An Altered State Of Thinking: Walk On

James Hugonin - Binary Rhythm (II) 2011 (detail)

C James Fagan pulls on his comfiest boots to visit an exhibition inspired by the art of walking…

Go on, take a walk. You probably already have today; for many of us it is the simplest form of getting from one point to another. A ubiquitous action we take for granted until something interrupts that ubiquity. It is a fundamental of life which falls into a liminal space; the motion of walking offers an opportunity to enter an altered state of thinking. A state where notions of public and private collapse; where memory and experience are superimposed.

You can tell a lot about someone by the way they walk.

This simple act of bipedal locomotion is at the centre of The Atkinson’s latest exhibition, Walk On; gathering together 40 artists who use walking as a medium, as a raw material to explore life in the contemporary landscape.

“As there are so many artists, forgive me if I walk past some quicker than others”

As there are so many artists, forgive me if I walk past some quicker than others. This is a stroll, a ramble, that has no direct path through the exhibition. I’m walking to find information, to gather data from my passage through the gallery environment, not unlike James Hugonin’s Binary Rhythms — a field of carefully measured and coloured squares, each related to an aspect of his walks through the Northumberland landscapes. Similarly, Rachael Clewlow’s graphical paintings seem to extract data from the landscape to create a form of statistical cartography.

Maps do naturally feature throughout this exhibition; whether it is to formulate a route or to control the walker. They can also record and mark the passage and movements through life, such as Sarah Cullen’s ‘drawing box’, a box containing a pencil hung over a piece of paper, meaning the paper is marked as the carrier moves. This creates a series of scratchy drawings, maps without boundaries that speak of a freedom of movement. A counter to this freedom can be seen in the nearby works of artist duo plan b, who use GPS to track their movements through Berlin, providing a more limited sense of movement controlled by the physicality of the city and the rhythms of daily life.

A form of controlled walking can be seen in Francis Alys’s Guards, where Guardsman troop through empty London streets. This is the walk, or march, as part of societal control — an ordered progression. A form of unity where you cannot put a step out of place. That step can be subverted, as in Bruce Nauman’s famous Walking in an Exaggerated Manner, in which he does exactly that. As we watch Nauman’s journey along marked lines, our gaze is focused on his motion; in this we can see questionings of how we perceive others through their movements.

It’s another of the body’s languages.

“There is a sense of the poetic possibility of the mundane, the multiple narrative on the street; how many stories do you miss as you walk past another person?”

Elsewhere, there is another transgressive walker: this is Sophie Calle. In her piece Suite Venitienne she crosses the line into a possible fictionalised account of following someone to and through Venice. In a collection of notes, photographs and maps, a narrative unfolds; possibly in Calle’s mind, but it is definitely on foot. With Calle, there is a sense of the poetic possibility of the mundane, the multiple narrative on the street; how many stories do you miss as you walk past another person?

Equally, we have the fictionalised reality of Janet Cardiff, represented here by her The Walk Book and anthology of audio walks. I put on the accompanying headphones and set the CD going. Within the work of Cardiff we have the exhibition in microcosm. The floating voice intones that “to enjoy a walk is to enjoy the transitory”; to become at once detached from and present in the world. Cardiff’s audio walks create a sense of the fleeting possibilities that can arise from walking. Or in other words, a daydream space activated by footfall.

Which brings me to a problem. I really want to activate this daydream space by wandering around, and not just in the galleries. On exiting the space I’m told I cannot leave and I’m tethered to one spot within the gallery.

A small quibble maybe, as the exhibition does provide a comprehensive look into artists using bipedal locomotion as a mean of creation. It’s an ephemeral material, and yet there are traces that can be measured; your passage through life can be marked. This action, this perambulation we undertake everyday isn’t just a simple form of locomotion; it is a place for mediation about our place within the world.

C James Fagan

Image courtesy James Hugonin – Binary Rhythm (II) 2011 (detail)

Walk On continues at The Atkinson, Southport, until Saturday 9 August 2014, 9.30am-5pm daily (Sundays 11am-4pm), free entry

Posted on 23/05/2014 by thedoublenegative