Field work. Research walking. Process led mark making. Letting the walk make the work.
All a few words I have scribbled in my journal over the last week. The idea of the documentation of the actual process of walking has become a real focus since researching Hamish Fulton and his practice. He has said that walks are crucial for his making and has summed up this way of thinking through the bold statement 'no walk, no work'. He has been making works based purely on the experience of walking since 1972 and finds ways to translate his experiences through the mediums of photography, drawing and writing. Fulton argues that 'walking is an artform in its own right'.
After reading Fulton's words, they stuck with me. In my work I want to be representing something that is not readily given in the landscape but that represents the landscape somewhat more truthfully than an accurately drawn vista, in terms of depicting an immersive outdoor experience.
I was visited by my friend Charlie in the studio last week and we took some time to have a mini crit and talk through our work together. I told Charlie that increasingly, when I work, I'm thinking about how I need to concentrate on slowing down.
The world we live in is so fast paced and sometimes I find myself going walking to enjoy being in the outdoors, but in retrospect realise I haven't taken in the little, all important details. The photography I am doing when out walking now, as a result, focuses in on small details for that reason.
I am not interested in making art about landscapes that can be easily seen and remembered. I am interested in slowing everything down and focusing my attention in on the finer details of the walk itself, the process of photography, the making, the curation of materials. A refinement of thinking and taking my time to see the outdoor world, not just look at it blindly.
Something I have been doing more of recently is morning walking. By myself, mostly, a short de-tour before I go to the studio for the day. However, recently I have invested in some gear for making coffee outside thanks to some essential recommendations from my friend Tom who has much more experience with making coffee outside than I do.
This new set up has given my morning rituals a change of direction. It's this act of slowing down that I spoke about with Charlie, that purpose I'm giving myself to stop mid-walk, set up my stove, brew a V60 and drink coffee with nothing for distraction but the natural world.
I had coffee outside with Tom, Jonah, Joe and Kyle before my one to one tutorial with Neil at uni this morning. Before we had even started talking about my work, Neil expressed an interest in what I'd done before our tutorial, after spotting my 'coffee outside' gear sitting in my half open backpack.
I talked him through how and why we do it. The ritual, finding the enjoyment in being outdoors to brew coffee, sit amongst friends and watch the natural world wake up. Being an outdoorsman himself, he was keen for me to talk him through this aspect of my day. He suggested, as many others have, that I should try to find a way to weave this love of speciality coffee into my art practice.
We then moved on to speak about where my work is at currently. It was great to finally have the opportunity to talk through my thought processes as I haven't had a crit since my first day of uni this academic year.
The first topic of discussion was finding ways for me to make the abstract element of my diptychs more contextually relevant to my critical ideas. Mapping, for me, is all about documentation and preservation. Neil suggested to extend that through my mark making and take it beyond writing and photography. He suggested I document and collect everything that may be of use when I go out on field trips and curate this agglomeration, this wealth of 'stuff', for work-making.
He said I could make my remapping responses more relevant to the actual process of walking by various methods. One of the things we spoke about were the enlargement and overlapping of my handwritten notes when out in the field observing the landscape, abstracting my words and handwriting beyond recognition and using these lines, derived from the walk, to make work.
Another was the idea of collecting; taking shapes or symbols of interest from tickets on travels or parts of nature like the motifs on stones or rubbings taken from trees. Real, tangible parts of the walk working with my photographs to make a mapped response as opposed to my current reflective process, which is less representational due to the respective nature.
After mentioning next week's art related trip to Paris with Em, Neil told me about the book 'The Arcades Project' by Walter Benjamin. I had come across Benjamin before, during my initial research into Psychogeography, but I didn't know about this particular book. I have found an English translation already and am going to spend this week reading it before I head to Paris in preparation.
We also spoke about the reason I use the diptych form. About how one medium simply isn't enough to satisfy me as an artist; it's not sufficient to communicate the things I want to say.
The two parts act as a push and a pull with one another, between the real and the 'felt', between the geography and the psychology that come together to form psychogeography, between the controlled art-making and the uncontrollable natural landscape. Thus, the idea of controlling the landscape via the process of creative mapping/cartography was suggested.
I like the idea that my control over mapping using art is countered with the act of walking and a situation I cannot control; I may get lost, I may get rained on, the terrain may test my physical abilities. The landscape cannot be tamed, and thus the factors of lack of control are countered with a personal curation, a carefully controlled selection, of my own experience in it.
Neil suggested I read 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost' in response to this discussion we had regarding cartography and control. I plan my walks, where I will go, where I will end up, how long it will take. A way to take my field work further would be to strip back that element of planning, to walk with no direction, to take away even more control.
Film photography could replace my digital photographs, taking away another aspect of control from the process of making as I can't review the image post shooting. Even the act of leaving drawings in the landscape and documenting how the natural world manipulates them could be a way to give the natural world more control over the process led work. This may develop so much so that my role as an artist may shift less towards the maker and more towards that of a cartographic curator of data.