Reflecting at the borderline (photo Yannis Ziogas and Christos Ioannidis)
The special issue of Interartive on Walking Art / Walking Aesthetics aims at the presentation of papers and art projects that examine or use walking as a contemporary art practice. Since the Situationists, walking has become a widespread contemporary art practice that has at least two aspects: the one is that of a way of experiencing the environment and the body and possibly create artworks from the attained experiences (art of walking). The other aspect is walking art as an independent art medium; a way to initiate works that are autonomously defined and create artworks (walking art). The papers and projects that have been submitted to this special issue reflect on issues that cover various aspects of both the art of walking and the walking art issues.
An important question that has risen is the autonomy or not of the medium of walking in Blake Morris’, The Artistic Medium of Walking (In Defense of Medium Specificity), in Casey Curry’s, Hamish Fulton: The Pilgrim and the Nomad; or in Eloísa Hernández Viramontes’ Richard Long y Hamish Fulton: desplazarse entre paisajes; whether walking is a practice that is a medium in its own right, as it was in the case of Hamish Fulton, or a medium that is the way to create artworks (Richard Long). If one accepts the first approach, the use of terms such as walking performance is problematic, because it takes away the specificity of walking as an independent medium. The acceptance of the second approach creates a broader, more generalised approach of walking art. Another important question concerns the relation of contemporary walking practices to the legacies of Romanticism and Modernism with a main focus on the concept of flânnerie and the practices of the Situationists.
One of the questions that have been addressed is whether walking is a practice independent from the space, where it is developed. In short, if the place defines (and provokes) the walking process or the need to walk is initiated from the expansion of the artist’s body in space and eventually the exploration of both the body and the environment. In Anna Tzakou’s Walking as meditation or how to walk in places of emergency the approach of the contemplative walking demands specific rules for walking that are practiced in the studio before going out in the field (in her case the devastated from the financial crisis Athens). Similarly on Bibi Calderaro’s Walking as Ontological Shifter walking is a way for contemplation and the practice of walk is for the artist a way to meet that role. In the majority of the other approaches (essays and projects) the very specificity of the landscape (urban or rural) is the reason that initiates walking. Prespes in Greece, the borderline of Israel and Palestine, the outskirts of Jakarta, Lahore in Pakistan, New Delhi in India, Qafila Thania in Sahara are some of the places that have initiated walking practices. In many of the projects that are presented in this special issue, the artist faces the landscape (urban or rural) as an open field for exploration (Chris Caines in Walktrack, Gerard O’Brien in My Walking Life, Honi Ryan in Walking Presence: The body in urban space. Field notes from walking as performance practice in Pakistan, Tom Jeffreys in New English Landscapes: Calvert Green). The walking field can be the living space of the artist (Jenny Cashmore’s, In and out (building circuits). In the paper Sharing Perama Sharing Memory of Barbara Polla and Christos Panagos, a very specific area (Perama, Greece) becomes the stimulus of poetic images and social comments via the understanding of space during walking processes. In two papers this “landscape” are the museums of the sculpture parks. Anthi-Danaé Spathoni in the paper A landscape made by walking elaborates on walking as a way to experience the visual environment inside the white cube of a gallery or a museum space. Similarly, in the paper From walking artist…to walking visitor…to walking researcher Laura Castro reflects on the experiencing of art in sculpture parks and the way walking is influencing the aesthetic experience of the visitor.
There are some practices where certain rules are addressed and followed during the walking process (Jenny Savage Guide To Getting Lost #3 Local Guide, Ryan) or a certain “scenario” is followed (Manishikha Baul, Urban Chaari). In Jess Allen’s Tracktivism: walking art as eco-activist performance in rural landscape the practice of walking is realized with specific rules that allow the experience of rural landscape. Another scenario could also be the task of a scientific project, such as in the Migrating Art Historians and Walking as an Art Historical Method, where the pilgrimage routes of the Middle Ages were re-enacted (Martin Lešák). Finally, there is the introduction of the concept of library into a walking process (Misha Myers and Dee Heddon, The Walking Library Collections: The convivial logic of a library made for walking).
In most of the walking practices that are presented, there is no any special preparation of the artist’s body before going outdoors. The practitioner of walking (whether an artist or a theoretician) explores the place of his interest having in mind a task, but without preparing his/or her body specifically for that. Walking practice is used as a medium of political activism; a need to understand the psychogeography of a specific place under the perspective of a political view or its cultural heritage. For this approach there is no preparation of the artist’s body through studio exercises (Bernardo Bruno’s Psychogeography in Southern Italy, Between Contemporary Art and Activism, Carolina Santo’s From Nauzenac To Ubaye, a walking performance and Susanne Bosch’s Walking as Relational Aesthetics). The idea of walking as a means to reveal a political condition is practiced quite often (Bernardo Bruno, Jorgen Doyle, Hannah Ekin, Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina The Great Garuda Sea Walk: Producing Situated Knowledge through Exploration, Susanne Bosch, Thayer Hastings’ Tracing a line through a fractured Palestine, from al-Arroub to Bethlehem). Walking allows the artist to experience the actual reality first-hand and in some cases (Bosch, Hastings) to expose themselves in actual dangers.
In some cases, the use of a dancing body becomes the main tool to explore a specific territory (Laís Rosa’s Andanzas guiadas, Manishikha Baul), in others, the performative body in the space is seen as a way to reflect upon the symbolic and contemporary figure of the flâneur (Elia Torrecilla’s Reflejos y destellos de dos paseos navideños). The experience of daily walking can also become an exercise where the material body disappears and opens the space to mental maps, revealing poetic cartographies (Lora Franco’s Mapa mental de un barrio Caroreño).
The issue of whether the practice of walking initiates a specific ethos has been brought by many of the writers (Curry, Tzakou). The walking practitioner becomes more than an observatory of a landscape, of a social reality, but via the walking practice he/she transforms and “exercises” his/her personality and body. The ancient concept of walking as a pilgrimage, or generally of pilgrimage (sacred or secular) as a walking practice is also part of the way the individual experiences the outer world (Mike Collier Pilgrimage, Martin Lešák, “Migrating Art Historians and Walking” as an Art Historical Method).
In many cases the practitioners become nomads since the walking lasts for days, in order to cover long distances (Yannis Ziogas’ Visual March to Prespes, Walking as a contemplative process, Pau Catà’s Beyond Qafila Thania, Gustaf Broms and Trishula Littler "a walking piece" on foot from Vendel Sweden to Odessa Ukraine. Came out of a longing to make a work with the formless, Urszula Staszkop’s Psychogeography in Rural Environment: on Honorata Martin’s Going out into Poland and Jorgen Doyle, Hannah Ekin, Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina).
The question aroused of whether to use any electronic devices (photography, video, iPods, etc.) to record the itinerary, or is it indeed enough to write the experiences in a diary or other form of text. The introduction of technology in the contemporary practice of walking is presented from Bill Psarras in the article From stones to GPS: Critical reflections on aesthetic walking and the need to draw a line, Christina Kazakou Sensory Walks: Learning by walking, thinking by experiencing I when art meets science, Liron Efrat’s and Giovanna Casimiro’s The Augmented Walk: Unfolding the City’s Dimensions with Augmented Reality Artistic Interventions, Stella Sylaiou’s -Maria Chountasi’s -Elena Lagoudi’s Towards a digital Age Psychogeography and the hybrid flâneur, Kristina Borg’s Alternative DIY walk-tours, Gerry Kisil’s and Alan Dunning’s Cities in the City –walking in the uncanny, Nigel Helyer’s Walking and thinking, an orientation. In some cases, technology is used to create images (Luca Idrobo Grafía de un camino de bosque, Gustaf Broms and Trishula Littler). However, in the vast majority of the papers that have been included in special issue, the practitioners of walking are not using technology as part of their bodily experience, they interact to environment directly and they take notes either in the form of text, or with the use of video or photo as a medium for documentation and not for its “aesthetic” value.
There is the question of whether the process related to walking becomes an aesthetisized outcome when it is presented, even in an unedited form, or should it stay only as a narrative memory. This question raises issues that keep been addressed in the approaches of this edition. One approach is to create as final outcome an artwork (Linda Havenstein’s The Guryong Walks, Gustaf Broms and Trishula Littler, Lucie Chausson’s Journey, Victoria Evans’ It Takes a Year to Walk Around the Sun, Didem Erk’s projects, Lar MacGregor’s Wayfaring). The other approach is to present only the memory of the experience with documentation/notes (Monique Besten’s A Soft Armour, Christine Quoireaud’s in WALKING: an ordinary activity, a simple means of transport, of recreation, of performing a pilgrimage, of demonstrating..). In other words, there is an open question: to what extent the creation of an artwork is important in the walking art practices? In certain cases, the walking process deals with eschatological issues, such as death in Mariana Rocha’s All distance at one, or with extreme conditions, such as walking between the Twin Towers (Ruth Bretherick’s Flânerie en haut: walking the skyline).
The way that walking practices can initiate participatory processes with social impact and pedagogical applications is also evident in many of the examples that are presented (Misha Myers and Dee Heddon, Yannis Ziogas, Giorgos Paliatsios’ An Infinite End, Robert Bean’s and Barbara Lounder’s Being-in-the-Breathable: an annotated walk, Bernardo Bruno, Carolina E. Santo, Panagiotis Dafiotis’ Walking art meets art education: towards a synthesis of methods). The connection between walking and the multiple spheres of human activity (being it political, social, spiritual, etc.) and its translation into a diverse set of artistic practices, is analysed in Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio’s text Walking. The creative and mindful space between one step and another. The social impact of the walking practices is evident in the majority of the papers. The walking practice allows the participants to realize the actuality of the social milieu, brings them in contact with the residents of the place where they wander, and reveals to them, one could dare to say, the true dimension of things. This is actually the motivation behind most of the walking practices: to detach the artist from an aesthetisized approach and bring them to society, to the actual field of human interactions.
The papers and projects presented in this issue are exploring various approaches to walking. Walking has gained a contemporary importance as a medium that incorporates the body, the landscape and a number of disciplines related to them. Walking either as a medium or a form of artistic praxis is an approach that will keep developing, assimilating and expressing a broad spectrum of the human experience.