Enghien-Les-Bains, France

Tendance Floue

Various Venues

Soccer matches, traffic jams, diplomatic handshakes, oil slicks, antiglobalization marches, the Eiffel Tower, Kafka’s birthplace, lederhosen, tulips, reindeer: These are just some of the media events, tourist attractions, and cultural clichés you will not see along Nationale Zéro. Rather, this more than 14,000-mile highway winding through the twenty-five countries of the recently enlarged European Union will allow you to discover, among other things, Lithuania’s final resting place for Soviet-era statuary (“Stalin World”), Holland’s Côte d’Azur, the Festival of the Midnight Sun in Lapland, or the skyline of Benidorm, the Spanish Manhattan—not to mention an emerald forest in Poland, an enchanted blue highway in Sweden, and the specter of clandestine immigration from Greece to Gibraltar. In fact, and as its name might suggest, Nationale Zéro does not exist, except as it’s been visualized by ten members of France’s pioneering photography collective Tendance Floue, or “Blurry Tendency.” “Europe doesn’t have mythical routes like US Route 1, so we had to imagine one,” explain these pragmatic utopians, whose blurry line between art and photojournalism emerged in the aftermath of the first Gulf War as a response to the surplus of images and deficit of doubts in the media.

The imagining of Nationale Zéro got under way five years ago, but it was only in March 2003, with the impending entry into the EU of ten new countries, that a magazine commission allowed Tendance Floue to hit the road. Taking turns in two-week stretches over the next seven months, the group’s participating members covered a trans-European route improvised on the basis of affinities for place names, secondary roads, and chance. The only restriction (apart from the classic problems with a used car, purchased for the occasion à la Kerouac or Robert Frank): to punctuate the journey every fifty kilometers (around thirty miles) with a panoramic shot to serve as a photographic “milestone.”

For Enghien-les-Bains, a small spa town just north of Paris, Nationale Zéro was appropriately transformed into an “exhibition route” starting at the town’s Centre des Arts (stretches one through three, by Meyer, Pascal Aimar, and Mat Jacob), continuing at the Centre Culturel François Villon (four through seven, by Olivier Culmann, Gilles Coulon, Philippe Lopparelli, and Patrick Tourneboeuf ), and winding up at the local Médiathèque (eight through ten, by Denis Bourges, Caty Jan, and Thierry Ardouin). This itinerary of seventy-two large-format photos was literally underlined by a continuous strip of 170 miniaturized images placed end to end (several of them also greeting commuters on billboards at the train station). In the absence of any commentary other than the highwaylike signage used to delineate each stretch of the route within the three venues, this series of land-, sea-, and cityscapes put visitors “on the road” as well.

But unlike its prototype, this reduced model—also presented at www.tendance-floue.net—permitted multiple go-rounds, backtracking, and stopovers at will. Which meant that the urge to distinguish countries and regions—or to discern the distinctive penchant of each photographer for fantasy, poetry, geometry, anecdote, irony, or drama—could give way to an appreciation of the underlying and often overriding continuities and contradictions of the whole. Capturing the abundant splendor of natural settings and the encroaching mediocrity of the urban peripheries, the more or less comfortable cohabitation of tradition and technology, recurrent forms of sociability and isolation, the international dress codes of the nouveaux riches, the homeless, and the homeboys (here, two young Algerians waiting for a smuggler to take them from Greece to Italy), this subjective atlas of human geography opened up questions as wide as the panoramic milestones and as long as an imaginary highway of 14,000 miles.

Miriam Rosen