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Guest Boot #15 - Pedestrian Magazine a magazine for people who like to walk and move
Currently walking 10 cities across the east coast to Miami, follow along here.
Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.
Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.
Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Rebecca Solnit’s history of walking focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers.
Indeed, the metaphysical wanderings that the physical act precipitates are what makes walking transcend its utilitarian purpose of bipedal mobility. Solnit, who has also contemplated how we find ourselves by getting lost, examines this higher-order function of wanderlust:
Most of the time walking is merely practical, the unconsidered locomotive means between two sites. To make walking into an investigation, a ritual, a meditation, is a special subset of walking, physiologically like and philosophically unlike the way the mail carrier brings the mail and the office worker reaches the train. Which is to say that the subject of walking is, in some sense, about how we invest universal acts with particular meanings. Like eating or breathing, it can be invested with wildly different cultural meanings, from the erotic to the spiritual, from the revolutionary to the artistic. Here this history begins to become part of the history of the imagination and the culture, of what kind of pleasure, freedom, and meaning are pursued at different times by different kinds of walks and walkers.
Solnit readily acknowledges that the subjective experience of the walker is what shapes the route of this imaginative meandering through the various reaches of culture:
This history of walking is an amateur history, just as walking is an amateur act. To use a walking metaphor, it trespasses through everybody else’s field—through anatomy, anthropology, architecture, gardening, geography, political and cultural history, literature, sexuality, religious studies—and doesn’t stop in any of them on its long route. For if a field of expertise can be imagined as a real field—a nice rectangular confine carefully tilled and yielding a specific crop—then the subject of walking resembles walking itself in its lack of confines. And though the history of walking is, as part of all these fields and everyone’s experience, virtually infinite, this history of walking I am writing can only be partial, an idiosyncratic path traced through them by one walker, with much doubling back and looking around… The history of walking is everyone’s history, and any written version can only hope to indicate some of the more well-trodden paths in the author’s vicinity—which is to say, the paths I trace are not the only paths.
Walking, like the capacity for boredom, is a form of intimacy with oneself—with one’s thoughts, one’s world, one’s imaginative and bodily sense of being. Solnit speaks to this beautifully:
Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts…The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making. And so one aspect of the history of walking is the history of thinking made concrete — for the motions of the mind cannot be traced, but those of the feet can.
A desire path (often referred to as a desire line in transportation planning, and also known as a game trail, social trail, fishermen trail, herd path, cow path, elephant path, goat track, pig trail, use trail, and bootleg trail) is a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The width and severity of erosion are often indicators of the traffic level that a path receives. Desire paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed paths take a circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent.
Walking and drawing are two things we can do to allow us to ignore our screens for a while, to escape from the news, or to enjoy the cathartic qualities of clearing the mind. Whilst both activities share certain benefits they are clearly very different in their actions and physical requirements. Are there ways in which the actions of the two can be joined psychologically? Can the process of making a drawing ever deliver the sensation of walking, without having to leave the house? To what extent can you take your mind for a wander on the page?
Popularly known for the phrase ‘taking a line for a walk’, artist and Bauhaus teacher Paul Klee describes the first category of line within his Pedagogical Sketchbook of 1925 as:
“An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal. A walk for a walk’s sake. The mobility agent is a point, shifting its position forward.”
Bauhaus artist Paul Klee considered a line to be one of the atomic elements of art and architecture.
Klee’s allegorical exploration of drawing theory is one deeply rooted within nature—of which humans are very much part of, rather than competing with. His understanding of both making and receiving drawings is built through relations to natural forms and animal instincts.
Georges Perec (1936 –1982) was a French novelist, essayist and filmmaker whose linguistic talents ranged from fiction to crossword puzzles to authoring the longest palindrome ever written. Perec was also a member of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery and use of constraints to encourage literary inspiration.
Many of Perec's novels and essays abound with experimental word play, lists and attempts at classification, and they are usually tinged with melancholy. He published Espèces d'espaces (Species of Spaces) in 1974. He was originally contracted to write it by a friend and collaborator trained in architecture, hence the subject of the book, which is urban and domestic space. In it, he contemplates the many ways in which we occupy the space around us, depicting the commonplace items with which we are familiar in a startling, engrossing way.
Perec focuses solely—and much to the urbanist’s delight—on movement. There is no plot, no character development, no arc spread out over volumes or even chapters—only the persistent movement of the city around a sedentary observer. “People, in waves, continually.”
As Perec knew, the movement of people through a city space is its own kind of performance.
The interaction of the regular and the anarchic is at the core of the text, just as it’s at the core of the urban experience. The French social scientist Michel de Certeau called these statements “pedestrian speech acts.” Swerving, stopping, even window shopping, he argued, transforms the urban spaces around us. Walking is much more than going from place to place—all of which sounds very theoretical until you’ve tried to walk across 6th Avenue at rush hour, navigate Shibuya Crossing, or, for that matter, read Perec.
In Species of Spaces, George Perec says, “There are few events which don’t leave a written trace at least. At one time or another, almost everything passes through a sheet of paper,” and the examples build: the margins of a newspaper, the back of a ticket, a cheque, a kitchen list, a receipt, and so on. “This is how space begins,” he says, “with words only, signs traced on the blank page. To describe space: to name it, trace it…Space as inventory, space as invention.” He populates a town with words of invention. He animates a train pulling cars filled with goods: it passes lit windows, someone waves. All of it words on paper. “An idealized scene. Space as reassurance.” Because the words bring the space into being, and he holds sway over the words, he has ordered and manufactured space. Space is reassurance against the oblivion of memory’s void.
The small daily details, the ordinary matter and materials are what make the world reliable, concrete and clear, he tells us. He brings it closer still in Species, in our “perceiving that the earth is a form of writing, a geography of which we had forgotten that we ourselves are the authors.”
In Seed Catalogue, Robert Kroetsch is concerned, appropriately, with growing things. “How do you grow a lover? How do you grow a prairie town? How do you grow a poet?” The answer to the latter question: “This is a prairie road/ This road is the shortest distance/ between nowhere and nowhere./ This road is a poem.”
Michel de Certeau
In his influential book chapter "Walking in the City," de Certeau asserts that "the city" is generated by the strategies of governments, corporations, and other institutional bodies who produce things like maps that describe the city as a unified whole. De Certeau uses the vantage from the World Trade Center in New York to illustrate the idea of a panoptic, unified view. By contrast, the walker at street level moves in ways that are tactical and never fully determined by the plans of organizing bodies, taking shortcuts in spite of the strategic grid of the streets. This concretely illustrates de Certeau's argument that everyday life works by a process of poaching on the territory of others, using the rules and products that already exist in culture in a way that is influenced, but never wholly determined, by those rules and products.
Not to find one’s way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to urban wanderers like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley. This art I acquired rather late in life; it fulfilled a dream, of which the first traces were labyrinths on the blotting papers in my school notebooks. - Walter Benjamin
How do different places make us feel and behave? The term psychogeography was invented by the Marxist theorist Guy Debord in 1955 in order to explore this. Inspired by the French nineteenth century poet and writer Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur–an urban wanderer–Debord suggested playful and inventive ways of navigating the urban environment in order to examine its architecture and spaces.
As a founding member of the avant-garde movement Situationist International, an international movement of artists, writers and poets who aimed to break down the barriers between culture and everyday life, Debord wanted a revolutionary approach to architecture that was less functional and more open to exploration.
The reimagining of the city proposed by psychogeography has its roots in dadaism and surrealism. For these groups it referred to spatial practices designed to confuse and reimagine every-day space. The most important of these techniques was a politically purposeful ‘drifting’; a transgressive wandering around and through the many barriers, forbidden zones and distinct atmospheres of the city.
Revolutionary psychogeographical groups sprang up in a number of British cities in the mid-1990s (a phenomenon also witnessed in the United States and Italy; as seen, for example, in the New York Psychogeographical Association and the Associazione Psicogeografica di Bologna).
In fact this phase of psychogeography has received a considerable amount of attention in recent years. What is less often acknowledged is that, over the past two decades, psychogeography has re-emerged and been reworked. It has not simply been inherited and continued but reimagined in ways that reflect the changing nature of the relationship between radicalism, history and geography.
The early 1990s witnessed the birth of an intriguing political subculture. Across Europe and the United States local psychogeography groups sprang into existence. Although, in part, inspired by situationist antecedents, these groups charted novel, idiosyncratic, trajectories. From the late 1990s activity among these revolutionary groups diminished and interest in psychogeography passed to the arts community and related ‘urban explorers.’ However, although the work of the British agitational groups which I shall discuss here ceased some years ago, they remain one of the most provocative recent reinventions of the radical tradition. They also represent the most explicitly activist example of the turn in the 1990s towards the politics of ‘everyday space’ and, hence, of the wider ‘spatial turn’ within intellectual life.
Left in the Past, Alastair Bonnett, 2010
Peace Pilgrim (July 18, 1908 – July 7, 1981), born Mildred Lisette Norman, was an American spiritual teacher, mystic, pacifist, vegetarian activist and peace activist. In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. Starting on January 1, 1953, in Pasadena, California, she adopted the name "Peace Pilgrim" and walked across the United States for 28 years, speaking with others about peace. She was on her seventh cross-country journey when she died.
A transcript of a 1964 conversation with Peace Pilgrim from a broadcast on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, California, was published as "Steps Toward Inner Peace." She stopped counting miles in that year, having walked more than 25,000 mi (40,000 km) for peace.
“Keep walking intently.” That straightforward instruction formed the entire score for Takehisa Kosugi’s Theatre Music. Throughout the 80 year span of his life Kosugi followed an independently minded course with luminous clarity of intent. Theatre Music was one of a series of the Japanese artist’s “Event” pieces, printed on a set of cards and published in 1964 by George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus movement. Some of these pieces, notably Music For Revolution, make more extreme demands upon their performer: “Scoop out one of your eyes five years from now and do the same with the other eye five years later.”
“The most generically titled of his Fluxus scores, Theater Music, is deceptive in its indeterminacy and formulation. Patently without object, and strikingly unmusical, it simply instructs: “Keep walking intently.” It is worth pausing to consider this. The piece brings focus, even determination to a daily action. Calling on the impetus of the individual or the collective, there is the fundamental element of endurance, an intensity in commonality, compressed within the borders of its time; space is thickened by a threat of the interminable. The otherwise quotidian activity of walking is framed as out of the ordinary by the “theater” of its execution. And through its accessibility, like the simplest Fluxus works, including others by Kosugi, it has continued to take on meaning through unlikely executions.” [credit]
Most copies of Fluxus 1 contained both the score card for Theatre Music (“Keep Walking Intently”) and the realization of the work: footprints on paper. The card also appears in Kosugi’s boxed work Events, and is reproduced in the second Fluxus newspaper.
The George Maciunas designed graphic of seventy-three boots in a spiral pattern is among his more iconic images.
A recent book on walking in the arts takes its title from the Kosugi work: Keep Walking Intently: The Ambulatory Art of the Surrealists, the Situationist International, and Fluxus, by Lori Waxman (2017).
Taking a Shoe for a Walk (1989)
"A walk down 14th street is more amazing than any masterpiece of art." –Alan Kaprow