“The great philosophers and poets walked in order to be able to write and wrote in order to be able to walk, while walking and writing were synonymous acts.”
Bates & Rhys-Taylor (2017)
Although the current trend to value and place the walking methodologies at the forefront of the debate, not only in the context of the social sciences but also in art and visual culture education, could make us believe otherwise, the relationship between walking and knowledge is not new. Walter Benjamin, as in Baudelaire’s flâneur, used walking not only as a tool for developing and processing his thoughts but also to question others and the worlds in which they lived.
Rather than focusing this study on the specific and direct relationship between walking methodologies and artistic creation, it will focus on examining and trying to illustrate a model of experience and knowledge acquisition that arises from the combination between motion and time. “Intelligence starts ordinarily from the immobile and reconstructs movement as it can best with immobilities in juxtaposition. Intuition starts from movement, posits it, or rather perceives it as reality itself and sees itself in immobility only an abstract moment, a snapshot taken by our mind, of a mobility” (Bergson, 1988, p. 22).
Besides being a highly effective form of exercise, walking is also a mechanism to reinvigorate our engagement with the social world. In addition to a new, ever-changing perspective linked to our own route, walking makes us interact with the outside world on a physical and sensory level. Walking collects together visions, smells, tactilities, sounds and tastes with various degrees of association and intimacy and with synaesthetic effects (Tilley, 2015, p. 17-18).
Only after we tune ourselves with the world we can try to understand how to answer the questions posed by the walk itself and how to represent the experience and knowledge we get from walking.
I. The Walk
We walk to discover the world and sometimes to fulfill prior expectations. During the time of the walking experience, the person who walks faces two important challenges: the first is to disconnect from the social world where he lives; the second is to try to experience the outer space through which one he moves while discovering himself. Walking always implies a basic and vital gesture of cutting down baggage and actions to the essentials. As artists (and researchers/ educators) when we walk, we put aside the external and mundane problems and we move closer to a more sensitive and humane perception of the world and agency.
We walk looking at the horizon, with the idea of departing and arriving at a destination, in a space that continuously changes at each step, while assimilating and segregating knowledge, adapting it to the circumstances and to the reality of events. The walk also takes us away from what we are and frees us from the image we generate of our own. While we cross the real and the mental landscapes that are built and rebuilt over the duration of the experience, our behavior and identity in nature changes, displaced and freed from the constraints of society’s ethical and moral behaviors. It is in this environment of liberation that the walking artist can act freely.
Today, the notions of space are many and complex. Depending on the perspective we use, the concept of space can have different meanings. From the lens of psychology, space relates to the object of perception; from the point of view of geometry, it is something uninterrupted and infinite; from the angle of physics, it is related to matter and time and from a metaphysical outlook, it relates with the set of ideas that connect space with the rational and immanent and time with the irrational and transcendent (Ferrater Mora, 1979, p. 1085).
However, as Marc Augé (2008) points out, the term is more abstract than, for example, ‘place’ and by using it we could also refer to some event, mythical place or statement. It can even be used to mention a stretch of land, time, or distance. From the perspective of walking art, it relates to freedom, to a disruption with traditional art, to the search for new places outside the studio where to think, perceive, inquire, experiment and produce work, to the landscape and to the knowledge.
This walking space, which is never experienced as a totality, but as a fragment, brings back memories of the past and the possibility of leaving them forever at the side. Memories that when walking through familiar landscapes are not only perceived with the eyes but also experienced through physical sensations and accumulated remembrances. (Marchán Fiz, 2007, p. 33-34).
Walking allows us to understand the phenomena, the world events and to symbolically interpret the territory, in a kind of psychological topography. But we can also wander around, waiting for the facts to haphazardly happen in our route, letting us be led by the path characteristics, immersed in space, searching for places that allow us to experience new states of consciousness that ease communication and action between body and nature. In these cases, the nature of the landscape is what determines the walk, its pace, its duration and its experience. The repetition of the walk through the same places adds interest for the space itself but also for the experience of that space, since one, when fully involved in the experience, does not think about the destination.
Inevitably, walking defines and highlights boundaries. The landscape is what happens beyond this border, in a place we cannot reach. And when, because we get closer, we reach it, the landscape becomes the place, defining new frontiers and new landscapes.
II. The Path
“The physical conditions of a location often raise thoughts; In fact, places engender thoughts. Thoughts and ideas that come from a specific context are distinct from abstract concepts. You have to create connections while evaluating your experience: thinking while standing up.”
Richard Serra (1994)
We now know that a large part of all walks made by the world population happen in urban environments. Despite the emergence, since the middle of the last century, of anti-pedestrian and pro-automobile cities, most movements around the world have maintained a strong pedestrian component. Even in cities that favor the car the most, these actions are present and are re-establishing the ancient relationship that urban forms maintain with walking. Even in true smart cities, new technologies and models of urban policies are less important than the fact that the most important points of the city are within walking distance from a certain point, and the design of public space, in general, continues to favor pedestrian motion. Despite our immersion in the digital world, we continue to walk around to meet each other. And often, to meet ourselves.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, path relates to the passage through a place, course or route, but also with a space in the past, present or future time. The last decades, marked by a profound technological evolution and the popularity of travel, have highlighted the lack of interest in what happens between departure and arrival. Nowadays, for social, economic, and cultural reasons, our paths are always planned to spend as little time as possible to go from one point to another. In general, more thought is given to the arrival than to the development of the experience during the journey (Watts, 1999).
Walking artists intentionally undertake the path to make art from their own walking experience. Adapting to the route, they travel through space to perceive and feel the landscape, to answer questions and to ask new questions, to seek and find relationships, similarities and differences. You walk like an artist when you feel the space and the flow of time.
III. The Experience
Walking artists seek their inspiration by walking and they generate their works while acting freely, mostly alone. Since the 18th century that many authors talk about the practice of walking alone to find solitude and silence, looking to establish a dialogue with the memory and to live the experience of self-discovery.
For philosopher Immanuel Kant, “[…] space is the form of our external experience and time is the form of our internal experience; In interpreting his inner experience, man has to approach new problems, he cannot use the same methods he used in his first attempt to organize and systematize his knowledge of the physical world” (Cassirer, 1987, p. 81-82).
The relations between the artist and the walking, the path, the territory or history depend largely on each artist, but basically, they are created from the experiences and knowledge gained along the way. On the road, two types of experiences are lived: external and internal. The first stems from the premeditated or involuntary experiences while walking, which usually appear through real sensory elements perceived from nature over time. And the second, the internal ones, are generated and modeled in the artist’s mind when he is allowed to lead the way and isolate himself from the space he traverses.
Artists like Chris Drury explore the subconscious of his mind because it is there, he says, where “lies the hidden image of nature in all its richness and depth” (Argullol, 1983, p. 87). In this state of dissociation from the real world that occurs during walking along nature’s path, the artist moves to a special state of mind, in which a path is created in his new consciousness for him to walk, contemplate and where to possibly intervene.
Richard Serra explains that when he walks, observation eventually influences the memory, and that there is a point where memory enters perception and where observation and experience converge. For the artist, “seeing is a way of thinking and, conversely, thinking is seeing. The image of a thought […] is an experience in relation to time, to what it was and to what it will be. Visual thinking is often found in the voice of memory. The problem is how to turn on the memory and dig up material, such as re-exploring what you have already declined or canceled. For the memory to work, memoirs must be activated repeatedly to regain the track of forgotten vestiges. However, latent memories, those we are not trying to consciously rescue, can act as catalysts in certain contexts or in relation to specific aspects of an object, material or emotion” (Serra, 1994, p. 48).
IV. The Time
The artist feels and experiences the walk with his body. He needs to calibrate and synchronize it first with nature to be fully conscious of the landscape. He measures its course and duration with his body and chosen points of his own which, when aligned, trace a direction and a destination; they give him a cadence of step and thought.
In nature, as Olafur Eliasson claims, time passes at a different pace, different from the mechanical time of clocks, and in greater compliance with the biological clock of the human being and the nature where he lives. For Georges Perec, this clock time “[…] is a notion without a reference, an idea that recurs to many words not to refer to any concrete object (in the most referential sense), but to sensations or apprehensions of an experience imposed by the human long-established practices, obliged in turn for the relentless cosmic world (night/day, summer/winter, etc.), and not so much for an intellectual, pragmatic or experimental act” (Perec, 1999, p. 10).
Walks are measured in minutes, hours or days; in miles or kilometers. But when walking, the distances and their duration tend to be shortened to smaller units. If we have a map, the movements take place between the nearest localizable points. We have the feeling that the trip is shorter, and the time spent is briefer; but the reality is different, the distances are the same and so is the time, measurable and quantifiable using a clock; however, in the mind, the sensation is different and its duration is relative. According to Georges Perec, “our notion of time does not fit very clear parameters”, but it is clear “that it assimilates with a perception of our existence that could be identified with categories such as duration, consecutiveness, effect, ordering, deduction, ranking” (Perec, 1999, p. 10).
Henri Bergson (1988) distinguishes two types of time. The physical or mechanical that would be science itself, which is measured by clocks and comprises a succession of units of measurement. It is the time that Bergson calls duration, which not only has a quantitative but also a qualitative dimension. Certain phenomena that occur in time have an intensity, which will call psychological time or the lived time. Psychological time is irreversible, since in trying to recall a lived experience, the memory of it is always different. Memories evolve over time.
For Jean-Marc Besse, in the landscape, “subjective life manifests itself on the edge of things”, between “desobjectivation” and “desubjectivation”. If an experience happens, it is subjective regarding something external, and that takes it beyond its limits. The landscape “is not conceived as an experience, but as an event, unique and always different, of exteriority as such to which experience exposes those who risk it, in confusion and tension between themselves and the world, which they properly snatch” (Besse, 2010, p. 162-163).
Finally, as David Le Breton wisely expresses, “What does the outcome matter? What matters is the path taken. You don’t make a trip. It is the journey that makes us and deconstruct us, that invents us” (Le Breton, 2011, p. 160). This change in the memory of the lived and felt experience is fundamental for the walking artist to reinvent, re-idealize and realize his work.
Augé, M. (2008). Non-places (2nd English language ed.). London: Verso.
Bates, C., & Rhys-Taylor, A. (2017). Walking Through Social Research (Vol. 1). London: Routledge.
Bergson, H. (1988). Matter and memory. New York: Zone Books.
Besse, J-M. (2010). La sombra de las cosas: sobre paisaje y geografia. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva
Cassirer, E. (1987). Antropologia Filosófica. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Ferrater Mora, J. (1979). Diccionario de filosofía (6 ed., Alianza diccionarios). Madrid: Alianza.
Le Breton, D. (2011). Elogio del caminar. Madrid: Siruela.
Marchán Fiz, S. (2007). La estética en la cultura moderna. Madrid: Alianza.
Perec, G. (1999). Espécies de Espacios. Barcelona: Montesinos.
Serra, R. (1994). Writings, interviews. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tilley, C. (2015). Walking the Past in the Present. In Árnason, A., Ellison, N., Vergunst, J. and Whitehouse, A. Landscapes beyond Land: Routes, Aesthetics, Narratives. Berghahn, Oxford.
Watts, A. (1999). The way of Zen. London: Arkana.