Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The art of walking

Walking is nothing new for artists. It is the backbone for the work of Richard Long, an artist who often makes stone sculptures during his walks and  exhibits photographs of these sculptures alongside textworks in galleries. His art is about mobility, lightness and freedom, the simple creative act of walking and marking that draws attention to place, locality, time, distance and measurement. The appeal of the walk for Long is the human scale at which it unfolds in the reality of the landscape. Likewise, Hamish Fulton considers himself a walking artist. Suggesting art is a way of viewing life, he takes art beyond the mere production of objects. Although only Fulton experiences the walk itself, the  photographs and textworks he presents in his exhibitions and books allows the public to engage with his experience. Long and Fulton use their walks to generate art objects to express their experience of, and reflections on, their walks. By extension, one could argue that the walk itself is a form of art. The Walking Institute founded by Deveron Arts explores and celebrates journeying and the human pace and argues for the walk to be seen as a point of departure for both invention and intervention.

As the human pace encourages rhythmic reflections and detailed observation poets have taken to walking as well. Perhaps the most celebrated example in recent years is Simon Armitage who walked the Pennine way as a modern troubadour and gave poetry readings in exchange for a bed for the night. Armitage did, however, not extend this idea and present his work in the form of poetry. A more exciting poet who uses walking I find the Scottish poet Lesley Harrisson who, in her project Making Space for Water, walked along urban rivers in Aberdeen and Dundee to write a series of poems that explore those rivers as lived and living places.
My project Sharing at the Shoreline is based on my walk along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail. This walk is in no way as adventurous and demanding as the walks by Long, Fulton and Armitage as family commitments mean I walk the route as a number of daytrips, but the activity of walking is reflected in the poems I write. Walking the entire Aberdeenshire coastline implies that I visit not only the beauty spots but also perhaps the more mundane parts of the coastline in between. Sometimes my walks take place in glorious sunshine, but I am as likely to face wet and windy weather. What I found this far is that the repetitive movement of my feet helps me to focus my observations. Last week, for example, my walk led me from Newtonhill and Cove over minor roads past fields. What struck me was that the cold wind determined what I observed during the walk, but that this in the end did not determine how I felt about walking this part of the path in this weather.

Walking the coast in March
Heavy the leaden clouds weigh down the waves
Heavy the slanted rocks wade
Heavy the brambled war defences overlook the scene
Heavy the saturation of gorse
Heavy the burn overruns
Heavy the death-yielding grasses
yellow the verge
Heavy the voice of plastic caught in the wind
Heavy the herring gull balances, heavy its cry
Heavy the droop of the snowdrop,
the daffodil buds
Heavy the fragrance of gorse
The tread of the walker
Moving along the path.

Copyright text, image and poem Petra Vergunst

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