Julie SandoJulie Sando types out On The Road for her exhibit called "Tapping Jack."

Visual artist reimagines Kerouac's "On The Road"

Beat generation writer Jack Kerouac often told the story about how after several years of mad travels across the United States, he wrote his classic novel On The Road in three weeks, typing continuously onto a 120-foot scroll of teletype paper that he cut to size and taped together.

More than 50 years later, a visual arts instructor has replicated that effort, typing out the entire book on a similar scroll and creating a photographic document of it, the result of which is currently on display at a gallery in London, ON.

“Tapping Jack” is Julie Sando’s effort to gain a better understanding of one of her favourite writers while encouraging renewed discussion around his work.

“People are very polarized about Kerouac,” said Sando, an artist, a sessional instructor in the School for Arts and Creative Innovation, and the department’s information officer. “He was a man of his time, but many of my contemporaries continually dismiss his work based on what they perceive to be some very racist, homophobic, or sexist content.”

Sando said she started the project, which she refers to as both a “second generation surrogate scroll” and a “textual sculpture” in 2010. Typing it out in her kitchen when time permitted on a circa 1955-60 Westfield 200 portable, she said it took about two years to complete.

“When I tell people that I retyped it, they are usually surprised, confused, and even skeptical,” she said. “Eventually, I think they come to respect the performance aspect of it.”

After typing out the novel, she scanned it into Photoshop, aged it and deliberately blurred out passages where Kerouac apparently objectified people, leaving only the sections that emphasized the travel portions of the book as legible.

“My goal was to make it look similar to Kerouac’s scroll manuscript,” she said, “but also for it to be an obvious editorial statement on the original.”

The original scroll of the book, which was published in 1957, still exists. It was bought in 2001 by the owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and since then has been displayed in museums and libraries in the U.S. and the U.K. It’s an artifact that Sando has yet to see.

“I don’t think I wanted to see it before I created mine,” she said.

Working with exhibit curator Cassandra Getty, Sando had to select sections of the scroll to be placed in the wood and glass case that houses the piece.

“I never really expected it to be shown in galleries,” she said, adding that she has also created companion pieces for other Kerouac classics like Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans. She hopes that at some point all three pieces can be displayed in libraries.

Sando’s work will be shown at Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, from October 5 to January 19. It’s part of an exhibit called Storytelling, which features five other Canadian artists whose work considers the various forms that tales take and the way they might be expressed, examined, and pulled apart in order to engage traditional conventions of storytelling.