Between July 22 and July 28, artist and runner Aleks Stanek from Enniskillen ran 200 miles across settlements situated close to either side of the border, crossing it over 17 times.

“The journey began at an old military border checkpoint in Muff, Donegal and ended on the pier in Warrenpoint, and was a fundamental element of my art project called ‘In Search of the Miraculous 2.0’ – or simply ‘The Search’ for short,” outlined the 23-year-old artist.

Aleks explained recently that “The Search was a long durational live art work intended to draw attention to the status of the Northern Irish-Irish border in a post-Brexit reality.”

She said: “I wanted to highlight the importance and joy of free movement as a human birth right. The Northern Irish border is unique in that it is both invisible and does not function like a conventional border. As someone who became gradually immersed in the local culture rather than being born into it, I have developed a deep fascination for it; attempting to both locate it and photograph it in the past. As an artist returning to further education.” 

Aleks is due to undertake a Masters in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London, commencing this September.

“As well as a keen long distance runner, I am always looking for a way to push my personal boundaries and I wanted to merge the two identities. During my run, I erected statues made from the rubble of Belfast brick salvaged from scrapyards, and ash tree seeds, at unmarked intersections. Through this process, I created a nameless memorial with no designated location. I hope the invisible monument will make people think about the breadth of the border and consequentially, cross-border movement, more so than any conventional monument ever could.

"A lot of my work deals with subverting what is expected of public sculpture. The brick rubble represents the potential for devalued Northern Irish industries post Brexit. The ash tree seeds illustrate physical barriers, realised or imaginary, and all the risks and complexities attached to them. The monuments also bring to mind all the communities at risk of being affected by a hard border, and all those who made sacrifices to keep the border open in the past.”

Aleks added: “The project drew inspiration from several sources but certainly the name is of significance. The original ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ was performed by Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader. He attempted to single-handedly cross the west-east intersection of the Atlantic Ocean in a pocket cruiser; a journey which he estimated would take him just under three months. Radio contact with the pocket cruiser ceased just three weeks after its departure. The boat itself was found ten months later off the southwest coast of Ireland. To me, his work shows the importance of searching without the clarity of what is to be found.”

She added: “During my time in Art College, this particular artwork was used to get us to break out of our perception of art as always having a clear-cut agenda and conclusion. Some projects comprise a process which is ongoing rather than finite and refuse to follow conventional aesthetic values. Long durational projects such as the Search require a strong sense of faith and commitment in the work simply for the work’s sake.”

Aleks continued: “As a Polish national, I hoped that I can start a conversation about the border while leaving out the usual presumptions of bias and tribalism which are still present despite the Peace Process. Of course I am also realistic and readily admit that over the seven days of the project, I did notice the work becoming politicised. That is not an issue for me; I am convinced that as an artist I make the work and put it into the public space, but once the work is public it ceases to be exclusively my property. It develops a life of its own.”

During the Search, Aleks says she interacted with a lot of people from border towns and villages and felt “extremely privileged to be allowed an insight into the heart of their community. 

“Many people came out to run or cycle sections of it with me, or just to show their support and talk about the project.”

Aleks says she believes “representation is incredibly important. 
“As a lot of negative media coverage prior to the referendum focused on EU immigrants, I believe putting my art out there to be one of the ways of highlighting a positive contribution being made to society. Similarly, in the field of sculpture, which is extremely physical and traditionally a masculine field, I feel my presence and activity contributes to positive exposure and helps even out the equilibrium of representation. I am a high energy person who enjoys physical work and exertion. 

“I usually model in clay, cast in plaster and build large-scale, intricate wooden structures which take weeks to months to assemble, but more experimental projects such as the Search help me push the boundaries of my practice and highlight that contributing to society can be done in more ways than one – a message which stands in contrast to how my generation is at times portrayed as disinterested and passive. 

“I am interested in impossible and absurd tasks. If I hear something defined as impossible or less than ideal, I like to consider how it can be broken down into becoming achievable.”