A Ride West

Valentina Vella

MFA student in Interdisciplinary Arts and Media at Columbia College Chicago

I am a video and sound artist influenced by literary, mythological and philosophical studies, and my discussion centers on a project in development.

In late spring 2013, I plan to ride a horse from Chicago to California and to document my journey through video, sound and writing. I will simultaneously develop and regularly update a blog where my trail might be followed.

She Set Out into the Forest 1, 2012, Valentina Vella, video still, ©Valentina Vella.

She Set Out into the Forest 1, 2012, Valentina Vella, video still, ©Valentina Vella.

When I first conceived the project I saw it as a new strategy to generate artwork. I craved the opportunity for adventure and the meaningful solitude that it offered, in opposition to the isolation that I experience in cities. As an Italian, I was also interested in the intersection between my own personal mythical perception of the American landscape and the equally imaginary West that inhabit the imagination of most Italians. I was also drawn to the tension between the desire for an unmediated encounter with nature and the inevitable mediation that would ensue from documenting my experience. I became fascinated with issues of control manifested in how horses read body language, how horses will sense their rider’s mood, and how the rider cannot merely pretend to be in charge, she needs to convey real control.

While preparing for my journey I also came in contact with a facet of the United States that I had never encountered before: the belief that it is foolish to leave home on a road-trip without taking a gun in your truck. Groups of survivalists have tried to scare me out of my project. To them, the United States is haunted by demonic beings – and I wonder if this is really true. With this question in mind, and with the belief that the human mind works at its best in constant motion and when it attempts to devise ways to survive in hostile environments, I have come to see my project is a durational performance that deals with fear, self-control, and leadership.

She Set Out into the Forest 2, 2012, Valentina Vella, video still, ©Valentina Vella.

She Set Out into the Forest 2, 2012, Valentina Vella, video still, ©Valentina Vella.

At the same time, it came as a surprise to learn that in the eyes of my immediate audience, I had been transformed from artist/performer, into a heroine. And so, my project has now clearly become a hero’s quest, and it will be embodied as a fictional documentary that presents the journey as already accomplished, exploring its many possible outcomes. A hero’s quest fulfills an essential role both for the hero and for her community through contact with the wild forces of nature, by delving into the depths of the psyche and coming back to tell the tale.


Born in Rome, Italy, Valentina Vella is an interdisciplinary artist currently living in Chicago.