When I was a child we had to go on a family walk after lunch on a Sunday. The obligation was irritating. The supposed virtue of walking, irritating. What a grumpy child.
Now, I love to go for a walk but as soon as it starts to be an obligation, or good for me, I regress.
My idea of a walk is either to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’, or to explore. These reasons for walking are about me, my pleasure, not about virtue, doing me good, or obligation. Pierre Gassendi, a down-to-earth philosopher declared Ambulo ergo sum, ‘I walk therefore I am’. A walk is about space, time, looking, memory, smells, sounds, place, imagination, cogitation, being alive. It seems rather a waste to think of it as just exercise.
There are a number of contemporary artists who have viewed taking a walk, or a journey, the passage of time, area and space covered, to be a work of art. It is for the artist to consider what, how, where and if to record the walk.
adventure campaign course crossing expedition exploration hike itinerary jaunt migration odyssey passage pilgrimage progress quest route sojourn tour travel trek trip visit wandering
A brief check in a thesaurus delivers the above poetic list for a journey.
I don’t like to take much with me on any walk.
- camera, or smart phone
- pockets, or bag
- sketchbook, or notebook, if you want
- water if you want to
I took a walk on Sunday with my daughter. The purpose was twofold: firstly, the walk itself with predetermined direction and programme, and the resulting presentation. Secondly, there will be a resolved piece.
Our walk was about the time taken on our regular walk, turning left out of the back door, left out of the drive, and taking the left track towards civilisation. We did a loop, not retracing our steps.
We recorded her feet every 60 seconds. Every 5 minutes we marked the event with a construction, and there were three 1 minute videos of us walking, the sounds of our breath, steps, birdsong and background chat. I thought I would look out for marks and textures. It was important to be in the moment – not of the, ‘that wasn’t here yesterday’ variety.
This was our approach – yours can be different.
- Give yourself rules before you start. These can be procedures, directions, constraints, time taken, alone or in company, drawing (maybe), photography (maybe), video (maybe), interventions to alter the landscape/cityscape, or a collection of objects along the way. The rules are your own.
- Is this walk a singular event, or a representative of many walks?
- what sort of piece will emerge from the walk? – will you decide that before you set off or as a result of the walk?
- Will you work on the memory of the walk, or try to keep the work about the walk itself?
If I recall science experiments at school the next two titles should be: ‘observations’, and ‘conclusions’. Maybe these are the difference between memories of the walk and being in the moment.
We would love to see how you get on with this. Please put your work on Instagram for all to see with a hashtag, #hampshireartstudio .
Richard Long review – modern primitive sees the cosmos reflected in mud
The wandering artist’s perennial walks have led him to contemplate sun, moon and stars with the devoted awe of mankind’s early ancestors
Fri 14 Dec 2018
Mud is not a promising medium to draw with. It is dull, thick, unpromising stuff. A muddy drawing sounds like a vague and boring one. Miraculously, however – or maybe just because he’s spent 50 years making art in and of the land – Richard Long’s huge new mud drawing Gravity Crescent is hypnotic, full of complex 3D curves that snare the eye.
It looks as if eels are nesting in the wall. They writhe and wriggle, each tubular body created by a swerve of Long’s mud-stick. The raw wet earth with which he created this towering work, on a pristine white wall in London’s Lisson Gallery, comes from the river Avon, so perhaps the material is haunted by the river’s flashing, silver-scaled creatures. His muddy swirls mass in an engrossing swarm. The flow and life of the river seems caught in this whirlpool of mud.
Gravity Crescent forms part of a vast unfinished circle. Below one section, muddy drips plummet like raindrops. The filled-in segment is crescent-shaped. Is it a croissant? Is it a piece of cake? No, it is the waxing moon. And beneath it, a stone circle fills the floor. It is a perfect disc, made simply by arranging radiating lines of rocks.
Once again, Long’s feeling for nature lets him do something artistically magical. The stones are all flints. Their glistening white surfaces shine brightly, set off by flecks of black, to create a dazzling circle of light. It is the sun. Long’s installation is a cosmic picture of the two great discs in the sky. It is as if the megalithic builders of the stone age have set up shop at one of London’s top commercial galleries.
Simple as it is, this astronomical installation sums up Long’s life in art. In 1967, when the consumer society was happily pumping out plastic and napalming nature, this young artist made a line across a field in England’s West Country by repeatedly walking backwards and forwards. It survives only as a photograph. It was no more intrusive in the landscape than the tracks badgers make.
Ever since, Long has been walking the world, making and photographing ephemeral images. A photo here shows a circle he created in 2016 on a walk by the Amazon. All he did was press down the leaves of a plant to shape a circle on the ground. The rubbery leaves would have bounced back by the time he got his picture printed.
What we see in this concentrated exhibition is the fruit of all those decades of meditative walks through great natural spaces. Long has clearly been musing on the lights in the sky. Like an early human, who has no idea that the sun is a star orbited by the Earth or that the moon is our satellite, he marvels at the magic discs that illuminate his journeys. Two wall texts summarise walks he made by the light of moon and sun. In one, he measures his paces from moonset to sunrise, from sunrise to moonset.
This modern primitive creates art in the same spirit that inspired our ancestors to lug bluestones from Wales to build Stonehenge which, like the works here, has the sun and moon in its sights – and, like Long’s circles, is precise in its geometry.
Yet Long would not dream of creating anything as intrusively permanent as Stonehenge. He treads lightly in the landscape. As we watch the seasons getting confused, the Earth’s rhythms lost, the seas warming, he has a vision of rebalancing humanity and nature. Half an hour with his work in the middle of a riotous city is like lying in a meadow staring at the sky. Time slips and slows. The sound of a river patters nearby. Birds sing. The old stones warm in the sun.
Richard Long not only shows you nature, he makes you feel part of it again. It is worth taking a walk with him.
This American article mentions a number of artists and their approach to the walk as art. Some you may know, some you may not. It is well worth looking up those who are new to you.
The Ten List: Walk as Art
by Carrie Marie Schneider November 23, 2012
“Walking, in particular drifting, or strolling, is already – with the speed culture of our time – a kind of resistance…a very immediate method for unfolding stories.” – Francis Alÿs
Lots of folks walk all the time and don’t call it art, but some of them do. In many parts of Houston, walking is so bizarre that I’ve been making a whole project of it. In my research, I’ve amassed this list that looks at artists who have used walking as a practice, and their various methods of representing it.
1. Janine Antoni
Janine Antoni, Touch (2000) Bahamas
For Touch, Janine Antoni practiced tightrope walking for an hour a day until she was able to walk the line of horizon just in front of the house she grew up in.
Janine Antoni and Paul Ramirez Jonas, Migration (1999)
In Migration, Janine Antoni and Paul Ramirez Jonas walk along the beach, taking turns following in one anothers’ footsteps, alternately fitting neatly within and obliterating one another’s marks.
2. Francis Alÿs
Francis Alÿs, detail from Ambulantes (1992-2006) 160 35mm slides
“A journey implies a destination, so many miles to be consumed, while a walk is its own measure, complete at every point along the way.” – Francis Alÿs
There are volumes on Alÿs’s Paseos, and you can watch videos of them on his website, but as not even the humblest walk list would be complete without him, I’ll just squish some great ones here.
Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Honoré d’O, Duett (1999) Venice
Two halves of a tuba start on opposite sides of the city and are walked towards one another. When they meet, B plays a note with one breath for as long as he can, and A claps for as long as he can while holding his breath.
Francis Alys in collaboration with Felipe Sanabria, The Collector (1991-2006) Mexico City
In The Collector (1991-2006), a collaboration with Felipe Sanabria, a magnetized dog/cart is walked through Mexico City coating itself with loose metal objects.
Francis Alÿs, The Green Line (1995) Jerusalem
Francis Alÿs walked through Jerusalem retracing the Green Line with a dripping can of paint.
3. Richard Long
Richard Long, A Line Made By Walking (1967) England
Richard Long‘s best known walk left this trace in the environment. Like the Aboriginal song lines appropriated by Sharon Harper, or the nature interventions by Andy Goldsworthy, Long remixes natural elements to make startling, simple statements using his body in the landscape.
“Thus walking—as art—provided a simple way for me to explore relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement. These walks are recorded in my work in the most appropriate way for each different idea: a photograph, a map, or a text work. All these forms feed the imagination.” − Richard Long
Long also brings natural materials into the institutional/gallery setting in exacting and deliberate arrangements.
Richard Long, Heaven and Earth exhibition (2009) Tate
4. Hamish Fulton
Another English artist placed in the Wordsworthian tradition is Hamish Fulton, a self-described “Walking Artist.” Fulton, instead of seeing himself leaving marks from his walks, sees his walks as leaving marks upon him.
Fulton states “A walk has a life of its own and does not need to be materialized into a work of art. An artwork cannot re-present the experience of a walk…I attempt to ‘leave no trace.’”
Hamish Fulton, Water from the Mountains (2009) Installation View at Hausler Contemporary, Zurich
Outside the walk, he does leave quite a mark. Blinking at Fulton’s oversized, hollering wallpaper and flash-riffic website, I wonder why he presents “an activity essentially unimproved since the dawn of time” in the style of spanking new travel posters and video games. By translating these grand journeys into graphic advertisements, they are atomized in the way that Guy Debord, who comes later in this list, warns, “Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”
It seems a short step from Long’s representation of walking to flaneur screenshots within Second Life.
Fulton’s Slowalk (in support of Ai Weiwei) is a far more poetic use of gallery space.https://www.youtube.com/embed/oCc8Rs4sOVY?feature=oembed
Slowalk inhabits the border between walks-as-art and walks-for-a-cause: AIDS Walks, Cancer Walks, Walks to End Alzheimer’s. Walking communally can transform a solitary internal practice of losing yourself into a find-a-cure! cause-based pilgrimage.
5. Marina Abramović & Ulay
Marina Abramović and Ulay, The Lovers – The Great Wall Walk (1988) China
Fulton and Long have lapped Marina & Ulay in distance and duration, but don’t approach the tragic romance of The Lovers – The Great Wall Walk. Marina Abramović and Ulay, partners/lovers/collaborators of 13 years, started walking towards each other from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China. After 90 days and 1,200 miles behind each of them, they met in the middle and parted forever (well, for 23 years until March 2011). As in much of Abramović’s work, endurance takes on an ethical and aesthetic charge.
Marina Abramović and Ulay, The Lovers – The Great Wall Walk (1988) China
6. Tehching Hsieh
Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance (1981) New York City
Tehching Hsieh is an endurance art champ whose projects take the form of dramatic lifestyle restrictions for the course of one year. In the work featured here, Hsieh lived for one year without entering any interior, be it a building or a vehicle.
Teching Hseih, One Year Performance Statement (1981) New York City
7. Vito Acconci
From the promenade as a site of encounter, to the stroll as a rite of courtship, the walk has a long history of straddling the public/private barrier. In Following Piece Vito Acconci set out and followed a random stranger every day for a month, for as long as he could until they entered a private interior. He typed accounts of the pursuits and sent them to different arts people around town.
Vito Acconci, Following Piece (1969) New York City
Vito Acconci, Following Piece (1969) Mixed media, 30 inches x 40 inches
8. The Situationists
Guy Debord, The Naked City (1957) (Illustration of the hypothesis of psychogeographical hubs) Paris
In the case of Situationist International, the walk, and especially their drifting brand of it, the dérive, is a means of social-public-urban transformation.
“We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk.” – Ivan Chtcheglov, 1953
In addition to inspiring artists, architects and urban planners, the Situationist International’s take-back of public space is credited as catalyzing the The Occupy movement.
“We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement…One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote The Society of the Spectacle. The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme … and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.” – Kalle Lasn, editor and co-founder of Adbusters, the group and magazine credited for Occupy Wall Street’s initial concept and publicity.
Occupy Oakland protesters (2011) Photo by Noah Berger, Oakland
9. André Breton
Chronologically, the Dadaists and the Surrealists come before the Situationists, but I’m listing them in this spot as the precursor to the upsurge of artists re-imaging the tour.
André Breton and Tristan Tzara, Excursions & Visites Dada / Premiere Visite (1921) Paris
Shortly before the group’s break-up, the 1921 Dada Season advertised a series of excursions to “places that have no reason to exist.” Only one such field trip came to pass on April 14. At 3 p.m., a gaggle of Dada devotees met in the nondescript churchyard of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. André Breton read a manifesto and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes parodied an official tour guide, reading arbitrary definitions from a dictionary as keys to monuments in the church yard. A scheduled auction of abstractions was cancelled due to rain, and a porcelain-repairer and peanut-seller orchestra never performed because they never showed up. A month after the performance, André Breton wrote off the event’s failure in “Artificial Hells,” charging the audience’s expectations of and saturation in Dada antics with rendering them innocuous.
Tristan Tzara reads to the crowd at a “Dada excursion” at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church (1921) Paris
As Breton transferred his alliance to Surrealism, he continued hosting nocturnal strolls. In his 1937 novel with Jacqueline Lamba, “L’Amour Fou,” “he evokes the clamour of workers as well as revellers as they linger in the area, along with vegetables and rubbish spilling on the pavements and a profusion of other sensory experiences…past other personal ‘hubs’ in Breton’s sense of the city’s geography.”
10. Todd Shalom, Elastic City
Juan Betancurth and Todd Shalom, 4Ever21 (2012)
The previous artists use video, photography, sculpture, graphic design and text to represent their walks. Elastic City’s founder, Todd Shalom, insists on non-recorded journeys—live as they happen.
Elastic City is a collection/service of experiential walking tours given by commissioned artists. You sign up and pay for these group walks and then set out on a curated conceptual adventure. A lot of Elastic City tours employ rituals; small, out-of-the-ordinary interventions or inversions that aim to reify the city and detourne everyday experience.
Juan Betancurth and Todd Shalom, 4Ever21 (2012)
For example, Juan Betancurth and Todd Shalom lead 4Ever21 “walk for eternal youth,” in which walkers use “Manhattan’s landmarks and lodestars” to perform “a series of site-specific rites” that include imposing their reflections on jewelry store windows as the diamonds of themselves. For Shalom, a good walk creates a community. and for Shalom, the public needs the artist’s unique lens to reawaken their point of view. Here is his TEDx talk.
Carrie Schneider is a Houston-based conceptual artist.