04-05-19: walking

I am once again thinking about walking.

I suppose that being a New Yorker, particularly a Manhattanite, that this is typical activity and so therefore a logical source of material for my work, not to mention that it is something that I have thought about off and on for some time. It is also not something new in art, but which by now has a long history, from Baudelaire’s flaneur through Debord’s derivé to… well, to today’s what? Maybe to today’s no-eyes walking, feet moving ever forward, but the gaze focused downward on glittering cellular displays.

As in times past, I had thought about leaving some sort of trail or path, or following some sort of trail previously left behind and found or uncovered by me. This has lead me to imagine walking a path as a sort of narrative that could be followed or created (and I’m surely not the first to do so). Inevitably, weaving and tying and knotting also come to mind. I imagine that by walking through the city that I would be weaving a sort of story; and that the storylines overlapping or paths intertwining as strands could be thought of as a fabric, a weaving, a story.

Additionally, I have thought about the space of the city and its affect on the individual body navigating it, and the reciprocal effects upon the city by that body. Not only is that body creating a narrative and leaving its mark upon the city, the city is also leaving an imprint of itself upon that body, and upon that body’s own narrative.

Thus the city is itself a kind of body; and I and my own body are both a part of that larger body and also apart from it, but there could never be a total disconnect or total separation or differentiation from it. It has already marked me and I have already marked it. My presence here in this city can never be fully erased, and neither can its presence in and on me be completely effaced. If I leave the city, the most obvious thing that connects me to it are my memories, although those may fade and disappear; but even if I were to forget completely or to die, my presence in the city would live on in small ways both in the lives and the memories of others, as well as the spaces of the city. My cells fill the air. There is no leaving the city.

In the Theseus legend, Ariadne is trapped within the labyrinth with the minotaur, a half-man/half-bull monstrosity. Theseus, the hero, provides hope to Ariadne for escape from the labyrinth and the minotaur. She provides him with a thread so that he may trace his way back out of the labyrinth once he ventures inside to slay the minotaur and rescue her. Upon his success, Theseus and Ariadne escape to another island, but Theseus betrays Ariadne and leaves her behind. Desolate, Ariadne retreats back into the labyrinth.

Nietzsche imagines the labyrinth as the body and this legend as a sort of metaphysical narrative, a classic mind/body struggle. As such, the heroic Theseus figure with his wits promises to lead Ariadne to freedom, who is trapped within the labyrinth by the overtly animal and bodily minotaur within the labyrinth. The strength of Theseus may indeed have been able to overcome the threat of the Minotaur himself and slay it, but the force of Ariadne’s grief due to his betrayal of her and her ultimate realization that she is alone leads her back into the heart of the labyrinth.

Some precedents come to mind, such as Francis Alys and his paseos through the cities with a block of ice and a can of paint, Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing and The Leak, and across borders with The Green Line. I also thought of Gabriel Orozco and his sculpture, The Yielding Stone, in which he pushes a ball of clay equal to his body weight through the city. They are both artists projects about transformation and movement and time. For Alys, the ‘object’ in the form of a block of ice gradually disappears forcing us to think about its process of being transformed into water, and thus (un)made. And for Orozco, the ‘object’ is remolded by the surfaces and forms of the city with which it comes in contact, literally being imprinted by the city. Both end up as part of the city.

Yielding Stone, Gabriel Orozco 1992/2009
Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing, Francis Alys 1997

I am not certain that I am interested in such objects, however. But if I have no object, if I use no prop, then the walk itself becomes the object. Perhaps I can document in some way how I myself may be altered during the walk. If that is what Orozco metaphorically suggests with his banged-up, dirty ball of clay, and what Alys demonstrates during his walk pushing the ever smaller and smaller piece of ice, then maybe it would be interesting to skip with the object altogether.

This then brings to mind Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller’s walks in which storytelling, history, places, images, and technology are woven together.

Alter Bahnhof Video Walk, Janet CArdiff and George Bures Miller 2012