Visual March to Prespes. Walking as a contemplative process | YANNIS ZIOGAS


We speak of the meaning of life, of the non-utility of art. [1]


In views of his overall activity and art practice, Gauguin can be interpreted as the first example of a nomadic artist: someone who travelled, worked and culturally reacted to various places: Paris, Pont-Aven in Normandy, Saint Pierre in Martinique, Arles and Puna’auia in Tahiti. The activity of this early modernist was a spiritual quest that was initiating a constant momentum and was also creating authentic images. The epitome of that approach is expressed (almost in a manifesto form) in the iconic painting: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?[2]

Paul Gauguin, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897, oil on canvas, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


The title is neither descriptive nor an assertion: it is a set of three questions, which is a fact unique in European  Painting. Gauguin introduces the approach of questioning in his work, thereby bringing into his painting a philosophic dimension. One of the important contributions of this painting is that it brings to iconography the concepts of Coming/Being Somewhere/ Going. These notions are explored in an environment of Otherness. Gauguin is questing for his identity in an environment where the Other is defining who he is. 

The threefold title expresses the three states of Life. These are also the three phases of a contemporary walking practice. First, as artists, we contemplate the Origin of our Identity; the notion of “coming from”. This notion is our starting point. Second, we are examining our Identity, as our state of being, by walking and passing from one place to another. Third comes the concept of Destination, the place where we shall finally arrive, providing thereby an answer to the question of: where shall we transcend to? Origin/Identity/Destination are combined in a way that motivates a walking practice; walking becomes the approach of an artistic momentum which is derived from ontological inquiries.


A filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is another example of a visual artist who shaped his work dealing with issues related to ontological questions. His protagonists constantly walk and contemplate on concepts such as origin, artistic practice, memory, nostalgia. The three monks in the starting scene of Andrei Rubliev (1969), the astronaut in Solaris (1972), the four wanderers of Stalker (1979), the writer in Nostalgia (1983) are the various personifications of the director himself who walks and, moving from one place to the other reflects on ontological issues.[3]


The wanderers in Tarkovky’s film Stalker while walking in an alienated environment.


Tarkovsky’s wanderers are practicing prayers of the mind. They are praying/contemplating constantly. The plot of his films is developed as a result of the thoughts that derive from these peripatetic processes.  

Visual March to Prespa[4] is a diverse creative activity that was initiated by the concepts of artistic ideas that have been mentioned in the previous paragraphs. The involvement with local society and issues related to it became more and more evident over the years. This involvement was detaching the practice from a self contained artistic process and it was extending it into to an interactive social activity. Visual March to Prespes began in 2007 aiming to activate primary visual processes in the border-region of Prespa.[5] Since then, it explores the approach of artistic experience as a locus in which places, ideas and images are met by people. Each year or every second year a particular theme is explored that reflects on ideas related to art, history and philosophy. Each period introduces a topic of exploration. The concepts that were explored started from art-related issues and the way they were explored during the process of the Visual March (from 2007 until 2010). Eventually, after 2011, the thematic areas started to derive from the stimuli that the geographic area itself was inspiring.     

The 9 thematic areas, that have been explored so far, are:


2007           Initial walking process

2008          Conferences about the Mountain and the Lakes

2009          Global Landscapes

2010          Extended / Absolute Fields

2011          Trails

2012          Peripatetics at the  Borderline of Contemplation

2013-14     Survival Procedures

  2015-16    Flows of Realities/The dominance of water as spiritual matter- Nature / limits / materials III

2017 -18   Implied and Actual Monuments - Nature / limits / materials IV


The ideas that initiated Visual March to Prespa started in 2006. It was then that I was first hired to work at the, then newly founded, Department of Fine Arts of the University of Western Macedonia (TEET) in Florina. I found myself as an individual and as an artist in an extreme situation. More particularly, I have been living until then in big cities (Athens, Detroit, New York, Chicago), and my entire work and life were shaped from my urban experiences. As an artist I was practicing my research in studios, as well as exhibiting in art spaces. I was contemplating mainly on issues related to the current art discourse.  My understanding of nature was totally abstract and I had only a very basic experience of the way it is shaped. Florina on the contrary is a small town in the middle of a rural environment. It has a population of 12.000 and it is located 627 km north of Athens. The presence of nature is imposing and the town of Florina is too far away from the mainstream artworld. This difference between the previous and the current conditions created a challenge for me: how can a new art school of the 21st century become a creative environment of research, practice and ideas?  How can the site-specificity be explored and exploited?  What is the state of an artist in such conditions? How can the surrounding social environment become part of that process?  


What I decided to do was to walk: I decided to move beyond the walls of the School (TEET) and of the city of Florina and start exploring the land beyond the limits that were restraining me. I named the walking process Visual March to Prespes.

Walking in the Pineritsa/Balkonia area (Varnous Mountain) during Visual March 2007 (photo Yannis Ziogas)


“March” entails the memories of all the political utopias of Modernism and perhaps more than any other word.  The word has also become synonymous with the failures to address these utopias and it has attained a contemporary melancholic concept. The walk needed a destination and Prespes had a symbolic character for two main reasons: first because of its borderline character; it marks a tri-point meeting place of Greece, Albania and FYROM. The second reason is derived from the concept of being “faraway”. Florina is faraway from where I was coming from, however, Prespes is even further. It never occurred to me to go to Prespes by car. Walking seems the only way, since it was my body that was involved in the process of my journey. Visual March to Prespes became an exodus towards the limits of my physical and cognitive experiences.

The process has never been an individual walk. Students from the art school, colleagues from the University and the local art community were invited to participate.[6] The Manifesto of Prespes was issued that declared the initial ideas of the process:

Visual March to Prespes initiates original visual activities. It supports the argument that cultural experience exists wherever there is a meeting point of people, places, ideas and images. The march into the natural environment of Prespes is also a march towards communication between those who participate and towards communication with the environment that they discover along the journey.  Albeit the process at first glance seems relative to the conceptual processes of the flânneurs of romanticism or the landscape artists, it is different; the natural environment is neither a forgotten paradise of a lost innocence nor a place where someone can feel the sublime, but rather a meeting place for contemporary people. 

A number of ontological questions were brought up because of and during this process: what is Field/field?[7] What is Trace/trace? What is Gesture/gesture?[8] What is Destination/destination? What is Place/place? What is Ruin/ruin? What is Body/body? What is Horizon/horizon? What is Meeting/meeting?

Meeting with shepherds during the 2012 Visual March (photo Christos Ioannidis)


What is Trail/trail? What is Incident/incident? What is Fear/fear?[9] What is Monument/monument?

Participants of Visual March 2018 during the transformation of an abandoned military station into a Monument to Human Activity (photo Yannis Ziogas)


What is Danger/danger? What is Return/return? What is Border/border?

The pyramid that marks the border between Greece and FYROM still having the initials of a country that doesn’t exist anymore: Yugoslavia (photo Christos Ioannidis)


And finally what is an Artist/artist in the current social environment?

The main stimulus of Visual March is to reflect on the double character of reality: the interpretation of the actual and what lies beyond what we perceive as actuality.  Walking allowed the bodily reflection on concepts that are (or could become) important in the artistic practice. By virtue of this process, words and notions cease to be abstract concepts and are becoming experienced realities. Walking allowed introducing extended meanings of words that are common in the artistic practice such as gesture, field and horizon. Also, the walking process initiated artistic meaning in words that are still not in the artistic vocabulary, such as danger, incident and return.

One of the concepts that was considered is that of “the trail” and of the question: What is Trail/trail?

The Trail from Oriza Mountain to the village of Agios Germanos (photo Thodoris Fatsis)


The trails are the main characteristic of the area, an area that was a crossroad of ancient and contemporary travel routes. These routes were shaped and are used by birds, wild animals, immigrants, merchants, warriors (so many warriors) until recently. The trails have been created not only by men, but also by other creatures of nature. The area is definitely beautiful; however beauty is not its main characteristic. The main characteristics are the traces of all the trails that are crossing the area. Trails that are either imaginable or actual. All these trails are culminating and create unexpected meeting points at the Prespes Lake plateau. There are places which are beautiful, by definition. However some of them are characterised by a hidden aura that goes beyond their obvious beauty or historic importance. That aura is the way memory can be traced at these places and the way they are transforming that which is overt into a contemplation process, almost in a mysterious way. Places like that are Delphi, Keramicos in Athens and Prespes as well. The Trail is in fact the conceptual passage from one condition to the other. Walking on a Trail is a condition where the body functions as a sensor of ideas, as a pedometer of reactions. In a Trail someone is directed towards a destination or towards returning to a familiar place, or…

Another concept that was explored is the “border”. Three concepts of the Border/border were initiated during the implementation of the Visual March. The first is of the border as the borderline between countries. In the Prespes area there is the borderline of Hellas-Albania-FYROM.[10] These borders are borders with open issues related to migration, politics, and cultural tensions. Another notion of the border is the notion of limit. The limit as a spiritual or actual outpost that someone has to cross in order to see what exists beyond it. This effort is very much related to the notion of the Other. The Other is approached both as someone and something that possibly exists beyond the borderline or the personal Other. The Other is every unknown reality (or realities). A third concept of the border is connected to the notion of the unknown, of something that is out there while we don’t exactly know what it is and thus we are using our imagination to think about it. The Border becomes the separating entity between what we know and what was shaped by our own prejudices.  In October 2014 we were sitting at the border between Greece and Albania after a five hour exhausting effort. It was one of the incidents when one had a feeling of being at a point where whatever lies beyond is non-accessible.


Reflecting at the borderline (photo Yannis Ziogas and Christos Ioannidis)


Walking is not about hiking. The artists who participate in the process of Visual March are not botanists, mountaineers or historians. They are thinkers and artists involved in the process of walking in order to initiate concepts of understanding the world as a whole, in order to introduce a bodily reaction to reality.  The body of the artist becomes a spiritual pacemaker of the place. The Visual March process initiated my individual project Magnus Artisticus. This ongoing project (started in 2008) is a reflection on the condition of the contemporary artist when he/she practices walking processes in a non familiar environment.

The Magnus Artisticus walking in the mountains of Prespes (photo Ilektra Maipa)

Snapshots from the Magnus Artisticus II Vigla 1-3-2012, a series of films recording the walking processes of Magnus Aristicus. The artist walks in nature and contemplates on Ontogical issues.


Magnus Artisticus is an alter ego of mine who is practicing art while walking, in a manner comparable to the contemplative practice of the prayer of the mind.

One can pose the question: what is the importance of the artwork as object in a walking practice, such as the Visual March to Prespes? The artworks (actual or implied) created by the participants during the process have shaped a nucleus of ideas. These ideas initiated in Prespes a Park of Concepts.[11] Visual March to Prespes introduces terms which either have been forgotten in recent years or have not been explored yet. Mainly, however, it proposes a model of the artist as a researcher/thinker, an individual whose practices are a consequential derivative of the experience and critical thinking. Among Visual March’s principal aims is the creation of concepts (and eventually of artworks) based on locality and the adoption of relational art practices bearing on a social dimension.[12]

This momentum has transformed Prespes, since 2007, into a workshop of ideas without borders, into a topos where nomadic activities have shaped visual artworks, concepts and practices. All of the above has resulted in activities of meetings, exchange of ideas and creativity. The area, thirteen years later, has been transformed into an absolute field. It is here where the status of the contemporary artist is tested and potentially the convictions that shape the international contemporary scene. Prespes is transformed through the walking experience into a Museum without borders, where the only walls and limits are people’s intentions.

The field of Prespes (photo Christos Ioannidis)


Yannis Ziogas was born in Thessaloniki (Greece). He studied Math (BS University of Athens) and received his Master’s in Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts (1991) in New York. He holds a PhD from the University of the Aegean (2013). Ηe had twenty two solo exhibitions and has participated in numerous group exhibitions in Greece and abroad. He is an associate professor at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of the University of Western Macedonia (Florina). He has worked in residencies in New York and taught as a visiting lecturer at many Universities in Greece and abroad. His work has been reviewed nationally and internationally (New York Times, Artnews, Sculpture, Giornalle dell’ arte). He is the author of several essays on art theory and of the following books: The Byzantine Malevich, Tarkovsky in Chalkis, Censorship in Visual Arts, the Diary of a 407/80, Forbidden! Censorship of Visual Artworks in Greece 1949-2016. Since 2007 he organises periodically the artistic process Visual March to Prespes.


[1] The extract is from Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. Three wanderers listen to contemplations on life from the Stalker (their guide): “We speak of the meaning of life, of the non-utility of art.  Take music for instance. Less than anything it is connected to reality or if connected at all, it is done mechanically not by way of ideas, just by a sheer sound, devoid of any associations. And yet music, as if by some miracle gets through into our heart. What is it that resonates in us in response to noise brought to harmony, making it the source of the greatest delight, which stuns us and brings us together? What is all this needed for?  And most importantly, who needs it? You would say “No one, and for no reason”.  Unselfishly. No. I don’t think so. After all, everything has some sense. Sense and reason.” ”

[2] Paul Gauguin, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897, oil on canvas, 139 × 375 cm (55 × 148 in), Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. 

[3] Ziogas Yannis, Tarkovsky in Chalkis, Egokeros, Athens, 2011. In this book the writer explores the ideas in Tarkofsky’s film focusing on the way his visual images create cultural concepts.

[4] At this link one can see the development of Visual March to Prespes over the years:

[5] The project Visual March in Prespes takes place in Prespes. Prespes is an area in the Prefecture of Florina situated at the northern borderline of Greece, bordering with Albania and FYROM. Prespes is a system of two lakes (Mikri and Megali Prespa = Small and Big Prespa) situated 60 km west of Florina. The rich flora and fauna and the impressive variety of the natural environment in general, had as a result the proclamation of the area as a National Park, in 1974. The National Park of Prespes (853 m. above sea level) includes two lakes (Mikri and Megali Prespa) that are separated by a narrow strip of land. The mountains around them are also part of the National Park. Prespes, an environmentally protected area, is unique for its ecological system, its history and the overwhelming beauty of the landscape. The area is protected by the Ramsar Convention. Prespes is one of the richest areas in Europe in terms of its natural environment. The area has also a historic interest both for the sites that have been preserved and for the memory of the events that took place there. Prespes are situated in the middle of the ancient road connecting the coast of the Adriatic to the Aegean Sea. Prespes was the place of fierce battles for the entire first half of the 20th century: during the Macedonian struggle (1902-07), The Balkan Wars (1912-13) the First World War (1904-08) and the Second World War (1940-44) and most notably during the last years of the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). This 50 year span of time when Prespes (and the Florina area in general) was the theatre of war has left its trace in the collective memory of the inhabitants and the place, transforming it into a field of contemporary archaeology. 

[6] Initially the main focus of Visual March to Prespa has been the activation of a process that would introduce the students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of the University of Western Macedonia to modern concepts and practices. The main aim was to explore, with walking processes, the surrounding area of Florina using the theoretical approaches of critical thinking. In its development, Visual March to Prespa expanded beyond its educational role and spatial locality and has been transformed into both an artistic and social experience of landscape. The process later acquired national and international status through the invitation of guest-artists and theorists from Greece and abroad, through activities in neighboring countries (Albania, FYROM), participation in international conferences (USA, Netherlands, Cyprus), and cooperation with foreign institutions such as the Art Department of the University of New Mexico (USA) that develops similar projects in the frontier of Texas / Mexico (Land Arts of the American West).

[7] Ziogas Yannis, The feeling of Art and experience (… when we discover Pessoa or 22.246 pieces of paper), Global Landscapes/Παγκόσμια Τοπία, collective volume for the Visual March to Prespes, 24-47, Egokeros, Athens, 2009.

[8] Ziogas Yannis, The Visual Gestures of the March:  The work as an incident, catalog of the exhibition Visual March to Prespes 2007-14,  a process of experiencing the landscape, 33-35, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, 2015.

[9] Ziogas Yannis, Risk and danger, 6 incidents of a nomadic process, The paradigm of Visual March to Prespes, apexart (editors Steven Rand, Heather Felty), in the volume Life Between Borders: The Nomadic Life of Curators and Artists, New York, 2013.

[10] The presence of Border initiated the collaboration of Visual March with the Land Arts of the American West organised from the University of New Mexico. Both activities are situated at borderlines where the idea of separation is very real: the borderline of Mexico and the borderline with Albania and FYROM in Florina.

[11] One could assume that Visual March to Prespes is a contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk, where the totality is produced from the walking bodies of the participants.

[12] The exhibition Visual March to Prespa 2007 – 2014: A process of experiencing the landscape, (October 2014 to January 2015, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki Greece) recorded the initial-experience (the decisive events) of those who worked in Prespa, as well as the projects they have realised. In this way, Prespa is transformed into a field of contemporary archeology under exploration.