experience would not have been as rich in a more modern vehicle that never broke and didn’t need any work.
On our long drive home from Turkey through Europe we were concerned about our barely functioning brakes, but it transpired that travelling on motorways at just 40mph we didn’t really need them. The border officials all fell in love with Landy and waved us through checkpoints without delay – it turned out that the graffiti on our car was more useful than brakes.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given on your travels?
Most people advised that we weren’t sufficiently prepared for our journey so just before we left it was refreshing when somebody told us that – after a certain level of planning – the only way to really prepare for driving around the Mediterranean is just to start driving and see what happens.
Once we were actually on the road our friend Tarek in Morocco told us that the Quran teaches that you must look after women and you must look after travellers. With the whole of North Africa and the Middle East ahead of us at this point this was reassuring to hear!
Ultimately though the thing we learnt most from the advice we were given on our journey is not to underestimate our own instincts. It’s always worth listening to other people’s advice but in the end we needed to make decisions based upon our own judgement.
Where would you like to travel to next?
Before we left England we had imagined we’d have time to explore each country in depth and travel to loads of different places. We soon had to become more realistic and quickly began to realise that whilst it takes at least a week to get under the skin of a town, two weeks barely scratches the surface of a country. So we’d like to go back to everywhere we went and get a deeper understanding of each place. It would be awesome to take Landy back to the countries where our journey began and show the people we worked with there how she has evolved. Perhaps one day we’ll get the chance to exhibit in some of these countries too.
Shifting Sands will be exhibited daily from 11am to 6pm in various locations: 19 to 21 June Exhibition Road SW7 | 22 to 24 June Chelsea Theatre World’s End Place SW10 | 25 to 28 June Goldfinger Factory Golborne Road W10. FREE ENTRY.