Rider’s Lens: Connecting to Landscape, by Alex Borgen
In our latest Rider’s Lens, we present the expressive bikepacking drawings of Alex Borgen…
Words and photos by Alex Borgen
I am from nomadic ancestors which I feel might play a part in my restless, traveling lifestyle. Ultimately, art is a way for me to explore and understand this.”
As a conceptual artist, I am interested in how the body interacts with its surroundings. I use bikepacking to “research” how the body connects to the landscape, and to study movement in terms of ritual, rigor, labor, community, and storytelling. I sketch in journals while resting after a good climb, during lunch, or at camp during travel. Then, I use these experiences as inspiration, and I carry the themes into other mediums which include book making, text, painting, and audio installations. I am currently creating works about the parallels of bikepacking the Continental Divide and bikepacking as a nomadic street performer in Argentina.
Drawing is an integral step into piecing together concepts from the journey. I use it on the trail, as an immediate way to capture specific moments of mountain biking and bikepacking—to connect the memory of the experience back to movements of the body. I also use drawings to illustrate other text, highlighting observations and other intersecting thoughts, as well as help me remember important moments for detailed writing. I also draw scenes from my memory from past trips, as a way of dreaming of the next journey. Just this morning, I recaptured the quick weekend trip I rode along the Backbone in the Santa Monicas using pen and ink.
Process and Tools
On the trail, my drawings are frequent, though I don’t have a routine anymore. I used to be more disciplined, but I’ve become more interested in soundscapes and experiences, and drawing happens more intuitively these days. I prefer ink and watercolor because of its fluidity and ease on trail. I have a mini watercolor set, about the size of a deck of cards, which I keep in a place with quick access, like my Oveja Negra Lunchbox. I generally use whatever notebook is available. I don’t often use watercolor specific paper, for two reasons. One, it’s expensive. Two, I love how unsized paper expands and buckles to show the history and residue of the process—I trust the materials. Water-based mediums have a mind of their own; the ink meanders and absorbs on the page. I let it do what it does best with only a little control. Water on paper creates a record of its own activation during the drawing process, much as the process of bikepacking is in itself an action directly related to the process of personal growth.
Both bikepacking and drawing have provided me opportunities to live simply with intent and sensory experience, connect with my thoughts, body, and the landscape.
Breakdown: After the Hail: Monsoon Somewhere in Western Colorado (above)
High above sea level John and I hastily set up camp awaiting an oncoming storm. The temperature had dropped significantly, and the freezing wind was rattling our rain jackets and our nerves. Soon, sheltered under the tent, we were pelted by garbanzo bean sized hail. We left the fly open to watch the storm, and I marveled at the size of the hail while I recorded audio of the experience and wrote in my journal. I lost track of time, and just before sunset, the hail stopped. We emerged to the sparkling sun, the clouds sailing east away from us. Later, I drew this picture from memory while writing a story about significant weather while on trail. Drawing the scene was an exercise in visualizing the moment for the written piece and relating the immediacy of thought onto paper. I used a refillable ink technical pen and travel-sized watercolor set to record the memory in a graph paper notebook.
Alex Borgen’s other works include book arts, installation, and performance art. She is currently writing a creative nonfiction book about bikepacking and how one experiences the landscape. Follow Alex’ artistic journey on her website, Tumblr blog, and Instagram.