BY Zoe Anderson
There has recently been a noticeable resurgence of interest in walking within the arts. This is not a new idea, of course. Walking has been used as early as 367 BC to aid the process of thought. In fact, Aristotle is one of the earliest practitioners to combine movement and thought; he believed that ‘a determinate thing only comes into being when the potentiality in matter is converted into actuality’. This provides us with a bridge to look at the notion of experience within the landscape, as cast in phenomenological terms. By this I mean what happens when we experience the land, the external factors, the difficulties etc.
Aristotle then took on a group of brilliant researchers called the Peripatetics (or ‘wanderers’), with the name taken from the Greek for the Cloister (peripatos) in which they walked around and held their discussions. Thus even in the early days of ‘western’ philosophy it was clear that there was an acknowledged relationship between the freedom of the body and the freedom of the mind; the idea of allowing yourself the freedom to physically get lost in thought. Drawing a parallel to Aristotle and the act of walking, it is essential that we begin to understand that there is indeed another dimension to the act of the participants when they are walking through, say, the city of London and when they are out submerged in a landscape. I would propose that it is precisely this physicality, this rhythmic propelling forward of the body that allows the mind to see and absorb everyday sensations in a different light.
In the centuries since Aristotle’s time, the act of walking itself has been championed many times, often synonymous now with so many other disciplines, and indeed follows the economic trend of the recession as more and more of us seek the simpler, freer things in life. It is important however to establish a distinction between artists who use walking as a way of documenting, analyzing and reclassifying the world – with the walk being the catalyst for a focused observation, often within the confines of the city and often asking questions, such as, ‘what’s here that I never noticed?’ ‘What would happen if I stopped?’ In contrast, artists who walk, simply walk, often over vast and challenging distances, alone, undisturbed, wishing the journey to be no more and no less than what it is experientially; the idea of documenting, stopping, rearranging, all takes away form the phenomenological continuity of footsteps, artists who feel free to abolish the idea that in order for something to exist there must indeed be a trace of it. These two practices are thus worlds apart, and while there is of course no hierarchy in their value, they must be nevertheless acknowledged as different beasts.
Walking in its purest of forms demands a recognition of a personal relationship with the land, the act of walking thus becoming expansive, spiritual, the relationship with the land itself elevated to the focal point of the act. It is with this sensibility that we become the walker, this acknowledged relationship and acceptance that something bigger than our selves, our concerns is taking place. I see this in phenomenological terms, when I walk, each footstep joins with the land and within this meeting, we are married, we are one. The point of impact joins, fuses us together and at that point the land and myself as objects have a renewed understanding. Out of the many "walking" artists practicing, few are walkers, few seek the challenge of discovering the earth, discovering a purity. Hamish Fulton has championed this for many years, drawing his inspiration from mountaineers, explorers, practitioners of the land. Fulton believes that the walk is the art, that first and foremost there is the walk. However Fulton is a maker of objects and work does appear as a result of his walks, albeit they are noted as being, past, representing and not experiential. I wonder, can we not go one step further? Can we not walk and be satisfied that the art is the walk, can we not as artists loose our dependancy on the object, or of the justification?
For his part, Aristotle believed that the best and the highest goal is the happiness that originates from virtuous actions. Aristotle did not, with Plato, regard virtue as knowledge pure and immediate, but as founded on nature, habit and reason. Virtue consists on acting in accordance with nature; that is, keeping the mean between the two extremes of the too much and the too little. Thus valor, in his view the first of virtues, is a mean between cowardice and recklessness; while temperance is the mean in respect to sensual enjoyments and abstinence from them.
Walking with purpose over any prolonged period of time can induce a meditative effect. Obviously the longer one walks for, the deeper this trans-like state might become. If we think about walking in phenomenological terms of the ‘experiential’, then the ‘walk’ is what matters: the physical journey; the ability through the repetitive nature of stepping that we can allow ourselves to ‘get lost in thought’. Distance and endurance are the main factors needed for this heightened experience, therefore one could argue that the notion of walking as experience cannot take place as effectively within the boundaries of a city as it can in the vast expanse of the countryside.
Charles Jenner, an Anglican clergyman born in 1736, also found nurturing thoughts within the city of London problematic. In his book, Letters from Altamont in the Capital, to his Friends in the Country, he accepted the difficulty of adapting to the contrast in environment, all the while continuing his education in the city. He furthered this point in his collection of poems titled, ‘London Eclogues’:
Since no images adorn the plain
but what are found as well in Grey’s Inn Lane
since dust and noise inspire no thought serene
and three-horse stages little mend the scene
I’ll say no more to seek the vagrant muse
But ev’n go write at home and save my shoes.
This is not to say that walking as experience, to attain a sense or connection with oneself, cannot take place within a city. It is to suggest however, that we have to shift and establish a new set of criteria for how we are to achieve this. If artists ‘walking tours’ take place, they are – possibly due to the fact that they have a community element to them – often short, usually 1-3 miles. Moreover, participants are often encouraged to think about particular things, or to collect, physical and mental images and objects of their route in order to document; to classify. Thus within these walks, ‘walking’ is secondary. Cities are notoriously illuminating metropolises of distraction; they offer us constant variations at each moment, even on familiar routes; ever changing, ever evolving. London, as the exemplar of this in the UK, it has a square mileage of 607 miles and is approximately 28 miles wide, and the population of London is 8.17 million. As such, the idea of achieving a meditative state seems somewhat difficult.
However there are many factors that can change the view of a city. An important one, in terms of ‘experiential walking’, is the time of day in which a walk takes place. For instance, if a walking group was to set out at 4am they would experience a much different view then if they were to start at 9am amidst the morning traffic. If we were then to try and push the experience of the walk itself we could use the distance across the city, loop it and achieve an ultra distance in the space of one day – allowing the city to change and unfurl within the process. The physical challenge of completing a distance of this size would give the participant the opportunity to go deep within themselves in order to find the physical strength to carry on, thus allowing the distraction of the city to fade into insignificance.
In Christopher Tilley’s book, ‘The Phenomenology of Landscape”, Cosgrove and Daniels argue that it “is important not to forget that the contemporary term ‘land-scape’ is highly ideological’, it is ‘a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolizing our surroundings’. Therefore landscape is not a place it is a state of mind: ‘Such an image may be structured on canvas, in writing and on the ground through earth, stone and vegetation. Landscape in this rather limited definition, are images which are created and read, verbal or non-verbal texts’.
There is danger within many ‘artist’s walks’ that we are romanticizing and attempting to re-classify paths and routes. As suggested by Cosgrove and Daniels, walking as experience is phenomenological, where we can allow ourselves to physically and mentally realise the path as an object. Once we have achieved this basic, fundamental understanding of the ground under our feet we can allow our body to crate a connection with our mind, where all three elements can come together to reach a point of enlightenment. Experiential walking thus holds three inseparable elements, mind, body and object, and only when all three are realised can we make a connection with the land.
In conclusion then, I want to suggest that our obsession with collecting, ordering, classifying and re-evaluating landscape has shifted our focus from the act of walking itself and has thus rendered walking into a retrospective, a remembered state, not an ‘experienced’ one – but something often shifted, idealised and changed within the walls of galleries and journals. Our need to justify the walk itself, is stronger than the need to experience. Yet I feel that in order as artists to understand these existential connections we must begin to allow ourselves the freedom to leave no trace, no documentation and most importantly, no apologies.
 Seyffert, Oskar (1895), A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. "Greek Philosophy" entry in Seyffert 1895, p. 482.
 Drozdek, Adam, Greek Philosophers as Theologians: The Divine Arche, (Ashgate publishing, 2007).
 . "Peripatetic philosophy" entry in Lieber, Wigglesworth & Bradford 1832, p. 22. Lieber, Francis; Wigglesworth, Edward; Bradford, T. G. (1832), Encyclopedia Americana, 10.
 Charles Jenner, taken from ‘The City and The Country’, Williams, Raymond, (Chatto & Windus, London, 1973), pg 142.
 Cosgrove and Daniels, 1988: 1. Taken from Christopher Tilly’s, ‘The Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, Paths and Monuments’, (Berg Publishers, 1994, pg 24.
 Ibid, pg 25.