The Transit of Hermes
by Ross Birrell

Ross Birrell, Apparition (Hermes), still from video documentation, 2016

To all lovers of the horse and the wide open spaces;
And to many friends – of whatever race, nationality or creed –
Who did their utmost to make rough places smooth.
—Aimé Félix Tschiffely, Tschiffely’s Ride (1933)

Thus reads the dedication in an autobiographical account of a 10,000 mile equestrian journey from Buenos Aires to New York. It was undertaken by Swiss-Argentine horseman Aimé Félix Tschiffely from 1925–1928 on two Criollo horses, Mancha and Gato. A remarkable feat of endurance, in its traversing of border territories and war zones and its arduous and determined passage North, Tschiffely’s crossing presages countless contemporary migrations. The book was printed the same year that Hitler seized power in Germany and implemented a biopolitics of race hatred, and Tschiffely’s words resonate strongly today as we witness the resurgence of a biopolitics of intolerance of the Other and the strengthening of national borders across Europe and North America.

The Athens-Kassel Ride—a mobile, participatory, human-equine ensemble performed over 100 days—is a 3000 km equestrian long ride across Europe linking the two cities of documenta 14. Inspired by Tschiffely’s journey, The Athens-Kassel Ride gestures toward a biopolitics of “whatever being”—coming communities of “whatever race, nationality or creed.” And this community also embraces animals, in this case horses, as “companion species.” The posse of four long riders who undertake the journey (Tina Boche, Peter van der Gugten, Zsolt Szabo, and David Wewetzer) ride according to the Charter of Reken, which advances the “freedom to travel the world with horses” and the conservation of “historical postal and trade routes” as well as the right “to travel these as in old times, crossing today’s state borders.” Departing from Athens on Sunday April 9, 2017, they make their way northwards on a route which traces a “vagabond trail” through Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany, crossing Schengen and non-Schengen zone countries, thus drawing a “diagonal” across Europe.

The long riders plan to use a variety of breeds for the journey: Criollo, Haflinger, Kabardin, and Karabakh. They are accompanied by a six-year-old Arravani stallion named Hermes. Arravani are a Greek “gait” horse breed known for their elegance and endurance. Sadly, the number of Arravani has been in decline recently, with the last remaining herds found in Greece and Germany. Hermes is from the Arcadian mountains of the Peloponnese and is named after the Greek god of commerce and theft, music and border crossings. The mythical Hermes is also emissary and messenger of the Gods and a central figure in the thought of Michel Serres, whose writings (along with those of Giorgio Agamben, Étienne Balibar, John Berger, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, and Rainer Maria Rilke) have travelled alongside the development of The Athens-Kassel Ride. In his journey between Athens and Kassel, Hermes is not only in transit between Greece and Germany—traversing a line which traces the historical and contemporary tensions of Europe—but between myth and materiality, economics and politics, philosophy and action, humans and animals.

Hermes, then, is a courier, an intermediary, an animal envoy, an angel messenger. But the destination of his message (whatever it may be) is not Kassel. Neither is Athens its point of departure. It is in the relay, in the coexistence of companions: the community of riders and horses who, through the project of the ride, embody “the movement that transports… not toward another thing or another place, but towards its own taking place.”1

The Athens-Kassel Ride (2017) is devised by Ross Birrell and developed in collaboration with the experienced long riders Peter van der Gugten and David Wewetzer (members of the Long Riders Guild), and is supported by the Vereinigung der Freizeitreiter und -fahrer in Deutschland e.V. (VfD).

Image courtesy of the artist and Ellen de Bruijne Projects. With thanks to Peter van der Gugten and Konstantinos Kourmpelis.

1 Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, translated by Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 2.

Posted in Notes on 03.05.2017

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