My visit to the Walk On exhibition in Plymouth was prompted by my personal interest in walking and the desire to understand what makes contemporary artists use walking as a stimulus for making art. The exhibition is spread over a number of venues around the city centre encouraging the viewer to walk from one to another to experience the whole, thus participating in the springboard activity of the show.
The aim of the curators seems to be not only to showcase the development of this particular genre of art from its inception to the present, but also to display the many different methods of interpreting the experience of walking through art. The collection shows a startling variety of artwork, from two dimensional wall-mounted pieces to video and audio streams. My first visit was to the Arts Centre where I participated in an audio walk by Jennie Savage. We all stood on the pavement outside the centre, fixed in our earphones and switched on our downloaded walk instructions. The result was a ‘fracturemob’, the reverse of a flash mob, as we all began walking away in different directions according to the audio guidance. This was quite a surreal experience as the narrative was recorded in a foreign city, with the sounds of the souk in the background undercutting the normal noises of a Friday afternoon in the city of Plymouth. There was a feeling of walking alongside the artist as she strolled through the parallel city, a strange melange of the soundtrack and real life, and astonishing coincidences as the narrative matched with my own surroundings.
One of my favourite pieces at the Arts Centre was Guards by Francis Alys. Filmed within the square mile of the city of London the only sound is the marching boots of the soldiers as they progress through the historic streets, in ones and twos to begin with, gradually joining up to create a battalion. Judicious editing, clever camera angles and the tension created by the views of the lone guardsman who is last to join up with the main group, result in a fascinating, thought-provoking film. Other films shown at the exhibition include Melanie Manchot’s ‘Walk (Square)’, Bruce Naumann’s seminal work ‘Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square, 1967-8’ and ‘Infrastructure’ by Rachel Reupke.
I was particularly taken with the pencil meanderings of Sarah Cullen in the display at the University. She used a mechanical ‘drawing box’ to trace her movements on a walk and the resultant marks suggest mapping without the usual references of recognisable symbols and words. This method of recording the movement of walking gives us an immediacy which is not so evident in some of the other works on display. Richard Long’s stone installations at the Museum and Art Gallery have the same flavour as the material used has come directly from the location of his walk and reflects his relationship with it.
The Walk On exhibition makes the viewer want to take part and relive the walks of the artists involved, to rethink his or her relationship with their own environment and to look at it with a very different and more discerning eye. An exhibition and experience not to be missed.
www.kerryforkner.co.uk I am a textile artist and dress maker, currently doing an MA at Bucks New University in Art and Design Practice. I love walking which prompted me to base my thesis on walking artists, hence the visit to Walk On at Plymouth.