This post is inspired by my involvement in the course Walking as Artistic Practice, taught by Ellen Mueller at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in summer 2019. Mueller showed the class Hamish Fulton’s printed page of words, the only shared object from his seven-day walk in Iceland in 1996 (below).
One question that has emerged for me with some precision is this: what is the role of re-mediation in walking-as-art? The answer has to do with the purpose of the walk for the artist. If the walk fully lacks any apparatus of communication, it’s hard for me to believe that it elevates beyond personal introspection into the field of art. Then again, communication is a low bar for entry. Even if you walk alone and don’t tell anyone or take any pictures or write anything down or have even a single thought, you still are likely to be seen by someone, and perhaps this is the communication: you’re affecting someone or something around you.
Being in the world intentionally is perhaps enough to make it an act of artistic practice. It seems that Fulton wants this to be enough, but is burdened by the need to make something, however simple, to communicate what he’s done to others. By consciously turning on intention and moving around, you are affecting the world. I like this idea, and yet have such a hard time not telling everyone about it! As if to say “look, I did this walk and it’s a valuable practice … others ought to try it … it changes the world … art is amazing … let me tweet this out!” I feel like I ought to be organizing these kinds of walks and outlining what the purpose of the walk is. If I just do the walk and know that I’m somehow subtly affecting the world with karmic goodness, but don’t create something in its wake, I’m never satisfied. I want to at least write about the experience and share it with my network of colleagues and friends. Or sift through the thousands of photographs taken in sequence on my GoPro camera. But then the walk is about the production of an essay, a series of photographs, “reflections.” To produce something is to reflect what I want to see.
For me, there is something revolutionary—in the sense of a dramatic change of the social order—about what I want to see when I walk.I look at how urban space is built and organized, and I try to imagine how it might otherwise be.Imagining the otherwise, so to speak, is imagining how different social organizations and different economic realities might lead to different kinds of built environments.It’s an architecture-inspired vision (though an architect might say that material construction precedes social revolution) and likely explains why I am so fascinated with the shape of buildings on my walks, and especially when they seem to settle in and hide in their surroundings (see below).