"We keep things inside, those of us who live in the Midwest. Anyone who lives out in the open where little stands between you and the horizon knows this. It’s all sky. It’s infinitely blue in summer and hammering gray in winter. So you keep your head down and your thoughts inside. Yet the landscape is haunted with memories. The memories of lives lived having kept everything inside. They seep out of us like a spring or the fog and attach themselves to objects, sounds, smells, the wind. They attach themselves to anything that can bear to take them. Some of the memories we keep inside, some of them are terrible. Terrible things done to us, and terrible things we have done to others. We keep them down, and we run. We run so far and so deep that memory becomes forgetfulness. We’re lost. We’re lost to the living of life."
So begins The Long Way Home - a closely observed account of the author's actual 500-mile walk from Chicago to Minneapolis and parallel journey through the memories of his traumatic and painful life as a young man.
"As I walk through former industrial landscapes – from which the silver was extracted to mint the coins that raised the fleets to colonise and enslave – there have been many mini-apocalypses here... but I see the clump of heather growing on the 150 year old arsenic spoil, I meet the young fallow stag in the car park, I can’t detect much clear meaning yet, but I sense a shift in walking arts, and want to push it further for myself, from its previous focus on the psychogeographical affects on human subjects to a shared activity with the unhuman players in these wounded spaces, attending to their place-stories, their metals, their subterranean networks, and their possible sites of future rewilding. ‘Animism’, decolonialisation and challenges to anthropocentric perspectives are on the rise, and, feeling their push, I wish to seek out more and more fractures in past apocalypses through which to walk and plant." This is an extract from Phil Smith's 2021 essay on the past, present and future of the walking arts.
You might think that walking is one of those activities that's entirely unregulated and even that it's a 'natural' or 'authentic' or 'spontaneous' activity. You'd be very wrong. The way we walk is determined by, among other things:
Paths and signposts
A general suspicion of loiterers
Our tendency to pick a destination
Our habit of walking in straight lines
Property ownership and people's attachment to the idea of privacy
Our desire not to draw too much attention to ourselves
How our parents walked
What kind of shoes we're wearing
Our observation of where other people tend to walk
'Keep off the grass' signs
And walking is increasingly something done (and written about) in a variety of unexpected ways by artists and performers, activitists and urban radicals, psychotherapists and psychogeographers, philosophers and literary theorists.
First off, there is an intense, invisible pressure to walk normally. Straight must be the gait. Call it 'ambulonormativity'.
For about 9 months, two walking-authors/ artists – Alyson Hallett and Phil Smith – found themselves wrestling with not being able to walk normally. They wrote to one another about it and, amongst other things, reflected on: prostheses ~ waddling ~ Butoh ~ built-up shoes ~ walking in pain ~ bad legs ~ vertigo ~ falling (and fallen) places ~ hubris ~ bad walks ~ scores for falling down ~ walking carefully ~ disappointment.
Walking Stumbling Limping Falling is their conversation. From it, there emerges an 'Alphabet of Falling', a sustained reflection on the loss of normal capabilities, anecdotes and autobiographical stories, and the beginnings of a larger discussion about stumbling and falling: the pedestrian equivalent of blowing an uncertain trumpet.
Cultural theorist Tina Richardson describes Desire Paths thus: “Roy Bayfield really walks in Desire Paths. But not only does he really walk, we accompany him on these 'real walks to nonreal places'... we drift with him through the personal and three-dimensional landscape of his voyages in the physical, spiritual, virtual and human realms.
This book is for both those already involved in urban walking and for the novice. For those who are new to it, its format is especially designed to open your eyes to the features of the landscape, and at the same time provide you with experimental walking exercises.” More on the book.
Ways to Wander offers 54 intriguing ideas for different ways to take a walk - for enthusiasts, practitioners, students and academics. It's an invitation to some of the many intriguing encounters produced by artists involved with the Walking Artists Network and beyond. More on the book.While Ways to Wander the Gallery introduces 25 intriguing ideas for different ways to walk in and beyond an art gallery - for gallery-goers, walkers, performance artists, students and academics. More on the book.
================= Three handbooks offer suggestions, exercises, practices and guidance for people wanting to 'unblock' their creativity, especially their creative writing (Walking for Creative Recoveryand walk write (repeat)) and for people wanting to get out and work creatively in nature (Nature Connection). =================
In walking's new movementPhil Smith considers Radical Walking’s complicated relationship with psychogeography, romanticism and the postmodern. He attempts to map the evolution of the walking arts and considers their future. He suggests a range of strategies and tactics to prevent Radical Walking being hijacked by dogmatists of any colour and discusses how walking can enable the emergence of a wider range of creative performance art. More on the book
In On Walking... and Stalking Sebald, Phil Smith takes us with him on a walk round Suffolk in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald and, in the process, introduces us to a whole new way of walking and seeing the world while we do it. Along the way, his delightful account takes in: Alchemy, the Bed & Breakfast experience, the Cold War, Dogs, Fanged noumena, Grandfathers, Holey space and Heritage, International Lettristes, Jouissance, Knees, Mist and Mothers, Nomadism, O Lucky Man!, Pilgrimage, Rendelsham Forest, Sex, Signs, Somatics and Simulacra, Transformers, UFOs and Uzumaki, Vulcan, Wrights and Sites, Y gwyr yn erbyn y byd, Zig-zagging. More on the book.
In Walking Art Practice, Ernesto Pujol writes: "Artists are seeking to challenge our increasing urban indoor passivity, taking us outside our stasis to see, listen, think, and feel—to experience—reconnecting with each other and Nature before it is lost. Artists seek to reject viewing the world only through digital images, energy-efficient windows of climate-controlled rooms, fast hybrid vehicles, mobile phones or computer screens, giving us the gift of full perception through immersion. They seek to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel, think, and remember the forgotten, to experience something through our minds and bodies. To shiver in the woods, sweat in a jungle, and thirst through a desert. To see the visible and sense the invisible seeing us, fully experiencing through all our organs of perception—again." What could be wider than that? More on the book.
Enchanted Thingsis a glorious photo-essay which draws our attention to a “chorus of surprises” “yelling from the sides of the road like particularly unruly spectators at a parade”. Focusing on signs, simulacra, objects and places that prove to be more, less or other than what they seem (all illustrated throughout the book) Enchanted Things encourages us to look afresh at our quotidian urban and rural surroundings to see what lies just beneath the surface. More on the book. =======================
Mythogeographyis the gloriously funny account of the author's journey on foot across the north of England in the footsteps of a man who made the same journey 100 years ago with a dog called Pontiflunk. AND... the handbook of drifting” later in the book has ideas on walking like a stalker, like a swimmer, like a ghost, like an explorer, like a pilgrim… and that’s just the start. Learn about the philosophy of walking, crabs in society, UFOs in Devon, Uri Geller, the political geography of cities, the madness of municipal history... More on the book.
And Anywhere is the definitive 'implementation' of mythogeographical walking and writing. Read it and you learn how to walk mythoge0graphically and how to write your own mythogeography of your own area. Anywhere covers parts of South Devon but its title tells you that it's more widely applicable than that... More on the book.
Mis-Guides The mis-guide is a creation of artist-performer group Wrights & Sites. It's an explicitly subversive approach to the conventional tour and tourguide and A Sardine Street Box of Tricks suggests different approaches and tactics to anyone who makes, or would like to make, walk-performances or variations on the guided tour. More on the book.
And the latest mis-guide and newest offering from Wrights & Sites is their marvellous The Architect-Walker.