Section: Arts

An alum on the move, Davis runs 480 miles for father

An alum on the move, Davis runs 480 miles for father

by Bailey Blaker

Matty Davis ’11 embarked on the journey of a lifetime through his conceptual art project Between Heaven and Earth. Davis decided to pay tribute to 132 passengers killed when US Air flight 427 crashed in 1994. Among those passengers killed was Davis’s father, Tim. The deep personal ties to the crash are what led to Between Heaven and Earth, a 480-mile journey following flight’s path that Davis completed on foot. Since 2013, Davis prepared to travel the 480 miles from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to where the plane went down only eight miles from the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Six months prior to beginning the journey, Davis trained his body to be able to withstand the project’s physical demands. Davis used skills he acquired running long-distance and dancing at Kenyon to average 28 miles per day on the road. Although Davis was athletically trained, he still sustained several small injuries during the journey. Along with the physical demands of the project, Davis was confronted with many challenges, including several incidents with dogs on the highway. “You wouldn’t believe the psychological toll the weaving of trucks will have on you over the course of eight hours,” Davis said.

The emotional level of the work originated from the connections Davis made on the journey itself, and the changing social tensions that were present in the various locations Davis visited. On his way through Indiana, Davis encountered the impact of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that passed last month. “You definitely feel the social tension,” Davis said. One particular instance in Indiana resulted in Davis being verbally harassed because of his physical appearance.” I have long hair and maybe certain other things that people can stereotype,” Davis said.  Despite some negative experiences, like younger drivers swerving toward Davis on the highway, the journey as a whole has been a moving experience for Davis. “It’s interesting how events in the world converge on this largely solitary space,” he said. “I’ve had some amazing interactions with people with incredible stories of their own. That’s what’s incredibly meaningful to me.”

Davis’s ability to connect with people grew considerably during his time at Kenyon. Assistant Professor of Dance Kora Radella Feller found a creative match in Davis. Having taught him in Beginning Modern Dance in 2010, Radella found Davis to be an exceptional dancer. Although Davis did not have previous dance experience, Radella felt he was a perfect fit for her annual dance concert. “I love that he didn’t have a lot of assumptions about the field,” Radella said. Davis later went on to work with Radella on a number of dance initiatives, including the formation of dance company Boomerang. Davis “is a very alive human, he’s very alive with his body and his mind,” Radella said. “He’s very curious and observant.”

Over the course of Between Heaven and Earth Radella provided health packages for Davis to take advantage of during the journey. The packs contained various foods like nuts and chocolate milk that were designed to help Davis recover physically. Radella also provided Davis with inspirational quotes to help him recover emotionally from the often-stressful days on the road.

Three days of the journey were devoted to documentation using both video and photography to capture Davis’s experience. “Part of what’s so interesting about this is that there’s multiple spheres of audience,” Davis said. The work as a whole is meant to be an exchange between Davis and the members of his multi-media audience. “In the end this work for me is questioning certain basic human values that I’ve tried to understand through my life,” Davis said. “I think that the most meaningful art comes from a very human place.” During the journey, Davis experimented with Instagram to chronicle his progress. The Instagram account @mattywilliamdavis features photos and videos of Davis during his time on the road using the hashtag #betweenheavenandearth.

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