Walking (or running)

I recently spent a week walking in Southern New Zealand. I did two of the popular “Great Walks” – the Kepler and Routeburn tracks. They are fairly gentle, well-trodden tracks, involving 4 to 6 hours of walking each day and comfortable nights in well-appointed (though noisy) huts. I hadn’t done multi-day walks for many years and was surprised how strongly the experience affected me. It was like rediscovering some vital aspect of myself that I’d somehow, in slow, imperceptible increments, forgotten. I can’t really offer any adequate justification for the pleasure I felt walking each day. I am well aware how critically suspect this pleasure can appear – solitary engagement with ‘wild’ nature is regularly positioned as a reactionary sphere of consolation and mystified authenticity. But it is not only the sublime encounter that matters, but also the rhythm of walking, the challenge of maintaining a pace, of moving quickly through forests and across the cold, high tops. It is the sense of being in a place, but only just – only in terms of moving forward, towards the next step, the next twist in the trail, the next sudden change in scene. It is the experience of a motion that does not subsist, that does not cohere, that is manifest as dissolution, momentum, trajectory.

In any case, since getting back, I’ve been keen to keep up the practice of walking continuously for several hours at least once per week. Actually, not just walking, but also running. I believe the term is ‘trail-running’. I walk 5 minutes, run for twenty minutes, walk another 5 minutes, run for another twenty minutes, etc. Sometimes the pattern changes a bit, particularly after a few hours when I’m getting tired. Then I may walk up a hill because it is just as hard as running on the flat, or I may shorten the walk run intervals, or do whatever is necessary to finish without collapsing. This is the pattern I have established, but I’ve actually only done the walk-run twice. Funny that the rules for this activity have already become so clearly delineated. I have made the walk/run along the same track each time. I go from Otford along the Coastal track to top of the large headland north of Garie beach and then back. Covers about 20k altogether and takes a bit over three hours. It involves everything from leafy forest trails to rocky scrambles, steep ascents and long, sandy, beach slogs.

Now here is the dumb question that I want to pose: is there some way of pitching this activity not simply as a form of weekend exercise, but as an artistic practice? What is that distinguishes my walk/runs from art? Without wishing to insist upon some clear definition of what properly falls within the purview of art, I feel inclined to say that my walk/runs are not art. Why? Because the process itself takes precedence and does not produce any kind of remainder to be reflected upon. Because the activity is not coherently directed to either posterity or a public. Because it does not normally even consider a public (except here in the context of this blog entry). It is simply an absorbing action that exhausts itself in the process of its undertaking, providing a context for private reflection, but summoning nothing else. The experience gains meaning partly in its contract with oblivion, which involves an acceptance of a reduced cultural status – as leisure, as exercise, as agonistic ritual.

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1 Response to Walking (or running)

  1. Its a very interesting question.

    Milton Babbitt, early 20th century composer, said that electronic music did NOT transfer the musical possibilities from the capacities of musicians and instruments to electronics …. but rather to our limits of perception. What he was saying is that the electronic medium has the capacity produce sounds beyond our perceptual capabilities…. and was in fact a medium to explore the dichotomy between what sounds we can make, and what sounds we can perceive.

    I wonder if social art (which I really dont understand very well) is perhaps a medium which essentially concerns questioning what, exactly, constitutes a work of art.

    For my money, I define art as something that *incites insight in others*…. where the insight has a resonant dimension … it reverberates and saturates with new orders, new ways of seeing. The artist has to have an original insight, which is incited in others through the artist’s skills within a chosen medium.

    What insight was communicated by the bushwalk? how was it incited? to whom? and where is the resonance?

    Perhaps it is in inferring that there is a fine line between art … and living. But this is achieved by the blog post … or the lecture describing the social art project.

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