Got a good pair of walking shoes? Well, put them on and get outside! In our automobile-dominated culture, walking can be a revolutionary act. It can be artistic, philosophical, and especially in the city, a way of engaging and interacting with the riches and wonders of where you live. Here's an introduction to the fine art and philosophy of walking:
Guy Debord in his Theory of the Dérive: "In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there."
The dérive forms one of the techniques of psychogeography as an exploration of urban topography, objective and subjective knowledge. Tomas Hein, on his blog Keep Yer Coins, does a great summary of Debord, the Situationists and ideas surrounding the dérive. (www.tomashein.com/blog/tag/debord/)
Everyday life is another focus of psychogeography. Urbantick is a blog which investigates the dérive through "Cycle Studies," which are "the science of everyday life, as normal as it gets. Its focus is the daily routine, with its habits and rhythms as they occure in most citizens' lifes." This is a great blog featuring lots of fascinating maps, such as "Mental Maps of Daily Commuting."
The Ministry of Walking is "a Calgary-based collective of individuals who value the experience of walking as a vital and integrated part of their everyday life, their work, and/or their artistic practice." Their projects have included performances such as "Finding Your Inner Flâneur," and sound walks where participants are each given a mission of seeking particular types of sounds. These kinds of projects are all aimed at engaging the public in expanding the time they spend walking, and in being aware of their environment.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are Canadian artists best known for their site specific audio and video walks. I've done two of their walks, one in Oakville, Ontario, and one here in Montreal, and the mix of walking tour, storytelling and sound/performance art is visceral and fascinating. Here are a couple of links that really describe Cardiff/Miller's work, as well as a catalogue of their walks on their website:
Jane Jacobs is another Canadian who is vastly influential in the field of urban studies and city planning. Her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, investigates what makes a city vibrant and livable: the importance of good sidewalks and pedestrians is paramount. Influenced by her theories, Toronto's Centre for City Ecology "sponsors and administers the Jane's Walk program nationally and internationally, fostering local partnerships to bring people together across geographic and social barriers for free neighbourhood walking tours."
Spacing.ca, with its attendant blogs spacingmontreal.ca and spacingtoronto.ca, investigates urban space and the specificity of the local. "Public space is at the heart of democracy. It’s where people interact, teach, learn, participate, and protest." A great magazine, and great blogs, especially for those interested in Montreal/Toronto's landscapes, "its people and its neighbourhoods, its sidewalks and its graffiti."
And finally, a really informative and playful exhibit organized by Montreal's Canadian Centre for Architecture, which unfortunately just ended; fortunately, you can find it on the website. Actions: What You Can Do With the City presents 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world. Walking-related actions include, for example, shoes that charge cellphones. (cca-actions.org/actions-list)
Obviously, this is only a brief glance at the wider field of what might be broadly defined as “Walking Art and Culture.” It's clear, however, that walking can be understood as a familiar, everyday activity, a philosophical enquiry, a performance, a highly political act in the age of the automobile which can signify social engagement and resistance, and also quite simply, an economical and healthy way to move from point A to B.
Do you have more examples of walking art? Let me know...