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Instagram as a Canvas

Matty Davis, an MFA candidate at SAIC, travels over 480 miles by foot for an instagram-based art project.

By Arts & Culture, SAIC

MFA student Matty Davis travels over 480 miles by foot for Between Heaven and Earth


Photo credits Ryan Michael White.

Photo credits Ryan Michael White.


Full of sound, texture, animals, and movement, Matty Davis brought to Instagram 58 short videos produced daily during his recent trip to Pennsylvania, a part of his project Between Heaven and Earth. Davis is an MFA student at SAIC, but also the co-founder, co-director and main performer at Boomerang, a contemporary dance-based project and performance.

Davis began his journey at the US Airways terminal at O’Hare International Airport, and traveled over 480 miles to a farm near Aliquippa, PA. The locations were determined according to the plane crash that caused his father’s death many years ago, which departed from Chicago and crashed 8 miles from its final destination, Pittsburgh. He traveled entirely by foot, running and walking, following Route 30 for the most part and adjusting his path according to the availability of places to stay and rest at night. For this performance project, Davis was awarded the Ideas Generation Grant from SAIC, which was then held until he was tested and presented medical proof of the necessary endurance to carry out the trip.

Although this performance was a personal experience, a “personal confrontation with mortality and memory,” in Davis’ words, Between Heaven and Earth is a project that explores and describes the “daily state” in which we experience our lives, and the “fortitude and fragility of life.” Davis’ work also deals with the many technologies and elements of contemporary life that interfere with our level of awareness, as well as how these affect our new, and ever-changing, levels of patience, perseverance, and commitment. His work allows him to dominate these interferences through the physical awareness of his own body and bodily experiences, that in turn allows for awareness of emotional experiences, which are both important parts of this particular journey. Davis describes this as the decision of “putting ourselves in direct, non-negotiable relationships to the land and other people.”

The videos that Davis posted on Instagram reiterate this connection between the physical perception and the intangible encounters while on the road. Following Instagram’s (15-second and square) format, Davis produced 58 short videos. In these, Davis’ followers can see many different landscapes, as well as various elements that Davis chose to focus on, such as found objects, water, animals, plants, fences, asphalt, railroad tracks and even, briefly, an airplane’s path in the sky.

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5 #betweenheavenandearth | #journey #airplane #foot

A post shared by Matty Davis (@mattywilliamdavis) on

For those who were aware of this project and wanted to know what walking to Pennsylvania would look like, these videos provide the necessary amount of information: briefly describing where Davis was walking, the weather conditions, his physical endurance, as well as the nature (or lack thereof) that surrounded him. He manages to share it with his followers by using a personal perspective and showing different moments in each video: sometimes walking, sometimes running, but also showing moments when he would eat or inspect a hotel bathroom. Thus, the viewers were able to experience, in a few seconds, every aspect of the journey and relate to the artist’s own findings and undergoing.

These beautiful videos and their quick editing integrate image, sound, and instantaneity. One of the most striking combinations is seen in the video from Day 5 (the only one produced that day, therefore titled “5”), which describes Davis’ steps with sound while walking and video footage while running, but also records the wind’s effect on the iPhone microphone and a casual wind chime hanging in a porch. Some of the most visually static seconds present the most intense sound, and vice versa.

Another great video is one titled “14-2,” the second video from Day 14, which combines a slow-moving worm, slowly advancing on the asphalt, with the loud sounds of fast-moving cars and trucks on the highway. After a few seconds of this, Davis cuts to a shot of himself walking on the emergency lane, on the side of the road, while cars pass him. In this video, the asphalt is wet and the reflection of the overcast, cloudy sky allows for a beautiful rendering of the surface’s texture, upon which the worm moves and its shape morphs.

View this post on Instagram

14-2 #betweenheavendearth | #journey #airplane #foot

A post shared by Matty Davis (@mattywilliamdavis) on

Between Heaven and Earth is an ongoing project that includes other forms of documentation, such as footage from Davis’ Go-Pro, and collaborations with videographer Jonny Reese who followed Davis for 27 miles, as well as images by photographers Ryan Michael White and Jon Funder. Beyond this particular journey, Between Heaven and Earth is also in conversation with the work of Davis’ brother and photographer, Mark Davis. Although Davis did not produce written documentation, mostly due to exhaustion from walking (and even confrontations with dogs), he saved a few voice memos and he is now processing this part of the project in the form of further video, collage, drawing and sculpture.

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