I reflected on my experience of walking after a part of me felt angry that it was having its walks controlled by a part that wanted to measure and plan what was going on. This felt like two different approaches to walking:
- One that involves meandering, looking, not having a plan or destination, making decisions about the route along the way, being open to whatever the walk may bring. A sense of openness.
- The other requires a definite plan, adhered to no matter what, measuring of distance and time with an emphasis on rapidity or “improving” a previous measurement, a clear goal/destination to work towards and as such a success or failure depending on whether the goal is achieved. The experience is visualized and mapped out. A sense of military precision.
In the catalogue to the Walk On Exhibition, Tim Ingold questions the meaning and purpose of education, a question that can be extrapolated to “a walk”. He takes two approaches to education, the first which sees it as putting knowledge into a student’s mind, the second, from the latin educere which means leading students out into the world, i.e “to invite the learner out for a walk” (p.15). He describes how children linger, take their time to observe, daydream as they process the new information into their evolving minds, everything is interesting and deserved of their attention. Yet when adults “take them” for a walk they are chivvied and told to hurry to the destination where supposedly all the knowledge is. The walk becomes an experience of oppression, of control, of being directed, of loss of the connection to the inner navigator and knowing.
As we grow up we put away our childlike ability to immerse ourself into experience, we see walking as a method of transport, getting lost as a set back, we look at guide books, trust others to tell us what to look for, what is deemed interesting, we stay in the mind, missing the opportunities for discovery the path reveals.
Ingold uses the metaphors of a maze and a labyrinth to separate these two types of experiences, the former being led by the traveller’s intention, the latter where the path leads and the walker has to be open to the signs that present themselves. The maze involves being absent, the labyrinth requires the traveller to be present.
In our busy world we are fed a diet of visual representations of who we are and how life is supposed to be, these representations do not give us the opportunity to open them up, they are a done deal, a definition of “reality”. Ingold argues that walking in a labyrinthian way exposes us to something else. For example, every point on a walk is just a stopping point to the next part of the journey, we never reach a standpoint because there is never a final destination and an ultimate truth. Walking therefore disrupts the idea of static definitions and singular points of view.
Everything is ever changing and has a range of viewpoints. “The walkers attention comes not from having arrived at a position but from being pulled away from it, from displacement.”(p. 11). I continually walk around the area in which I live, looking at where I walked the previous day, almost standing outside my previous experience to view it differently, constantly remapping “myselves” (multiple subjectivities) as a complex multilayered being that is forever in flux than the simplistic notions of personhood that are cultural representations of my identity.
This is supported by James Gibson’s approach to visual perception. He maintains that we do not understand our environment from a series of fixed points, instead, as we move light enters our eyes in a constant flow and undergoes continual adjustments as incrementally different visual information is received in the brain. “Things disclose themselves for what they are.”(p12) E.g. A few weeks ago I was walking through Meanwood Park in Leeds at dusk, this is unfamiliar territory. In the distance I saw a large mound, human size, I was convince it was a body, as I approached my eyes received more and more information until I could see that it was only a pile of leaves that had been covered by old sacking.
There is a view that the world is not already made and that it is always on the point of becoming, we are always walking into the present moment, the past already gone and the future just ahead of us. There is no need to over plan what is ahead because it hasn’t happened and we rob ourselves of the magic of what could be than basing our life of what should. Our attention in the present is crucial for observing that emerging world appear, not creating something from a culturally deterministic mind. Reality is far more interesting than we ever “think” it is.
This is not to say that preparation and safety are not key factors in walking, however, their place is prior to the walk, once on it, attending to the path and our inner responses to the environment leads us to a sense of trust and of being alive in the present moment.
This approach to learning and education, and therefore walking is explored by Jack Halberstan here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZP086r_d4f.
As part of this attention I have begun to paint after 2 years of being textile and film based. This in itself is about immersion in a certain place, really looking, it is static though and thus only gives one gaze. I am walking with the above ideas. I interviewed Morag Rose who pointed out that “the walk” is the object, the artwork, the performance. I liked this idea, I am reading about walking as performance.
Walk On From Richard Long to Janet Cardiff
40 Years of Art Walking
This publication accompanies the Walk On Art Exhibition.