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A road trip right around the USA: starting in Boston at the beginning of September and ending barely six weeks and 10,000 miles later in New York. The travellers refer to themselves as “the fearless four”, made up of Jana Müller, photo artist, Alexej Meschtschanow, artist and sculptor, Felicitas Hoppe, author, and Ulrike Rainer, a naturalised American, cultural scientist.

The journey was prompted, however, by an adventure that had taken place eighty years earlier: in 1935, the Soviet authors, Ilja Ilf (1897–1937) and Jewgeni Petrow (1903–1942), took a legendary trip around the United States on assignment for the Russian newspaper, PRAVDA (The Truth); now the time had come to retake stock of the country and see where it stands today. While the first journey resulted in the still very readable novel, Ilf & Petrov's American Road Trip, the 2015 remake has resulted in a number of projects.

In addition to a website documenting the trip with texts, pictures and original audio recordings, Felicitas Hoppe published a book of her experiences, Prawda. Eine amerikanische Reise (Pravda. An American Trip), last year. Furthermore, there is a joint exhibition titled Europa verlassen (Leaving Europe), that has already been on display in Langenhagen and in Berlin.

The 2015 constellation of four also mirrors the first trip, because Ilf and Petrow did not travel alone. As soon as they arrived in the USA, they had to find people to accompany them as neither of them had a driving licence – a rather tough way to begin a road trip. Luckily, they found the ideal travel guides in the persons of Solomon Trone, a Latvian-born engineer who had worked in the Soviet Union, and his American wife, Florence. She was the only one with a licence, and became the designated driver of the mouse-grey Ford during the four-month trip throughout the USA – from east to west, then back through the southern states from west to east.

It was not only the travel notes documenting the trip that proved enlightening; as luck would have it, Petrow also had a Leica in his gear. Consequently, the original report from 1937 included numerous photographs. Some of these have also found a place in the new remake of the journey, which includes snapshots of the open Ilf/Petrow book, with book marks and memos, taken within the context of a hotel room or a rest break during the 2015 trip. In 2015, however, the travellers drove a ruby red Ford Explorer – probably considerably more comfortable than the vehicle used for the 1935 tour.

What has become of the land of hope and dreams? What did the two inquisitive Soviet Russians discover back then at the high point of Stalinist terror in their own country, and the economic crisis in the USA? And what seems important today? The fearless four's idea was to “travel round on main routes and off the beaten track, collecting stories and images, looking, listening, sketching and writing, exploring, with alternate guests (both virtual and real) in the cockpit, a promised land, here and now and beyond its promises.” Highly stimulating, The Making of Prawda shares the story of this unusual journey.

The conceptual book – reminiscent of cultural scientist Aby Warburg's approach – brings together numerous photographs, a talk with an artist, excerpts from Hoppe's novel, quotes, historical documents and register entries, creating a lively map covering the journey. Whether a photograph of Trump Tower in Las Vegas, the carpet ornaments in an obscure motel, or the sparse landscape along the border to Mexico: in comparison to the travel experiences of Ilf and Petrow, the pictures and texts in  The Making of Prawda point to a social topicality, and reveal how stories and myths are updated and constantly gaining new meaning.
(Ulrich Rüter)

The Making of Prawda
Felicitas Hoppe, Alexej Meschtschanow, Jana Müller, Ulrike Rainer
136 pages, 60 colour and 43 black and white pictures, soft cover with flaps, German and English edition, 23.5 × 31.5 cm, DISTANZ Verlag

© for the photographs: Jana Müller, DISTANZ Verlag

The Fearless Four

Born in Hameln in 1960, Felicitas Hoppe has been living in Berlin for nearly thirty years, and travels the world reading and teaching. She writes stories, novels, children's books and essays, collaborating with visual artists and musician. She wrote the foreword to the first German translation of Ilf and Petrow's Das eingeschossige Amerika.

Born in 1973 to Russian parents in Kiev, Ukraine, Alexej Meschtschanow moved to Leipzig in 1984. In 1997 he studied Painting at the HGB/Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig. He completed his master's under Timm Rautert in 2008. Meschtschanow, who, in addition to many other awards, received a scholarship for the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles in 2012 alongside Felicitas Hoppe, lives and works in Berlin.

Born in Halle/Saale in 1977, Jana Müller lives and works in Berlin. She studied Photography at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig. She graduated in Visual Arts in 2006. Jana Müller's work deals with memories, with the cinematic, and with story-telling. In addition to photographs, she produces voluminous and idiosyncratic installations.

Born in Vienna in 1947, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Rainer, has been teaching German philology and Comparative Literary Sciences at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, for three decades. She is particularly passionate about music, opera, contemporary theatre, visual arts and history.
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