Walking’s New Move(ment)s

Last November ArtCouple presented a paper ‘Micro-Psychogeography: Walking as a Re-source for Re-imagining Place-Identity’ at Walking’s New Movements, Plymouth University (1-3 November, 2019).

Our Paper:We were kindly invited by Phil Smith and company to deliver our presentation ‘Micro-psychogeography: walking as a re-source for re-imagining place-identity’ which provided a great opportunity to discuss some of our ongoing work with a host of fascinating and creative walkers temporarily assembled there. The following is from the abstract discussing our individual and collaborative walking practice via two routes:

Ursula described how her ambulations became an ‘open studio’ after picking up sheep’s wool on Ilkley Moor, and working with it on other sites. Walking expanded from generating interpretation in writing and photos into more active provocations of place. Objects began to ‘talk’ in post-subjectivity modes. Plastic bottles left on the beach were taken and turned into art, nets became containers for pebbles.

Simon outlined his Pocket Museum of Displacements, an ongoing project centred on a portable exhibition of small fragments collected and performed on walks. Through displacing tiny psychogeographical elements, common notions of place become unsettled within an exercise in hybridity, questioning convention, representation, and institution. Further subversions operate when the museum includes material from other artworks raising issues of appropriation and identity. 

We concluded by sharing thoughts on wool(ness) through working with materialities, ecopsychology and bioregionality.

There was a memorable question from Matt Fletcher referring to the pieces in the Pocket Museum—which was in my hand at the time, but impossible to open since it was indoors: ‘Are they still active now?’. They do indeed remain active even when they are hidden, that is the way with Displacements.

Walking (Simon):The first outlandish thing to leap out was a blue plaque marking ‘Outlands’, Scott of the Antarctic’s birthplace back in 1868, June 6th— one hundred years before the peak Situationist/”enragés” events in 1968 Paris. Scott failed to return from the South Pole in 1912, and the Paris Riots failed to radically change the world. We walked on to Central Park, which wasn’t quite ‘one of the most filmed locations in the world’—as is its New York counterpart—but  even so was a very dynamic place to walk through, to and from the University. Initially, we were plunged into its Stygian depths after sundown by our ever-helpful Google walking guide. Thankfully we came across a huge, friendly tree crocodilian who pointed the way out of the murky maze. On our final traverse, we entered via the Upper Vanishing sign entrance. The sign grinned like a Cheshire Cat as we passed into the devastation zone where a swathe of trees had been uprooted and broken. The storm hadn’t merited a Storm Name, even though it had winds of over 100 mph and caused a lot of damage around Plymouth. Perhaps Plymouth was too far south to count. A gust of wind called Arthur barely managed to waft a crisp packet across Hampstead Heath—a couple of ducks had to take shelter behind a waste bin. We would call the storm Scott, and the crocodilian Croc. Ursula tried mouth-to-branch resuscitation on a tree but it was too far gone. We cursed Scott, who had hightailed it back over towards the Antarctic by now.

Walking (Ursula):The conference was thrilling, and so was walking to it each day. At first there was the traverse through the park, which was like crossing the centre, if you go by its name, as it’s called ‘Central park’. That reverses the idea of a city centre being a commercial centre, and I like that. To ‘top’ this up, the park is on a higher elevation than the city, and so you can see rows of houses below you from here. The park is hill too, and therefore elevated centrepoint of a city unfolding around it, or so it seems from here. Counterpart as in park – Counterpark! – is The Hoe leading to the coast and the lighthouse – important counter-costellation, where the city is squeezed between these two around the edges: the primacy of urbanization, commerce and capitalism successfully de-centred, in favour of nature: something wild, at heart/ as centre-point. From margin to centre (adapted from hooks 1984). And this one might hold! (from Yeats 1921).

This isn’t really the case of course: my elevation of the parks as removing the centre works geographically, but it doesn’t stop commerce at all: but it’s nice to come up with this lternative story of what could be – and that is somehow echoed by the power of the rocodile-sculpture in the park that we came across on the way: there are ways in which reversal could happen but it’s a matter of seeing that story. So I am telling it here. oThoughts on the way to the conference, interweaving with topics at the conference. So his is what walking-art in practice and in theory is about: to recognise structures we are in, o identity margins and centres within that – and tension / inequality within that! – and ways o change this / walk away from this. What are our possibilities of change by walking? In a ay, this is what our paper, and that of many others, was about. And it was great, stimulating. here we came to gather, together, to exchange our work in decoding, analysing our environment, or making art from it.

Now back to our daily commute to and fro – as this is what punctuated the conference indeed, and so becomes its integral intervals, its frameworks and ‘movements’.

Twice we took the bus, and our bus stop was by a wall in which stones not bricks, were showing amongst the cement. The ones we were standing next to when waiting for the bus looked to me like a coffee bean. Next morning we would go back to my ‘coffee table on the wall’: the beans had been spilled on to it!

For our presentation I brought a bit of my found sheepswool, a limpet, a whelk, Octy and a little net, in which there were once tomatoes. They belonged to our paper, as they are all things I take with me on our walks for interventions.

Outside of our presentation, my objects made further interventions: some of them to temporarily contribute to spaces and artists’ works, such as the ‘conference labyrinth’, Billie Penfold’s strings in her workshop, Phillipe Guillaume’s ‘Mind the Gap’, where Simon and I were invited to draw on the frame of his art work, and next to my coffee cup on a table in a seminar room.

Hamish Fulton: Strikingly serene, measured and confident—yet humble and seated—Hamish Fulton read out his poetic text outlining his walking art practice (see here). Although he made his first ‘artwalk’ in 1967, it took him until 1973 before he made his commitment: To Make Art Resulting Only From The Experience Of Individual Walks. A brave choice, and one that he has followed creatively and resolutely ever since. While walking art has been a constant and increasing aspect of our practice, it has never taken over completely as a sole originator. Ursula was curious about the edges and the temporality of Fulton’s work: how much time elapses between ‘doing’ a walk, and ‘doing art’ from the walk? And what happens in the middle? Lots of areas of interest grew from this. Since I had associated some of his work with that of Richard Long, who has no problem with the category ‘Land Artist’, I was intrigued to find that Fulton was arguing:  ‘Land art contradicts walking art. My art begins with walking, not the history of gardening’. I asked why this was the case, and his answer was highly principled, stating that Land Art disturbs the Earth, either moving it around, slicing it up or hijacking pieces to be sold in galleries. He seemed unconcerned that any image making, such as his own, would have an impact on the Earth somewhere along the line, and it seemed nitpicking to pursue this line of argument in the light of the clear heroism, not to say imperialism, embodied in many grand works of Land Art. The altogether smaller, personal, environmentally sensitive works constituting his walking art bear witness to an alternative aesthetic:

‘Walks are like clouds,
they come and go.
In my memory
nowhere to be seen’   (HF)

Jody Oberfelder’s Object Place Walking took us on a choreographed adventure with our motley selection of treasured objects ranging from dog poo bags to family photos. It was dark, damp and cold but the intervention was beautifully crafted and highly engaging. I took out my ‘walking stone’ which is a smooth piece of black something. It has strange properties and may be natural or possibly an artefact of industrial processes. I call it preternatural. It found itself underneath a silver fish placed by Matt Fletcher, the guy with animist tendencies, and he explained later that he sensed the inner fish of my stone and responded to that. The silver fish appeared to be licking Ursula’s limpet too… 

Musing Mazing: A maze is not a labyrinth. When we arrived at the venue, the main entrance was out of order. After a journey of several fruitless dead-ends, we gained entry through a side door. In the central concourse we came across a labyrinth. It turned out that the main entrance opened from the inside—thus we were able to exit via a different portal to the one we came in. The journey inside, over the three days, was therefore navigating a maze. A maze with a central labyrinth. Amazing.

In the evening we walked past Plymouth’s beautiful lighthouse to performances organised by the conference which was amazing. We liked Phil’s and Helen’s seaweed-piece, where seaweed was talking! 

Conferencers: There were so many amazing people and interventions there and we couldn’t get round everyone/thing, but it is true to say that the ‘New Movements’ in walking are in a very healthy state and further conferences are mooted to be in the pipeline, and we look forward to them. Great performances by Crab & Bee, Tim Shaw, and Jody Oberfelder—we enjoyed all the presentations we managed to see: Ami Skånberg Dahlstedt ‘Suriashi as a ceremonial, subversive act’; Geraldine van Heemstra ‘You only see the Wind through what it touches’; Marie-Anne Lerjen ‘Walking Stairs’; Ben Waddington ‘Walking as an Agent for Observation: Noticing what we Notice’; Philippe Guillaume: ‘Mind the Gap, 2019’; Elspeth (Billie) Penfold. ‘Are You Listening? A Soundscape’; Rebecca Johinke, ‘Walking as a subversive and transformative act: Lilian’s Story’; Alyson Hallett ‘Stone Talks: Book Launch’ (with Helen Billinghurst & Phil Smith); Simon King ‘Walking with Correspondence’; Sally Mann & John Lee ‘How long does a walk have to be?’; William Sharpe ‘What Does a Walk Look Like?’; Sam Christie ‘It started with a film and ended with a walk’: Walking as a creative emergency exit’; Sam Kemp ‘Mythogeography and poetry: radical form, movement and the page’; Hamish Fulton: ‘Words From Walks’. Unfortunately, there were many more we wanted to see, but scheduling did not permit.

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