Tag Archives: walking

The artist as cartographer

I have come to realise the ideas behind my experiments on Desire Lines are related to the idea of the traces of travellers passing through time and space – memories, footprints linking past and present, real and virtual. This is also an idea around mapping, although not as literal as the ‘tactile maps’ as representation of a real space that Poy and I are looking at in the collaboration project. For both pieces of work, I thought it useful to capture a few random thoughts I’ve had so far:

“Mapping denotes a process that takes place every time a map of any kind is created – a drawing scribbled on the back of an envelope, a sequence of places or events etched in one’s memory…or a projection prepared by a team of professional cartographers. The environment to be mapped encompasses both the immediate, physical often urban surroundings in which we walk, our own actions and perceptions as pedestrians and the cultural or ideological filter through which we view this experience.” [1]

For my own work I don’t just want a map to be the outcome of a walk in a physical or imagined space, but also the method by which to create it. The situationists worked like this, creating maps to highlight “psychogeographical contours” or “articulations” of the modern city. They described the “constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. [2] The situationists through the experience of the dérive, imagined an art which resembled architecture. Walking structures experience; we perceive ourselves and our environment in interaction as we walk along the path. We shape the space as we go.

The idea Poy and I have for our collaboration project is to each create a tactile map based on a walk in two places – a walk from our house front door into our everyday supermarket. My walk I know very well but will be new to Poy, and vice versa for me walking in Poy’s neighbourhood. What difference in mapping will we see between the known place and the new place?

“The stumbling block for people who are familiar with an area is a selective gaze that ignores everything but what is necessary for the task at hand. We see only what we expect to see.” [1, p5]

Yoko ono (1962) has a deceptively simple approach to looking at places which have become too familiar:

yoko

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Maps are not just of physical places we see with our eyes either – looking at the idea of cognitive maps, sort of like a journey through a memory palace, gives us the idea of structuring and storing spatial information. According to neuroscience we visualise our physical environment in turns of shapes and relationships [1, p112]. A cognitive map is an embodied map – Merleau-Ponty asked “is not to see to see from somewhere?”

There is a fascinating history of pre-lierate navigational methods across the world which include ideas around cognitive mapping. I came across the idea of the dreaming tracks, or songlines, of the indiegenous Australians, which is a fusion of navigation, myth, storytelling and place-making,

“In Aboriginal mythology, a songline is a myth based around localised ‘creator-beings’ during the Dreaming, the indigenous Australian embodiment of the creation of the Earth. Each songline explains the route followed by the creator-being during the course of the myth. The path of each creator-being is marked in sung lyrics. One navigates across the land by repeating the words of the song or re-enacting the story through dance, which in the course of telling the story also describe the location of various landmarks on the landscape (e.g. rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees)….Songlines often came in sequences, much like a symphony or album today. By singing a song cycle in the appropriate order could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia’s interior” [3]

Richard Long often uses the idea of toponyms in his work to describe the specific qualities of the places he travels in (although never sung as far as I know!). “It is literally the same stones and the same surfaces of the world that people have always walked over and used. All the place names are like layers of history and different cultures. My work is just another layer on the surface of the world that has been shared by all these different generations, so it’s really about continuity”. [4]

References 

[1] Karen O’Rourke, Walking and Mapping
[2] Guy Debord, Theory of the Derive
[3] http://basementgeographer.com/songlines-how-indigenous-australians-use-music-to-mark-geography/
[4] Richard Long, No Where

Richard Long: Time and Space

My research paper is coming along nicely and I have at its core the work of walking artist Richard Long. I went on an expedition last Friday – a 6 hour return train trip and walk of 15.42km no less – to see the Time and Space exhibition currently showing at the Arnolfini in Bristol.

It was a fascinating collection of Long’s work in a gallery which first showed him in 1972, and which gathered together a range of works which link to Long’s childhood home in Bristol and showed the connection he has with the place. I have seem some of Long’s physical gallery installations before, but never seen any of text works shown alongside them. You cannot help but stop and think when you see the words imprinted in large font across the white wall, almost haiku like in its contemplativeness.

Standout pieces: Muddy Water Falls 2015, the latest in a series which Long applies mud directly to the gallery walls. This piece has been made with mud from the banks of the river Avon. The work is a record of a physical action of the dynamic gestures which are dictated by the nature of the materials being used – the splashing, fluid quality of the mud. This ‘mud wall’ is surrounded by a series of quiet textual records of landscape, many of them also referencing an experience Long had along the banks of the River Avon.

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I also very much associated with another text work in this room, the “Red Walk” from 1986.

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The rest of the exhibition had more of Long’s photographic works and two installations including  Bristol 1967/2015, a series of concentric circles (“a cross between a tape measure and a perimeter fence”) which were taken to different places and photographed. The exhibition guide sums this up as “a reference to that simple but profound experience a person travelling through a landscape may have in realising that the centre of the world is wherever they happen to be at the time.”

From 1967:RIchard Long

Replacement

and 2015:Arnolfini-richard-long

Interestingly, my own photo of this exhibit was terrible, so I found a new one – this one sourced from an Independent review here. I was surprised how scathing this review was of the show, nearly all of which I disagree with. I have been musing on this, and know that Long has a bit of a marmite effect – people either get and love his work, or they really, really don’t. I wonder if it simply appeals to a certain mind-set of person. The quieter, introverts among us that have no shame in enjoying something so esoteric and untouchable. For example, the reviewers reaction to the text works was somewhat different to mine:

Long’s text works…are short descriptive narratives, often quite baldly factual, telling us when and where he went and how long it took him…Very often these texts works strike the onlooker as mind-numbingly banal. Of course, we are very pleased that he went, but how exactly should we be responding to such bald records on a wall? Mildly unenthusiastically.

I found completely the opposite – as you look at the text, you know it is real. You know it describes an actual walk, a physical movement in the world that you cannot help but imagine as you follow the journey in words. I see them more as a poetic record which offers a different way to look at the world, seeking for something deeper than just the footsteps on the land.

After the gallery, I wandered off on foot to find the outdoor piece commissioned by the Arnolfini for the show up on the Downs just north of the city. On the way I walked the long way round to take in the magnificent views of the Avon Gorge from the Brunel-built Clifton Suspension Bridge. Wow. You could see instantly how a young artistically minded Long could not have helped but be inspired by this place. The tidal range of the Avon is massive and I was lucky to hit it at low tide, when you could see vast edges of mud exposed alongside the river channel. Looking at this, you can see exactly what Long is embedding into his muddy wall work – physically and emotionally.

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After that revelation (which will be going into the essay!) the Boyhood line, was unfortunately almost a let down. The Line is a collection of stones in a line across the Downs where Long played as a young boy. The line itself was nice enough to see in person, but better was seeing how the land beneath has stared to react to the stones.  The stones were laid along a desire line, “one of the many tracks which criss-cross the Downs, created by commuters, dog-walkers, runners, traders, farmers, and ancient Britons; those that remain visible, and those that have faded away”. And that  sums up so nicely what it is I like most about Long’s work.

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Alice Fox workshop day 1

Walking, collecting, making

Sometimes serendipity smiles on you, and three weeks ago I was offered a last-minute spot on a full-a-year-in-advance course being led by one of my project’s main reference artists: Alice Fox. The activities began today!

I wanted to go on this primarily to experience first hand the methodology of someone who can so successfully capture the essence of a place into her work, using walking as a key part of her practice. She also is a big user of natural mark-making and dyeing processes so should be able to teach me a few new tricks to add to the box.

As an aside….I am aware my MA proposal is still in flux between three different angles on our sense of place: (1) psychogegraphy / making through walking, (2) culture v nature / wildness and (3) potentially bringing in elements of humanity’s cosmological sense of place. This week’s course is playing into the hands of the first two – but I’m not going to worry about aligning anything for now – I’m just learning and enjoying the process, and intend to make what feels right for the materials we use this week….

So! Today we started with an overview of Alice’s methodology and the principles behind the course. She talked though some of the context around walking and collecting – as a method for recording experience of place / landscape. This record can be through objects, images, words and thoughts which captures a snapshot of a particular place and time. Alice also had some very interesting thoughts on using found objects (directly or for mark-making), in that she seeks to explore the potential of materials have been found, to see how far they can be pushed. This is one of the things I’ve not succeeded fully with yet on my project….

First up today we went on our first short walk around the studio, recording in whatever way we were inspired to. This was the most curious photo of my journey:
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and a shot of all of the sketches, words and objects I brought back:

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We spent the rest of the day experimenting with two different processes. First up was rust printing on  paper and fabric strips. Having done a lot of rust dyeing recently looking at texture, I thought I would do something different by focussing on the quality and pattern of the marks – hoping for some clear distinct lines. We just used tea as an activator and will need to wait a day or so to see how they turn out.

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Second up was eco-printing using a process of India Flint (I have her book!), which I haven’t tried before. This involved gathering a whole host of different leaves and botanical oddities, wrapping and steaming in order to transfer the whole mark onto the substrate. Again an opportunity for clarity of mark as well as just transfer of colour. These also have to dry out fully before we can look at them – maybe tomorrow or the next day!

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So far, very enjoyable and Alice is a great teacher (plus we had cake). Getting some interesting whirring in my brain about my project – letting them swirl by themselves for now.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Psychogeography: deciphering the dérive

I have been working more with my idea of the haunted place. I wanted to see how I interpreted the idea of making something “site-specific” before researching what others mean by this term. I started by directly using materials which are sourced from within a specific area in order to make impressions / marks / imprints which capture the feeling of the genius loci (spirits of place). Progress going ok so far with this, I currently have a range of samples of natural dyed calico which are in various stages of steeping and drying. There are a number of artists who work by using materials which they find in situ – either directly (such as land artists Richard Long or Chris Durey) or for mark marking (Helen Goodwin).

I thought I would take this idea one step further and look into the idea of capturing the genius loci and “site-specific-materials” from psychogeographic inspired urban wandering – or dérive. In a location where one feels placeless – without belonging or connection with the surroundings – understanding the place through experiencing it is perhaps a first step to gaining a new narrative. The basic ideas of psychogeography are somewhat ambigous, with various people describing it as confusing, nonsensical, or only understood in the mind of the psychogeographer. Well, before I tried it out myself, I thought at least it worth an understanding of a little history.

Historically, Guy Debord defined Psychogeography in 1955 as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” This history along with the writings of Monsieur Debord are tied up with the radical mid-20th century Situationists who were heavily influenced by Marxism, surrealism, Dadaism and revolutionary architecture. Monsieur Debord was the founder of Situationist International he (and others) gave psychogeography much intellectual theory and discourse. Martin Coverley offers the following expansion, that psychogeography is “…reflecting a wider awareness of ‘spirit of place’ through which landscape, whether urban or rural, can be imbued with a sense of the histories of previous inhabitants and the events that have been played out against them…This visionary continuity is described as a ‘chronological resonance’ and is the point at which place, history and identity converge…”[1]

The landscape outside of the city is easier to understand and relate to places from a deep, sort of tribal like human perspective. The sea, sky and earth as raw elements are much neater than than the horizonless place of the cityscape, with people, history, stories, buildings, vehicles, commerce, past, future and present overlapping in an endless motion of change. Psychogeography apparently offers a way to explore this challenge and see the unseen, harnessing the unintentional. “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.” [2]

This quote refers to the practice of urban wandering developed by the situationists from the concept of the flâneur from the poetry of Charles Baudelaire; the “man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.” The practice is the dérive, a technique of an unplanned journey through varied ambiences (usually urban), letting go of your everyday identity and allowing yourself be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters you find there.

So if you can only understand through practice, I decided to go out on my own dérive to see what I would find without any preconceived plan – just a camera and a carrier bag. I printed off a street map of the area directly around my house and randomly drew a circle on it, then wandered off to try to walk that circle as closely as possible – going round any obstacles I found in my way. This is the record of the wandering:

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Finally, as I was going I picked up a few things found left on the pavement which caught my attention, each with its on story; why was there a seashell tucked into the gravel at the side of the railway embankment?

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I have to say I thought it a fascinating experience and notably different from an ordinary stroll. I think you do notice things you wouldn’t otherwise see when you allow your mind and feet to wander away. Perhaps there are some elements of the local genius loci in there as well. My next plan is to take the things I collected and make something, perhaps also using them to imprint another piece of my plain calico stash.

References: 

[1] Psychogepgraphy, Martin Coverley
[2] http://www.utne.com/community/a-new-way-of-walking.aspx https://adcochrane.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/psychogeography-and-how-it-can-help-you/
https://libcom.org/thought/situationists-an-introduction
http://newleftreview.org/II/8/peter-wollen-situationists-and-architecture