Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arts of Walking

When I'm looking for a pick-me-up, I often turn to the Some Landscapes blog, run by "Plinius" out of somewhere in Britain, which regularly explores the relations between art and landscape.  Plinius has a nice account of a retrospective by Richard Long, he of the "Line Made By Walking," one of the inspirations for Walkscapes everywhere.  He also references uptake of Long's work, including a film by Carey Young, Lines Made By Walking (2003), which transplants Long's notion into urban space.  To make sense of the citationality of these walks, I would have to turn to Tim Ingold's Lines: A Brief History (2007). I must have mentioned Ingold's work before: he is The anthropologist of walking.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beyond the familiar

Another beautiful piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg in this morning's NYT:

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the geography of familiarity. By that I mean something like a map of my habitat, the paths I travel most often, the places I feel most comfortable, the routines embedded in the rural and urban landscapes I know best. Most days, familiarity seems inherent in the world right around me, but every now and then I remember that it’s really an artifact of consciousness, a form of perception that can be lost, say, in someone with Alzheimer’s.
More at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/opinion/03weds4.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Biking and Walking

David Byrne--of Talking Heads fame--has a piece in today's NYT Book Review about Jeff Mapes' new book on bicycling--"active transportation," I guess is the preferred term among policy wonks. Turns out Byrne has ridden bicycles all over the world for the past 30 years, travelling with them on his current world tour. Mapes writes for The Oregonian, and the book, called Pedaling Revolution (multiple puns intended, no doubt) sings the praises of Portland and advocates more planning based around cycling.

Well and good--and the success of OSU's Bike to Work Week suggests that there are more cyclers in Central Ohio as well. (Congratulations, btw, to the University District's Catherine Girves and Pedal Instead, winner of an international Innovative Transportation Solutions award from the Women in Transportation Society). Step by step--or should I say, mile by mile?--we can work towards more eco-friendly mobility habits.

The success of cycling in Portland, as I'm sure Mapes points out, is connected to their green-belt zoning policies, adopted in the early 1970's, which has created a much denser urban fabric. Contrast Columbus' famous land-annexation policy, which sprawled our city out across the scaffold of freeways--a nightmare for walkers, cyclists and public-transit. The next two-decade challenge is to undo that legacy, to condense without leaving dead-zones.

A bikescape, though, is not a walkscape. A bike is transportation technology; it moves us more quickly. Byrne is good on manufacturers efforts to athleticize cycling:

“Pedaling Revolution” is not about mountain biking the Moab sandstone formations in Utah or the network of bucolic paths that link some of the rural Massachusetts colleges; it’s not about racing, Lance Armstrong or what kind of spandex to buy. Nor is it about the various forms of extreme biking that have arisen lately: bike jousting on specially made high-horse bikes, BMX tricks or the arcane world of fixed-gear bikes, or fixies. For decades, Americans have too often seen cycling as a kind of macho extreme sport, which has actually done a lot to damage the cause of winning acceptance for biking as a legitimate form of transportation. If your association with bikes is guys in spandex narrowly missing you on the weekends or YouTube videos of kids flying over ramps on their clown-size bikes, you’re likely to think that bikes are for only the athletic and the risk-prone. Manufacturers in the United States have tended to make bikes that look like the two-wheeled equivalent of Hummers, with fat tires and stocky frames necessitating a hunched-over riding position that is downright unsafe for urban biking and commuting.
Efforts to athleticize walking are goofy (remember Michael Dukakis "power-walking"?), generally step-downs from jogging--running for people with bad knees. That suggests that the rhythmics of walking are congenial rather than competitive, coordinating with others rather than outdoing them. Getting in step, falling in, matching strides--being, overall, responsive rather than assertive--walking has a social dimension that resists being framed in terms of performance-measures or efficiency. With its intimate relation to thinking--to imagination--walking is a practice or habit; it's not a skill to be improved upon by training. It eludes firm conceptualization, which is the province of technology.

A walkscape is thus related to place, the phenomenological primordiality of place. It brings into view that bodily relation, corporal intentionality, including the possibility of straying, of yielding to sights, to events, vistas, memories, and what Heidegger might call "the fourfold." This is a dimension of human action and social life that tends to be hidden beneath the pursuit of efficiency, forgotten in the cultivation of conscious thought. In the kingdom of conscious thought, it recedes into the aesthetic or decorative. An integrated vision of education--of the campus as the site of education--would design an environment to facilitate walkscape, to counterpoint the efficient and deepen our relation to what seems merely decorative.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Walk continues...

My friend Shannon Gonzalez-Miller let me know about a great "Walk With the Ancients" upcoming in the fall, following the Great Hopewell Road from Chillicothe to the Newark Earthworks--Saturday October 10 through Friday October 16 2009.

The walk will cover 60 miles over 7 days, stopping each evening at ancient earthworks and historic places, with programs each night about Native earthworks, astronomy and Native life. You can walk part of the way, or greet the walkers at Geller Park in Heath on Friday 10/16, for the final mile to the Octagon Earthworks, culminating in a ceremony.

Walk with the Ancients will follow what may have been a major ceremonial road, built by the Hopewell people 2000 years ago, linking the Great Circle Earthworks in Newark to the High Bank Earthworks in Chillicothe. It will be led by Native singers, walkers and civic officials, but is open to all. For more information, 740-364-9584 or email earthworks@osu.edu

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Walkscape in the news

Nice coverage of Walkscape in today's Dispatch, thanks to hard-working reporter Jeff Sheban and ace photographer Tom Dodge. Thanks to Jeff and Tom, and to everyone who took part in yesterday's Scroll on the Oval.

The walk continues!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Walkscape Notes 2

The Walkscape Scroll on the Oval was brought to a somewhat earlier than expected close today. At about 3pm the wind picked up, and started to blow the scroll, like a sail on a sandbar, out into the pathway. It promptly tore, scattering at least some of the pages we had clipped to the scroll. Time to roll it on up.

A number of lessons to take from the first Walkscape. An experience is, first of all, an experiment, a trial or essay, from which we learn. Walkscape is an experiment, a net cast widely to see how much we could gather. The idea is simplicity itself--walk, experience, document, contribute--and we pitched it in explicitly inclusive terms, without long art-historical or cultural-theoretical pedigrees (for which see Careri; Solnit; Ingold). The pitch may have been a bit too vague, a bit too everyday, a bit too feel-good, a bit too "it's all good," to have quite the impact we, as organizers, imagined. Surrealists and Situationists surrounded their walks with the cultic ferocity of the avant-garde: small groups, critical agenda, theoretical armor, myths of transgression. In the US, we're more pop (join 'em if you can't beat 'em), laissez-faire populists: the critical gesture often goes unrecognized. "Walking is something people do every day...."

That said, we can identify several different phases or dimensions to the project, each of which may have had a distinct value. There was a show at Hopkins; there was the first wave of publicity, which produced several inquiries; there is this blog (part document, part archive, part observatory, part intersection); there was today's Scroll. Although we received fewer contributions than we might have hoped, we probably raised awareness a little. It was (is) a good idea, even if not as transformative as we might have hoped.

What probably needs a little more stress is the collaborative or contributory aspect of the project. With the distant example of East Asian scroll painting in the background (Solnit cites Hiroshige's Fifty-three views), we imagined the Scroll as a site gathering together a variety of expressive reactions to walking, where distinct visions or insights might produce a mosaic or collage image of the campus-as-walked. Getting out is great; finding a way to document--for the experience to leave a trace--is perhaps no less important. I'd hoped that folks in Art and English might rise to the occasion, recognize the value of adding a trace of their own into a larger picture. That message seems not to have gotten out; despite our "Instructions," it seems that the spectatorial assumption--that Walkscape was an object independent of our involvement--seems to have prevailed.

Another lesson--predictable, but hard to learn--is that displacing habits is harder than it looks ("Poetry is made of words, not of ideas," Mallarmé told Degas, and the same holds of any art-practice). Without the apparatus and authority of Art to move people, the initiative folds back into the usual patterns: the idea might sound appealing, but lines of practice are deeply embedded.

Walking Notes

Lots of people these days walk with earbuds, a soundtrack playing in their heads. It's what the iPod--ever smaller these days--was made for. It's a habit that began, I think, at the gym: on the treadmill; or while running. We take exercise to be a physical activity, where bodily motion is repetitive and essentially separated from the mind; the mind then needs entertainment to go along, needs to be kept occupied while the real work goes on belowstairs.

In other traditions--largely non-Western, these days--there are practices to align body, mind and spirit--walking meditation, for one. Bodily discipline is not radically distinct from the training of the mind and the realization of the sacred. Traditional cosmologies often have an aesthetic component that invites the contemplative engagement of the person (walking the labyrinth may be the closest we still get). Exercise--the kind that needs a soundtrack--takes place in infinitely extended space.