From Richard Long to Janet Cardiff ………………………. 40 Years of Art Walking
“Walk On is the first exhibition to examine the astonishingly varied ways that artists, from the 1960s onwards, have undertaken a seemingly universal act – that of taking a walk – as a means to create new types of art.”
Walk On is a series of walks, talks, family friendly activities and four exhibitions on display in Plymouth between 20th September and 13th December 2014. I visited each of the exhibitions in one day which helped me appreciate the whole event but also enabled me to note the subtle differences in the curating of each venue.
The Gallery, Plymouth College of Art
“In July 2007 French high wire artist Didier Pasquette attempted to walk between three of Glasgow’s Red Road high rise tower blocks. The event turned out to be somewhat anti-climactic with high winds leading Pasquette to abandon his walk after several steps out onto the wire and, terrifyingly, retrace his path. (Shannon, 2008) High Wire is the first exhibit you see as you enter The Gallery. It is in a room of its own with the film dominating the darkened space. The film was shot from cameras in three different location plus a head cam. Watching the head cam shots creates an uncomfortable feeling of vertigo and makes the whole experience quite disturbing. The rest of the gallery space is designed to lead you through exhibits ranging from postcards to sculptures. As you wind your way around the gallery you find yourself in a mini tree lined maze which leads to a second film “Kielder Forest Walk” by Tim Knowles.
There is a welcome bench seat in this area and this invites viewers to sit and watch the film, which is eight hours long, for perhaps longer than they would if they were standing. It is filmed from a camera mounted on the artist’s chest and shows him traversing the forest in as straight a line as possible. As I watched it I found myself wondering whether he actually was walking in a straight line as he appears to veer off from time to time but as he was carrying two compasses this must be an optical illusion. Although The Gallery is a relatively small space the layout makes it appear larger. The twists and turns give the feeling of not knowing what you are going to find around the next corner. Although I did not particularly understand or enjoy Kielder Forest Walk I did appreciate the way it was tucked away, adding a sense of mystery to the film. My only criticism is that the accompanying handout is A5 and consequently has very small print. As some of the exhibits were in darkened areas it made it impossible to read the information about the artist.
Plymouth Arts Centre
The exhibit space in the Plymouth Arts Centre is very small but they have extended this by placing exhibits in the entrance area and cafe. As I looked around the exhibits in the gallery I could hear marching coming from a doorway which leads into a darkened space. I found it very intriguing taking my attention away from the other exhibits and drawing me to it. A clock and sign on the wall beside the door tells you that it is a film which loops and when it will re-start and this gave me time to look at the exhibits in the cafe. Away from the distraction of the marching feet I was able to really appreciate these. Pasted on the wall are fly posters printed with stories gathered by three artists, Gail Burton, Serena Korda and Clare Qualmann. It is particularly poignant that the posters are printed on paper intended to bubble when pasted thus emphasising the harshness of the streets that these stories are taken from. The display of found objects resonated with me as I have previously completed a project on the theory of dérive which included a project photographing found objects while taking a dérive. When I returned to watch the film I was alone which gave me the opportunity to give the film my full attention and I am so glad I did. It is a wonderful piece of art which took me through a whole range of emotions from curiosity, to worry through to an uplifting feeling of Britishness.
“The film follows 64 Coldstream Guards from the moment they enter the city’s Square Mile on their own, until they find each other and, once they are all together, march into the closest bridge and disperse. The editing and combination of the different marches make the film a musical score with different movements…” (Lafuente, 2005) It was definitely the highlight of the exhibition for me.
Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University
This is a huge, white, light, space where the art has space to breathe and the feel is completely different. Although the impression is of grandeur and importance, it does take away the feeling of intimacy and, arguably, the connection that you have with the art in smaller gallery spaces. As you enter you are greeted with a huge black and white film, Walk (Square) by Melanie Machot and in the distance you can hear voices in what sounds like a recorded interview. The art is well spaced and the accompanying information leaflet is comprehensive and aids your understanding of each piece. One artist, Rachael Clewlow, has several pieces at the exhibition. They are bright and colourful geometric interpretations of her journeys around the UK. “Through rigorous and dedicated, almost ritualistic daily recording, Rachael maintains statistical diaries, which provide a detailed record of her movements and whereabouts at specific points in time. From this, Rachael produces intricate paintings and prints.” (Oldfield, 2012)
As you walk around the space the recorded interview features more and more prominently in your conscious mind and you begin to listen to the words. Two large speakers are playing Simon Pope’s “A Common Third” which is a series of interviews between the artist and invited guests after taking spontaneous walks together. Pope questions his guests about their emotional and physical experiences of the walk and standing in between the two speakers enables you to completely immerse yourself in the interviews. The overall impression of this exhibition is light and space with well curated pieces.
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
The feeling in this gallery is, once again, totally different to the others. While the walls are white there is no natural light and the flooring is dark wood. It causes the art to blend in rather than pop out. In the centre of the room there are two large stone installations by Richard Long which is an additional piece to the Walk On exhibition. They are made of local stone and blend seamlessly with the natural wood flooring – do be careful not to step back onto them though – the room is narrow in places! Two pieces in particular were of interest to me. Firstly Richard Wentworth’s series “Making Do and Getting By” which are photographic pieces of everyday objects being put to practical use. Wentworth starting taking these photographs as a student and as he collected more and more they began to take on the form of a collection. “Mundane snapshots and fragments of the modern landscape are elevated to an analysis of human resourcefulness and improvisation, whereby amusing oddities that would otherwise go by unnoticed become the subject of intent contemplation.” (Bittencourt Grasso, 2012)
Another exhibit that is well worth spending some time on is Sophie Calle’s “Suite Venitienne” As Calle explains in an interview with Stuart Morgan for Frieze Magazine “At the end of January 1980, on the streets of Paris, I followed a man whom I lost sight of a few minutes later in the crowd. That very evening, by chance, he was introduced to me at an opening. During the course of our conversation, he told me he was planning an imminent trip to Venice.” (Morgan, 1992) The exhibit consists of a series of black and white photographs and accompanying text which explain how Calle disguised herself and followed this man to Venice where she went to great effort to track him down in his hotel. She followed and photographed him throughout the whole of this time.
It is impossible not to be shocked when reading this, our perspective has changed so much in recent years that this would definitely be considered stalking, however Calle thinks of herself as a private detective or spy. There are plenty of other exhibits to keep you interested in the Museum and there is always a member of staff on hand to answer any questions. The leaflet is well produced and very informative. I would definitely recommend a visit to these exhibitions and would love to hear what you think about them. Bittencourt Grasson, R (2012) Making Do and Getting By [online] http://www.gupmagazine.com/blog/120-making-do-and-getting-by [accessed 5th November 2014 at 12.45] Lafuente, P (2005) Francis Alys Art Monthly, no 291 Morgan, S (1992) Suite Venitienne [online] Frieze Magazine Issue 3 January-March 1992 Oldfield, S (2012) The Process – Rachael Clewlow and Julia Farrer [online] http://www.allinlondon.co.uk/whats-on.php?event=83392 [accessed 5th November 2014 at 12.20] Shannon, L (2008) Catherine Yass : Hire Wire [online] https://www.list.co.uk/article/8555-catherine-yass-high-wire/ [accessed 4th November 2014 at 16.55]