As someone who has walked regularly since being a child, I initially approached this book with some scepticism. Walking as art? Yet another attempt by the cunning contemporary conceptual artist to re-appropriate everyday life as art, I thought.
However I soon got over this – the book is full of so many different ways of looking at and thinking and talking about walking that it drew me in. First impression highlights were an illustrated Norwegian map entitled Searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Regina José Galindo’s bloody footprints in Guatemala City, Bruce Nauman’s Slow Angle Walk, Jeremy Deller’s Manchester procession and Sophy Rickett’s photographs of women pissing in male postures in London streets. A definite lowlight for me was Franko B’s I Miss You – but I never could see the point of that performance.
So, on to a slightly more considered view of the book’s content. I love the old-fashioned feel of the first 7 pages – Peter Liversidge’s very familiar typewriter-written pithy proposals. And his suggestion, adopted by the editor, of having 5 empty pages at the back of the book for readers’ notes is lovely.
This book is comprehensive. It is divided into 7 sections: Footprints and Lines, Writers and Philosophers, Marches and Processions, Aliens, Dandies and Drifters, Slapstick, Studios, Museums and Biennales and Dog Walkers. One of the quite elusive and intangible ways in which I like or don’t like or feel indifferent about books is their ‘feel’. This one definitely has a good feel. It combines photographs, texts, drawings, newspaper clippings, maps, diagrams and artworks in a way which resembles a meandering walk on a day when there is no pressure to get there.
I was lucky to see an exhibition of Regina José Galindo’s Who Can Erase The Traces? Its inclusion in this book brought back the memory of seeing the film of her walking the streets of Guatemala City barefoot and stopping every now and then to step into a basin filled with blood so that she leaves a trail of bloody footprints, representing the thousands of civilians murdered by the army over decades. It is a very powerful performance.
I don’t know that much about Bruce Nauman’s work but Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk) of 1968 has whetted my appetite for more. He writes: “If you see yourself as an artist and you function in a studio and you’re not a painter…if you don’t start out with some canvas, you do all kinds of things-you sit in a chair or pace around.” The black and white photograph is a beautiful blurred image of him doing just that, walking in a studio in a posture of angles.
Jeremy Deller’s Procession combines processors from different walks of life in Manchester: Scout and Guide marching bands; former mill workers; dancers; players of exotic instruments; mobile libraries; Stretford Rose Queens; the Ramblers Association; Gay City Strollers; mascots from all of the local football teams; The Unrepentant Smokers and many others, all brought together to celebrate the ‘strange glory’ of Manchester. I wish I had been there.
There is no written commentary on the three black and white photographs of women hitching up their skirts and pissing like men, their knees bent, in the streets of London by Sophy Rickett in 1995. They are simply entitled Old Street, Vauxhall Bridge and Silvertown and are strangely seductive while opening up so many questions: why are they doing it?; how are they doing it?; are the pictures a comment on the City and its buildings, symbolic of financial capital, or on the behaviour of men in the streets or both or neither? They are fascinating, enigmatic pictures which open up a space for thought and discussion.
Finally, for this review, Richard Long’s famous A Line Made by Walking of 1969 is treated as slapstick by the curator Dieter Roelstraete in 2010. He associates it with the deadpan ‘dumb’ humour of Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton. Interesting.
The Art Of Walking, a field guide is a great book. Great to dip into and great to read and great to look at the pictures. If you like walking and art and you can afford the price, £16.95, buy it.
Paul Allender, 2013.
David Evans (2013), The Art of Walking: A Field Guide. Black Dog Publishing: London, £16.95