Chelsea’s Odyssey: Unus Mundus Project
by Chelsea Southard
I was born in the Steeltown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This city is home to Bethlehem Steel, which was once the second largest steel manufacturing plant and largest shipbuilding factory in the United states. During WWI the Steel, as we call it, built one battleship a day. And I’m not talking about just the parts. I mean an entire completed battleship, each day!
As a child I remember the bright blue flames glowing at the tops of the giant blast furnaces in the center of town. I remember watching them marveling at the mystery of the molten steel that churned within. By the time I was four they had shut down the furnaces, but the memories of that fire still remained and I believe this was one of the first matches to torch that I now carry.
So what is this fire that I hold? Where did it come from and how is it so strong? I have been asked this quite often and even though it is somewhat of an unexplainable thing, there are memories that are attached to this power.
My family is one of them. We moved around a lot. When I was a baby, my family spent a good part of a year in Costa Rica. My first word was actually Spanish! Gracias. When I was in Elementary and Middle School we lived in England and Pakistan. We would live in England for a year, then Pakistan, then back to England and so on or about 5 years. At that time my father was getting his PHD in medical anthropology at Brunel University in England and his thesis work was in Balochistan, Pakistan. We kept our house in Pennsylvania, renting it out when we were gone so even through all the changes and moving, at the end of that time we returned to our homebase. A home which my parents still to this day live in, along with a community of young people that have now moved in with them. I love that house.
My experience moving around the world in this way shaped me. And with parents who had no fear or hesitation with the idea of going to these far off place instilled in me a similar but more extreme perspective of how I wanted to relate to the world and the people in it. At a very young age, that wall that prevents many from ever taking the risk to build their dreams instead became the platform from which I dove into the most magnificent pool on earth.
My father has been a carpenter since he was a boy and my brother is an architect, he works in Manhattan as one of the main architects designing the Obama Foundation in Chicago. I grew up with the two most important men in my life putting hammers and drills in my hands and having complete confidence in me with these tools. And my mother always pushed my ideas to new places, encouraging me to reach for new heights no matter the risk. I worked as a metal fabricator and IT tech from the first year I was legally able to get a job. And before that with my Dad building all kinds of things.
I went to college at Berklee College of Music in Boston and got a degree in Electronic Production and Design. I went there thinking I was going to be one thing and came out as something else. At first when I got there I was separated from the physical aspects of creation, the feeling of a hammer in my hand, the smell of fresh cut steel. All of my work was done on the computer, creating music for video games and film, I always felt like I was lacking something until I took my first audio programming class. Then the work of art and sound took shape, literally.
I learned how to design interactive audio systems with code that used real life sensors and sculpture to create immersive environments of light and sound. My world exploded. I applied all of my past experience with building and design and began to create art installations that brought together the physical and the ephemeral. I am a metalworker and I finally began welding again and I was invited to work at a Glass Studio where I learned how to blow glass. There I taught classes in technology, sound and light. And my time at the Glass Studio concluded with a residency where I built my first large scale public art installation called Things Over Time which was installed on Boylston Street In Boston, MA. This was also my final thesis project for Berklee.
Far before I graduated I knew I did not want to get a job that locked me down, or one that involved an office chair, or a long term commitment. I knew I wanted to keep building and creating and I wanted to build bigger. And where is the platform where you can do that? Burning Man. I got involved in the creation of a large scale artwork for Burning Man and although I didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation I decided that would be a good place to start. After graduation, the week before I packed up my apartment to leave for Nevada, I took a motorcycle training class and got my license that weekend. I decided after Burning Man I would use my security deposit to buy a motorcycle and ride across America. Why did I choose a motorcycle? Honestly, I really didn’t think much about it, when I had the idea, it felt like the natural way of things so I did it. Now I have a lot to say about it. Which I will talk about in a minute.
Burning Man blew my mind. It took my dreams of big art and made them real. It showed me that the path I so desired was right there, accessible and attainable. I could do this, I would do this. After Burning Man, I went to San Francisco and bought my first motorcycle, a 93 Yamaha Virago. It needed work right away so I found a community motorcycle shop called Piston and Chain and took apart my first motorcycle. I replaced the head bearing and got the bike ready for my trip. I didn’t have enough money to get across so I got a job as a courier for two weeks to save the money I needed. Those two weeks were important not only for the money but also for my riding skills. When I bought the motorcycle my riding experience totalled about 8 hours but with the job I was riding about 12 hours a day while working and in San Francisco of all places. I learned so much in those two weeks.
I took two months to get across America. It was so profound and life-changing. I had tentative plans to move to Berlin, a place I have went and lived for a while a year or so back, but no more I had other ideas brewing. I fell in love with this machine, the experiences it gave me, what it demanded of me, it felt like a piece of myself that I had been searching for all my life.
I love motorcycles for many reasons. One is the questions it demands you to ask of yourself.
What matters to you?
What do you carry?
What is important?
What I carry on my bike is all that I own. Every time I add or remove something I have to weigh its value to my life. Motorcycles push you to examine what is important and encourages you to let go of what is not.
You cannot live a life of excess when you live on a motorcycle, you must constantly evaluate what matters and live simply. Each item that I carry has great value and for each, I am thankful. The bike is an extension of yourself, your emotions good and bad are translated into its gears. It is a powerful tool for understanding and a wise teacher.
With motorcycles, everything changed. I worked as a fabricator on the east coast through the winter and when the snow melted and it was warm enough to ride again. I rode back to the west coast to do another piece for Burning Man. I think exactly the day I arrived back on the west coast after crossing America twice, traveling solo through 45 states, I drew a giant line through the map of the world. This would be my next voyage, the world. My new life.
After the Burn and a few weeks before I was going to head south, this was back in 2015, I was working in San Francisco saving my last bit of money something terrible happened. I was hit by a taxi and fractured my T12 vertebrae, breaking my back. It was truly devastating. My entire world stopped. I wasn’t even living in San Francisco at the time, just crashing on my friends couch but now I wasn’t going anywhere. Even though the accident was entirely not my fault, the taxi company refused to take responsibility so I had to find a lawyer and file a lawsuit. This meant that I needed to have continuous documented care so I had to find a way to live in California. I paid up front for all my medical expenses, using all my savings I had for my voyage south, desperate to find a job and a place to live in this expensive city while at the same time recovering from my injury. Down to the last pennies and in the same week I was going to give up and just go back east, a job and a 3ft x 7ft closet/apartment to live in fell at my feet.
I worked as the CTO and metal fabricator at an art production company for the next two years building big art that was installed all across America. I couldn’t really leave the country due to the lawsuit still hanging over my head but I took this time to perfect my fabrication skills and replenish my savings which had been liquidated due to medical fees and expenses related to the accident. I bought my DR650 as soon as I was recovered enough to ride again and began modifying it, learning every gear and screw and upgrading it in preparation for the trip. I took a bunch of off road trips during those years as well, riding all of the western BDRs and gaining valuable riding skills.
The lawsuit wasn’t looking good for me. There was no video footage, no witnesses and the lawyers on the other side were relentless. It was so hard to believe considering the taxi hit me from behind while I was parked on my bike but well so goes the justice system. Then after two years of fighting, my lawyer filed a subpoena to search for video footage from the taxi. And tada! There it was, clear as day, the taxi driving right into me. And so the lawsuit was over, my medical expenses paid and I was free to live my life again.
In that same month the lawsuit ended, I rode back to the East coast, leaving my California life behind. This way I could change my plate to PA and set all my paperwork up correctly so all documentation would go to my family home. It was also a time to spend a few months with my family because I knew that I wasn’t coming back. This journey was never intended as a trip. This is my Odyssey; an extended adventurous voyage, a long series of wanderings marked by many changes in fortune; a person’s progress from one stage of life or set of beliefs to another.
I have been on the road now for over 9 months. During this time I have had experiences where I have felt closest to death and others where I could not possibly have felt more alive. I have met countless incredible people and made friends that will last a lifetime. I have grown and continue to harness a power within me stronger than I have ever felt before.
But in that time and with all those experiences, I have only made it through two countries so far. This is because I travel slow and I build art as I go. This Odyssey is not just for travel, I am an artist which means I want to create as I move through this world. Building my work as I go, one day circling this planet leaving installations zigzagged in my wake. Pillars to this great adventure. Built, together, with and for; the world to share, experience and transform.
My clarity as an artist and as a woman in this world has come into focus. I have found the words to describe what it is I believe I am born to do. I want to create transformative experiences for people, not only with art but with travel and with story, with risk and with trust.
After 4 months in Mexico intentionally separated from social media, I relaunched myself and my project. I named it, Unus Mundus Project. Unus Mundus is latin for “one world”, but the story behind the phrase stretches much further then its translation. It was popularized by Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, and it is the concept of an underlying unified reality, from which everything emerges and to which everything returns. This concept directly relates to what Jung coined as, synchronicity or ¨meaningful coincidence¨, the Unus Mundus is the source from which the power of synchronicity is born.
I believe in the transformative power of creative collaboration
To bridge division and grow connection through shared experience
By creating art and providing a platform for the world’s artisans to share their craft and story
I seek to synchronize art, travel, and exchange through my adventure
So I can help tell the greater narrative of our one world
Let us draw from the Unus Mundus and become far greater than what we are alone.
After riding over 10000 miles from Pennsylvania through Mexico, I am now in Guatemala. I am building my first permanent large scale art installation in Antigua. It is called Vaho, a sculptural Temazcal or pre-hispanic style sweat lodge, made of concrete, metal and glass. When I am done with this piece I will continue South building installations as I go.
This is part of my work that sustains this new life. I also do freelance jobs on websites like Upwork in audio and graphic design, jobs like voiceover acting, podcast editing and logo design are some of the more common types I get.
Interested in another amazing artist and rider? Check out Amanda’s story here!