Born and raised in Wisconsin, Jennifer Bastian received her BFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MA and MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As a photographer, social practice and installation artist, Bastian is interested in making comfortable spaces within which to have uncomfortable conversations. In the space of a photograph or installation, she alludes to nostalgia, pulling us back to the vulnerability of youth.
Bastian lives in Madison, WI. She is one of two Dane County Emerging Artists for the inaugural 2017-2018 cycle, and was the Artist-in-Residence at the Madison Public Library’s Bubbler for the months of August and September, 2017.
Road to Anamosa
I’m a photographer and social practice artist living in Madison, WI. I am currently working on a project about a car accident I was involved in just over nine years ago, trying to find the people who helped me immediately following the accident. I want to photograph them, interview them, and have an exhibition about their memories of an experience we shared, and that impacted me greatly. I want to share with them the profound effect their kindness had on my life, and find out about the tiny impact I may have had on them, if they remember me at all.
Nine years ago, I was moving to Los Angeles from Milwaukee, in a 2002 Honda Civic. I left Milwaukee in the morning and intended to make it to Omaha by nightfall. I didn’t make it. I lost control of my car on a highway outside Anamosa and crashed into the guard rail at the end of a bridge. My car flipped in the air and landed on the roof. I shoved myself under the steering column as the car flipped, and I survived. I walked away with minor injuries.
At the scene and after, the people I interacted with me went out of their way to make sure I was safe. A retired nurse driving the opposite way stopped her car and ran over to make sure I sat still in case I had injuries. A trucker driving behind me brought me a blanket to stay warm with on the bridge – my cats sleep on that blanket to this day. The couple driving directly behind me helped me to crawl out of the car, as it was smoking and they were worried it would catch on fire. A sheriff was driving a few cars behind me and called emergency vehicles, so help was there quickly. The main nurse I dealt with at the hospital made phone calls for me, found a hotel for me to stay in, and drove me to the hotel herself. The hotel concierge ran across the street to the Walmart to buy me a toothbrush, and checked on my every hour to be sure I hadn’t passed out with a concussion.
My mother and her best friend made it out to Anamosa by midnight. We spent the next morning in town, eating at a local diner, retrieving my belongings from my decimated car. We left, and I had not been back since. In the 9 years that have passed, I think about this accident every day.
I have had several experiences that could be considered “near death.” I’ve been doored on my bicycle twice, mugged while riding my bicycle, mugged at gunpoint, and then the car accident. I think about the fragility of being alive constantly. I wonder about purpose and fate and while I am more of an existentialist than a believer in any higher power, I believe in people. I want to be connected to them in ways that empower and positively affect those around me.
On October 14th, I went to Anamosa for the first time since the accident. I was interviewed by a local paper that afternoon about the project, and passed out flyers about the project at various spots in town. I talked to locals about religion, fate, angels, and miracles, and my illusion than people I encountered would magically know me was shattered. I felt failed by my memory as I second-guessed every location I thought I would remember.
Memories are faulty, communities and their residents are complicated. I may not find anyone who has helped me. Still, I remain open to the possibilities, and grateful for the people who have come forward already to offer assistance and connect. This work is as much a portrait of the people and place who are offering me solace now, as it is about a those who cared for a fellow citizen sitting on the side of the road nine years ago.
To view more of Jennifer’s work please visit her website.