A Response to the ChalkUp21 Trail - Louisa Love : You Are Here

You Are Here: A walk through thinking on walking as creative practice
Louisa Love (October 2018)

“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors…disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it”

– Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000).

When I take a walk,
along a street, along a beach, across a hill, through a tunnel, through a forest, I am not merely a neutral observer.

A place, in all its multitude of relations and transactions, affects me and I affect it.

Where does place end and I begin?
Whether I realise it or not, I enter into a dialogue with my surroundings,
we form a fluid composition.

There is a conjoining of me and there, this place, here – me (t)here, me-here, here.

I’m imagining myself as a dashed line progressing across a map,
quietly forming a path between the thick hard red and black and blue and yellow of the road,
circling around the blocks of grey
and cutting across the patches of green. 

I stop. I look out over the clifftop
my hand rests on a painted red circle on the fencepost.

You Are Here.

When people wonder what the value of walking as an activity today is,
my response is that we need to ask ourselves what is – what has become – at stake by not walking? In his article ‘No One is Bored, Everything is Boring’ (2014), I think Mark Fisher articulates it well:

“it is just this [very] capacity for absorption that is now under attack, as a result of the constant dispersal of attention, which is integral to capitalist cyberspace”.

Much of the history of walking becoming an art form is rooted in it becoming a kind of creative resistance to the effects of capitalism – to feelings of alienation and homogenisation, to speed, to the determination of value through material productivity. Walking has stood as the process which unites forms of art that escape focus on materiality and individualism and place art within everyday life – performance, social sculpture, conceptual art, environmental art, socially-engaged and community art, participation, protest…

This was most likely triggered by Charles Baudelaire’s proposing of the ‘flâneur’ in 19th century Paris, of the stroller/wanderer as a detached observer absorbing the details of daily urban life.
Guy Debord later brought this idea into wider public consciousness in his highly influential book Society of the Spectacle (1967) as ‘psychogeography’, theorising the adoption of drift and unplanned journeys through the landscape as “a mode of experimental behaviour” whereby individuals left behind their daily operations and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”. Highlighting the productivity in disorientation, Debord’s emphasis on psychogeography as a “study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” helped to lead the way in viewing walking as a creative, sensory act fundamental to our understanding of the environment around us.

An absorptive, sensory relationship with our surroundings is not at the forefront of our attention a lot of the time as we commute, or run errands, or even indeed meander. Especially in a time when our technologically-fuelled present asks us to just keep moving in the name of efficiency, we can easily think we have no time to give over to the pleasures that feel like doing no-thing in particular.

But, when we engage in walking as a more conscious act, headed somewhere particular or not, we become more attuned to a fundamental symbiosis of body and mind, and therefore to more sensory processes of experience.

“Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
– Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

The rhythm of walking activates a similar rhythm of thinking, then a similar rhythm of breathing and of the heart beating; we notice how the physical and psychological passages start to echo each other, merging the various facets of the body into one continuous consciousness.

walking – thinking – breathing – looking – looking – thinking – walking – breathing – breathing – feeling – seeing – thinking – thinking – flashing – hearing – feeling – noting – fishing – flashing – flooshing – washing – chiming – chinking – chonking – chattering – brushing – the brushing – now the brushing – the circling – the circle – the cycle – the cycle path – the passage – the potential – the placement – the passtücke – the post – the sign – the yellow – the yellowing glaze – haze – how it splays – oh the way it plays – with the vista – the shelter – it shelters – it hovers – it covers – it seals – it conceals – it concealed them – yet it revealed – in space – in time – in spacetime –

“By walking you are not going to meet yourself”, says Frederic Gros in A Philosophy of Walking. At first I question this statement. In doing so I realise it holds a certain duality which I think Gros suggests also presents itself in walking:

in walking, we can abandon the very notion of identity,
the drive to be, or sense of being, a particular someone.
We begin to loosen our grip on certain thoughts, opinions,
feelings, possibilities, ways of doing, as the surrounding landscapes
open us up to the natural forces of chance, of encounter,
of the passing of time, of letting-be.

To tides, to mountains,
to time spent dazed
to brass against glass
against rust against wood
to the sand stuck to my icecream cone
to my mundane thoughts who live dreamily jumbled.

Though in this kind of freeing from particularity, from any certainty or theory about who one is, what a place is, or is like…doesn’t a realisation also often tend to gush in?

A realisation of you,
as you are
of a place, as it is, by nature.

In this sense, I think walking does in fact, at the same time as taking us away from ourselves, become a kind of meeting with, a finding (or re-finding) of oneself.

“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world…”
– Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life.

What I like to think Gros means, or reminds us of, is that a walk is a continual discovery and act of renewal – not just of a particular place, but of yourself and your relations to the world. You will never end a walk with exactly the same view of something as you started it with, or having had exactly the same experience you had before.
You might find yourself feedback-looping round to an idea or a feeling
or a vision or a memory or a noting of a building you had earlier today, a minute ago, or last Monday, or last June, but for however long, that idea has been taken on numerous journeys with   you –                                                  shaped by the textures of sight and sound and touch and movement and history and knowledge accumulated along the way.

We become much more aware of these sensory textures when we take ourselves out in the world in this conscious way, and I think art (or the arts) is in many ways practiced out of a desire to express this experience; to capture that which occurs in-between and conjoins.

I’m remembering the way the salt water trickled down and
across the chalk face that day. And then how I had noticed the
rain doing the same along the snoozy undulations of the
esplanade walls.

Like a walk, art is a meeting point, a dialogue, between disciplines, an interfacing between the physical and the non-physical.

Suddenly my mouth is uttering a sound almost like water.
I repeat it,  loud, louder, so that it rings
and I can hear it through my tongue,
my jaw, my eardrum       and out;
then quietly as a whisper that leaves like a puff of air.
I note my eyes tracing an invisible line before me that I
imagine to be that passage of air.

 The line cuts diagonally across a railing
which is adjoined to a sandy-bricked building
with a wavy steel balcony which cuts vertically
across the pebbles and then the sea and then the sky.

I pause.

Hmm, have I got a little lost in my own poetry?
Meandered off the track I was headed on,
whatever that track was.…?
Have you got a little lost in it with me?
That’s good.

Because I suppose this is the point I want to get across in this writing and thinking about walking as a creative process: writing and thinking about walking is a lot like walking itself. It is a fluid, poetic act of navigation through place, space, time, texture, language, thought, vision, distance, measurement, memory, history…

It changes, intersects, deviates from moment to moment, implanting us in a flow of unpredictability. It can be a going-nowhere-in-particular as much as a travelling towards an endpoint; sometimes these become the same thing. That must be what’s happened here.

 It is only in talking this way – talking-through walking – that I feel I can make some attempt to articulate the notion of walking as an art form.

Though the thing is, of course the written word can never capture the experience of walking.
Nor can a photograph, a video, a drawing…these things invite mediation,
and by nature will always be representational traces.

With life now utterly subsumed by technology and endless visual proliferation, the practice of making documents of our everyday encounters is so instilled in us yet is also so loaded with the responsibility of snatching away experience from our physical bodies. As Debord prophecised in Society of the Spectacle, “everything that was directly lived has become mere representation.”

 This is why we need to walk, and revel in just walking.

Walking as relief, walking as resistance,

walking just to walk.

Yet, photography, film, drawing, poetry, audio capture (etc) of course remain primary means of creation and of extracting creativity within the everyday. They are also important documentary mediums for communicating the potentiality of this everyday as creative practice.

Numerous artists and thinkers have proposed that the event of a walk has an evocative, essence-like life of its own, and so should be considered an artwork in its own right.

I don’t disagree with this. But I think we need a combined practice of walking and creative capture in order to reengage the process of looking, not just seeing. Looking using all the senses.

In encouraging ourselves to reconnect to our eyes in this way we enable a wider tuning-in to both ourselves – to the natures of our bodies – and the space we are moving through.
The rhythms of our feet hitting the ground
our heart beating
our lungs pumping air
our eyes sliding from surface to surface
become general rhythms of curiosity which allow us to connect detail, design, description, history…

Through engaging with walking we are re-syncing with natural, slow time to create reflective space. And it is in slow, reflective space that we can re-find capacity for absorption.