Walking in/as Art

“Walking as a practice has been with us for as long as we’ve been us. The labyrinth, the pilgrimage, the parade, and the wanderer as a holy figure are all big parts of human history.”

‘I have belief in God. But not all of the time,’ Megumi Ueno admits as she ascends steps on the Kumano Kodo, a sacred pilgrimage route in Japan’s Kii Mountains that’s been travelled by Shintos and Buddhists for more than a millennium. While Ueno considers herself a Buddhist, she has a complex relationship with religious devotion, believing that, when adopted absolutely, it can lead to violence and destruction. Still, Ueno feels connected to fellow spiritual pilgrims who have felt called to leave behind the conveniences and comforts of home in search of something more – whatever that might be.

From [here] Francesco Careri has identified three moments in art history when an experience linked to walking represented a turning point:

  • the period of transition from Dada to Surrrealism (1921-24)
  • the emergence of the Situationist Movement from the Letterist International (1956-57)
  • the movement from Minimal Art to Land Art (1966-67) – Fluxus, non-object-based art as exemplified by Richard Wentworth, Janet Cardiff and Francis Alÿs; with the rise of performance art the act of walking itself has become art.

On 14 April 1921 in Paris, at three in the afternoon, in the rain, eleven Dadaists conducted a ‘lay pilgrimage’ to the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, the first in a proposed series of urban excursions to the ‘banal places’ of the city – it was not a success, and remained the sole example. However they had an influence on getting people to look and look again, to notice and how to notice what you notice, daring to leap into the unknown and explore things in a different way.

LittleArtTalks: WALKING | 5 Artists in 5 Minutes (2015)

The Situationists International art movement in the 50s (2′-7′):

They were really interested in this idea of Dérive (drift), aka “lets get drunk and walk around Paris”

The dérive “has the potential to transform the everyday, to illuminate and challenge narratives of privatisation, commodification and securitisation of space, and navigate increasingly blurred boundaries between public/private”. The ideal outcome was that “pedestrians would become more aware of their overlooked urban surroundings and begin to see new possibilities of experiencing everyday life in the city”. They were interested in interrupting the capitalist structure of the built city via play and non-capital oriented walking and goals. In a lot of ways we can see the fallout of these ideas in “games” played in and over spaces, like geocaching, parkour, skateboarding, urban exploring, and even actual gamified apps Pokemon Go and its predecessor, Inverness. 

Francis Alys, The Green Line (4:00 – 6:30)

Janet Cardiff, Alter Bahnhof Video Walk (2012)

Blast Theory, Can You See Me Now? (2003) 1:15 – 5:00.

Can You See Me Now? was one of the first locative games. Online players navigated a 3D map of a city-centre game area, whilst Blast Theory runners were on the streets for real. Runners chased after online players, using mobile devices to follow their location live, whilst runners’ positions were tracked by satellite and updated in real time on the 3D game area.

“The term walking simulator began as a bit of a snide remark on games with limited interactive components, which came into the main with Dear Esther which generally was loved by critics and hated by fans. Although this was less than 10 years ago in games, they’ve grown a lot as a medium since then– especially in the public view of what they can “be”. With no shooting, puzzles, or other mechanics, walking sims were a step towards experiences that were subtle, environmental, and about being in spaces over time.”

Watch 1:15-2:30:

Chris Davis, The Secret to a Great Walking Simulator (2017)

Ben Esposito released a free Unity package called First Person Drifter, which was an easy to implement first-person controlle. It came with the text:

a drifting game is a piece of art software in which users walk around for the hell of it. the term drifting game comes from the word “dérive” which is the radical concept of wandering around. i made this package bc i want to encourage artists & non-programmers to make more and 2 provide users w/ controls that behave in ways they expect.”