The art of walking: the rise of the walking artists

When the experience becomes an art

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By Asmita Sarkar

walking artists

On earlier occasions, we talked about land art, where artists make sculptures or drawings exploiting the characteristic of the land they choose.

Some contemporary artists have gone a step further and, having completely abandoned the idea of an art object and a specific image that signifies a work of art, they use the land without modifying it, simply to experience art. For these artists the act of walking in itself is an artistic act.

One of them is Hamish Fulton , who famously stated ‘I am an artist who walks, not a walker who makes art.’ As a matter of fact, he walks across long stretches of land and writes small texts, makes sketches and takes photographs along the way. These bits and pieces are a way of recounting his experience.

He emphasizes that these pieces are not works of art in themselves. Rather the experience is an art.

He introduced the idea of taking group-walks. A group of people walk together and talk about their experience at the end of the journey. Hamish Fulton takes specific care not to alter any characteristic of the land. He does not leave any footmarks behind, not even a trace. The focus is on the human experience. For him, walking can be so many things. It can even be political protest.

One of such political pieces is called ‘Kailash.’ Kailash is the name of the most sacred mountain in Himalaya, situated in the chinese occupied Tibet. Fulton performed a walking trip of this mountain with his daughter, absorbing the local culture, rituals and traditions, and followed the ancient ritual named ‘Kora’, which means “walking around the holy mountain following an ancient footpath in counter-clock direction”.  He was shocked to found that the new processes of industrialization are gradually wiping off the path.

The outcome of his experience was a series of broken texts and sketches reflective of his subjective experience.

The art of walking does not always only deals with a romantic view of nature and rural and ethnic culture: it can make a point on issues related to urban development, pollution and waste. When we drive a car through a busy street, maybe to reach work on time, the sheer speed at which we travel and the cocoon of the car itself, means we seldom look at the rubbish piled at the sides of the road.

Francis Alÿs, a Belgian born artist who trained as an architect and moved to Mexico City later in life, is a conceptual artist whose work regularly features walks in the urban peripheries. In 1991 at the beginning of his carrier, Alÿs dragged a magnetic toy dog on wheels through Mexico City until it became covered entirely in coins and other small metal debris.

This debris was displayed in a very artistic way to make a commentary on the nature of waste in one of the largest metropolis of the world. Since then, Alÿs has walked on different metropoles in different continents. The implication of his walks stretches beyond ecological concern: his performances are more like a theatre of the absurd.

But from an ecological perspective, his works have spun a new trend that aims at mapping cities psycho-geographically: in other words, how we perceive our urban surrounding and create mental map of a place that is familiar to us.

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