Ader was an experienced sailor, and the sport had been integral to his youth. At age 19, the artist voyaged with an American sailor from Morocco to the Canary Islands and around the Pacific. His new scheme, then, possessed a personal, cyclical structure; it closed a loop in Ader’s practice and lifelong geographical trajectory. After navigating the sea and facing the elements, he’d end up right back in his home country. The entire endeavor recalls the famous final line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Nearly a year after his departure, in April 1976, a Spanish fishing crew found Ader’s boat off the Irish coast. The artist himself was never found—he’d apparently disappeared into the sea. Such mysterious circumstances, of course, bred suspicion. Maybe Ader hadn’t drowned, but survived and began a new life for himself with an alternate identity. Maybe he committed suicide. Given his interests in presence and absence, foible and fate, both could have been in line with Ader’s larger aesthetic project.
To this day, it’s unclear what happened to Ader’s body. He placed himself at the ocean’s mercy, far from any camera or observing eye. Years later, In Search of the Miraculous seems less like a grand, romantic gesture than an intimate artwork about something most viewers never get to see: an artist alone, struggling, adrift.