124. Fiona Wilkie, “‘Three Miles an Hour’: Pedestrian Travel”

by breavman99


I read Fiona Wilkie’s book, Performance, Transport, and Mobility: Making Passage, during my MFA, but I don’t remember it. That’s what happens when you read a bunch of books quickly, without taking good notes—at least, that’s what happens to me. I remember reading the book. It came by interlibrary loan; I remember the yellow paper band around the cover and having to rush to finish it by the due date. And I remember finding it useful. I wish I could remember the argument, though. A couple of months ago, I found a cheap(ish) copy online, and it arrived, finally, just before Christmas. On this snowy day, I decided to give it a (second) look.

“‘Three Miles an Hour’: Pedestrian Travel” is the first chapter in the book—the others discuss mobile performance by train, automobile, boat, and airplane, none of which interest me—and I thought I would return to it today. I’ll read her introduction as well. The introduction begins by positing a homology between performance and movement: performance “moves its audience to a range of feelings” and “tours from one place to another” (1). “Performance has always been a slippery business,” Wilkie writes: “on the move, ephemeral and difficult to contain” (1). Wilkie has “two opening premises”:

The first is simple: that transport systems are important to our experience and understanding of mobility. The second is that, perhaps less obviously, a rich dialogue exists between transport and performance, and that this is worth investigating in order to consider how concepts of mobility are explored and debated. An underlying assumption of this book is that how we travel is intimately connected with the ways in which we both understand that travelling and conceive of ourselves—and others—as travellers. And part of this understanding comes through performance. A wealth of performances and related cultural practices have been, and continue to be, actively engaged in imagining, exploring, revealing and challenging experiences of being in transit. (1)

For Wilkie, “transport systems are a means of enabling collective imagining,” as theatre and performance is, and so thinking about these two different practices together “raises questions of the kinds of imagining that have been, and might be, done through them, and of those who are included in, and excluded from, such imaginings” (2). Her case studies, she hopes, will show that “performance not only responds to but can also produce new mobilities, reshaping existing models and engendering new, alternative possibilities for movement” (2).

Wilkie acknowledges that she has been influenced by work on “the ‘mobility turn’” in the social sciences—work by geographers and sociologists on travel—and her intention is to bring “scholarship in geography and sociology . . . into dialogue with that in theatre and performance studies” (2). “My hope . . . is that this book begins to signal some of the ways in which, when we consider performance, ‘mobilities make it different,’” she writes, citing John Urry. “By bringing ideas from within the mobility turn to bear on theatre and performance analysis, I suggest, we open up a rich field of inquiry,” she continues. “Conversely, I believe that performance has much to bring to the conversation and so, by discussing a wide range of performances and artworks that offer nuanced explorations of what it is to be mobile, I argue that the perspectives of performance extend existing discourses of mobility” (2).

Next, Wilkie summarizes the idea of the “mobility turn” (3). One of the clearest arguments about the significance of this shift is made by John Urry, who “conceives of a ‘mobilities paradigm’ . . . which provides a theoretical framework for analysing social groupings and practices in terms of movement instead of spatial rootedness” (3). She cites Urry’s 2007 book Mobilities, which I should probably read. Mobility theorists presuppose “that social life consists of movements and stillnesses at different levels that sustain one another” (3). “Broadly, the concept of mobility enables an enquiry into how the movement and transmission of ideas, arts practices, theory, capital and information relate to the physical movement (voluntary or otherwise) of people,” Wilkie writes (3-4). However, mobility isn’t just about physical movement. Wilkie quotes geographer Tim Cresswell: mobility “is about the contested worlds of meaning and power. It is about mobilities rubbing up against each other and causing friction. It is about a new hierarchy based on the ways we move and the meanings these movements have been given” (qtd. 4).

Wilkie discusses Cresswell’s distinction between a “sedentarist metaphysics,” in which “place is unmoving and mobility is perceived as a threat to fundamental human values,” and a “nomadic metaphysics,” in which “mobility is coded as freedom, figuring centrally in postmodern culture and positively linked to subaltern power,” as in the work of Michel de Certeau on walking (5). For Cresswell, neither the sedentarist nor the nomadic metaphysics is aware of the ideological meanings they ascribe to mobility (5). Janet Wolff’s feminist analysis is suspicious o the postmodern sense of travel as freedom, suggesting that this assumes “a patriarchal model of movement as the norm and thus excluding the experiences of women and other less dominant groups” (5). “Much of the current scholarship on mobilities takes care to avoid universalizing assumptions,” Wilkie writes. “For example, Cresswell’s proposed way out of the nomadic/sedentarist/dichotomy is an approach that is alert to the ‘historical conditions that produce specific forms of movement, which are radically different’” (qtd. 5-6). Doreen Massey’s work also argues for a consideration of place “as fundamentally mobile” (6). “One consequence of these debates,” Wilkie continues, “is a focus on mobilities as fundamentally relational” (6). In other words, “the various scales on which mobility operates, and the vastly different levels of privilege and empowerment in experiences of being mobile, exist not in spite but in direct relation to one another” (6). Writing on mobility tends therefore “to be invested in a notion of connection. It frequently reveals the ways in which movements on a small or local scale have generated important ideas about mobility, in turn informing a much wider set of movements across different scales” (6). We might, Wilkie suggests, 

consider the range of mobilities involved in theatre and performance as not merely arbitrarily linked by meaningfully connected in terms of ideas about mobility. In this way, the audience’s applause, stage entrances and exists, the dramaturgical structures of movement, thematic explorations of travel within theatre works, the actors’ journeys home, and the global tour of a mega-musical might all be understood to contribute to a sense of the theatre’s mobility. But the seductive power of such connections should not mask an awareness that these various movements at different scales are not connected equally. An emphasis on the relationship of mobilities requires also an acknowledgement that difference rather than similarity is often the result of relations between mobile experiences. (7-8)

Many of Wilkie’s case studies “work to tease out the disparity and power imbalance of vastly different mobilities” (8).

Wilkie is interested in the ways that “performance always already attends to, and is expert in, a number of different levels of movement” (8). Movement is part of the content of theatre and performance works. Historically performers moved from place to place, seeking audiences. “These various movements—of the performers and the characters—then circulate in a variety of ways: as theatre tours, as documents (for example, playscript, photograph, video, and web presence), in the memories of spectators, and in critical responses,” she writes. “Underpinning all of this is the travelling that enables performance events to happen at all: the temporary relocation of actors required in rehearsal periods, national and international touring schedules, and the travel of audiences. The circulation and production of contemporary arts practices have an intrinsic mobility that is worth conceiving as such” (9). She cites Miwon Kwon’s comments on the way that travel has become a marker of artworld success (9). It’s part of academic success as well. And many artists address travel in their work.

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that “a range of performances and artworks that might otherwise not be considered together” do actually “have something to say as part of a larger conversation about movement and travel” (11). The book focuses on modes of travel other than walking as a way to extend discourses about walking and performance, “to signal a rich set of performance dialogues taking place in and through other means of travel” (11). Moreover, “transport has not often been a focus for scholars of theatre and performance,” even though “transport frames ideas of social experience in ways that are worth investigating” (12). One of the ways she tried to understand performance’s relationship to mobility at the beginning of this book project was “through a concept of ‘registering passage’” she takes from the work of David Pascoe on the architecture of airports: we move through airports “‘without registering passage’” (qtd. 16). This idea echoes Marc Augé’s discussion of such spaces as “non-places” (16-17). “Performance as a set of mostly live practices has a vested interest in meaningful encounters, and it is therefore not surprising that there are many examples of performance that seek to mark the significance of transit spaces,” Wilkie writes. “Such performances work against the logic of uninterrupted flow as sites of transport, encouraging spectators to register their passage as a complex activity, simultaneously public and private, and culturally, socially and even morally loaded” (17). Now, however, she wants to claim “something more for the practices discussed in this book” (17). She cites sociologist Peter Frank Peters, who discusses the relationship of time and passages, and the Australian artist Mick Douglas, who describes his participatory art projects “as a kind of ‘making passage’ and therefore a creative ‘method of mobility’” (17). “Following Peters and Douglas, then, I suggest that the cumulative effect of the case studies gathered in this book is one of making passage, developing not merely a commentary on travel but a valuable means of shaping experiences of transit and thereby creating new momentum,” she concludes (17).

Wilkie’s introduction outlines her general approach; the first chapter, on walking, presents specific instances of the ideas she discusses in that introduction. (So do her other chapters, which I’m not going to reread this time.) Walking, “the form of mobility that occupies the most central place in twentieth and twenty-first century performance practices,” provides her with a context in which other forms of mobility can be discussed (18). Wilkie’s argument is that “the well-established tradition of thinking, writing and performing the pedestrian yields a rich critical legacy that informs both theoretical and artistic explorations of other kinds of mobility” (18). Walking, she continues, “establishes a set of values and ideals against which the choice of mechanized transport is measured (and frequently found wanting)” (18). 

While walking is often seen in opposition to other forms of movement, it also complements other kinds of travel. “The fact that an overwhelming majority of the walking attended to in the critical discourse is undertaken as a choice also has implications that we should note,” Wilkie continues:

For the most part, Romantic poets, landscape artists, Situationists, ramblers, cultural geographers and flâneurs walk because they want to, not because they have to. The stories of those who walk because they are too poor to do otherwise are far less visible in the vast literature on walking. . . . There is therefore a context of privilege in which most documented walking occurs, and a corresponding context of walking in poverty that needs to be acknowledged. In some places this is more apparent than others. (19)

At the same time, many artists “position their work as a political response to the situation found in LA and elsewhere,” the notion that walking is pathological, and “walking is thus perceived as a radical choice in the face of cultural pressure to relinquish any prolonged contact between pavement and footwear” (19).

In the work of Guy Debord, Michel de Certeau, and Walter Benjamin, the radical potential of walking is a key theme, and these writers “have created a pervasive critical apparatus, setting out the figures of the dérivist, the pedestrian and the flâneur as standard positions from which to theorize one’s walking” (19). This critical apparatus “has become academically favoured—the accepted means of accounting for the role of the walker—and at least one of these three writers is likely to be employed in any discussion of walking in the arts, humanities and social sciences” (19-20). One consequence of this dominance is “the shift of focus to urban settings” (20). After all, all three of those “standard positions” are urban walkers. “The critical discourse of walking also tends to be organized, albeit often implicitly, around two pairs of opposing terms: urban/rural and solitary/collective,” Wilkie continues. “That is to say, the claims made for pedestrian mobility frequently rest on its status as either urban or rural; similarly, different claims are made for walking depending on whether it is undertaken alone or as part of a group. The urban/rural pairing emerges from quite distinct genealogies” (20-21). Rural walking begins with Romanticism, and “[s]till today, discourses of rural walking emphasize introspection, beauty, imagination and inner discovery,” while discourses of urban walking, which begins with avant-garde walkers, focus on “modernity, subversion and political comment” (21). (My walking practice, I think, tries to apply subversion and political comment to rural spaces, which is part of what makes it strange.) So-called “natural” country walking is both historically unusual and demographically limited: that’s the point made by “[t]he black British artist Ingrid Pollard’s Wordsworth Heritage” billboards (1992): “Pollard’s photographic project draws attention to the dearth of black pedestrians in narratives of rural walking, and cautions us to consider the ownership of various types and sites of mobility” (21-22). Walking practices also tend to be organized around “[t]he solitary/collective pairing”: Romantic rural walkers are supposed to walk alone, as are Benjamin’s flâneur and de Certeau’s pedestrian (22). Rousseau makes it clear that he walks alone “not through choice but through circumstance,” but nonetheless “the prevailing image of the Romantic walker is a solitary figure,” and that figure can be seen in the art of Richard Long, who walks alone: “the point of encounter with others is in the documentation rather than the journey” (22). Alternative versions of walking prize the collective: the dérive is a collective form, as is Misha Myers’s “conversive wayfinding” and Deirdre Heddon’s “Turning 40” project (22-23). Collective walking is said to be sociable, as well as “an enduring form of protest, found in both rural and urban situations” (23). 

The term “walker” is very broad, and it “encompasses a wide variety of approaches to, and reasons for, travelling on foot”:

The walker, as we have seen, is frequently theorized as flâneur, dérivist, or pedestrian. Elsewhere, the walker is figured as pilgrim, hiker, wanderer, activist, stroller, climber, migrant, nomad and tourist, among others. Further, walking art constructs a number of different modes of encounter: the artist walks and reports back; the spectator walks, guided by the artist in the form of recorded voice, written instructions or “smart” technology; spectators walk with performers, experiencing sections of performance en route. (23)

“Across all of these discourses, figures and structures,” Wilkie writes, “the themes of belief, retracing, resistance and pace recur, emerging as guiding ideas that inflect every other experience of travel” (23). These are the themes Wilkie goes on to discuss in this chapter. 

Wilkie begins the section on belief by quoting Phil Smith: “When the writer and performance-maker Phil Smith writes ‘I am a great believer in walking as far more than physical exercise,’ he is expressing something akin to a spiritual belief, and it is a belief that has many historical precedents” (23). Many grand claims are made about walking; it is “conceived by some as a life choice rather than, or as well as, a means of getting from A to B. And it is as a life choice that walking becomes associated with values of truth and authenticity” (23-24). Walking is both physical and spiritual, “prized for its directness,” because “it seems to offer an unmediated encounter between environment and traveller,” and because “[i]t enables a contact with the elements—with open/fresh air and changes in weather—that many other modes of transport prevent with barriers of glass and metal” (24). Rebecca Solnit suggests that walking “engenders a feeling of embodiment,” in contrast to the disembodiment produced by automobile travel. An important aspect of this belief, Wilkie suggests, is “the connection made between physical contact and self-knowledge” (24). Walking pilgrimage is the clearest expression of this “strand of belief in discourses of walking,” which “emerges as a fertile model for walking artists,” such as Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, who “both adopt tropes of pilgrimage in their work,” as does the poet Tom Chivers (24). “The structure of pilgrimage—or at least walking as a ritual act of belief—is also there in Carl Lavery’s Mourning Walk (2006), a performance documenting a walk made to mark the death of Lavery’s father,” Wilkie suggests (25). “Another engagement with the pilgrimage model—this time collective and somewhat extended, as befits a pilgrimage—is offered in the Louise Ann Wilson Company’s Fissure (2011),” she continues. “Wilson’s project takes the form of a large-scale secular ritual: a three-day journey through the Yorkshire Dales, in the company of scientists, dancers and musicians, for around 100 participants/audience members” (25). The “fissure” referred to in the work’s title “connects the workings of the brain to the shape of the Yorkshire landscape: the performance was created in direct response to the death of Wilson’s sister from a brain tumour, and was staged in the environment of the sisters’ childhood” (25). What Wilkie finds interesting in both Lavery’s and Wilson’s projects “is that it is specifically a walk, rather than any other mode of engagement, that is chosen as having the required weight and depth to address the subject of grief” (27). For Lavery, that engagement is solitary, while for Wilson it is collective, “[b]ut both artists, through these works, profess a belief in the power of walking: to remember, to mark and, perhaps, to heal” (27).

“Perhaps the belief that I am tracing through these examples is, for some at least, a consequence of a sense of awe,” a feeling that might not be true for urban walkers, “who may feel spurred on to a feeling of mastery by a Certeaudian confidence that their walking ‘transgresses . . . the trajectories it “speaks”’” (de Certeau, qtd. 27). That sense of awe, as Wilkie points out, is primarily associated with the Romantic tradition. “The theme of belief that runs through discourses of walking is, then, tied up with the dialectic of the rural and the urban,” she continues. “It is based on a combination of seemingly paradoxical feelings of autonomy on the one hand and connectedness within a larger ecology on the other, a combination that is arguably unique to walking among modes of transport” (27). In this context, it might be appropriate to note the Romantic connotations of what, for Wilkie, is intended to be a neutral term, “transport”: the O.E.D. suggests that one of that word’s meanings is “The state of being ‘carried out of oneself’, i.e. out of one’s normal mental condition; vehement emotion (now usually of a pleasurable kind); mental exaltation, rapture, ecstasy,” all feelings associated with the Romantic experience of the sublime, as I recall from the course I took on the Sublime so many years ago, taught by Dr. Ian Balfour.

Retracing is next. Wilkie suggests that “[o]ne aspect of the enduring spiritual belief in walking is a sense that walking might enable a kind of communion with those who have gone before” (27-28). She sees this idea in Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways, and suggests that “[t]here is a significant strand of performance practice that responds to such ‘voices heard along the way’ by figuring the walk as reenactment. Retracing another’s steps offers a rich structural and thematic framework for performance walks. It is a framework that immediately imagines a historical relationship, establishing a dialogue between a past and a present” (28). That relationship reveals both similarities and differences between past and present, although Wilkie suggests also that “[t]he historical walk—the one that has gone before—also becomes a means of validating the present one, justifying the choice of pedestrian movement over other modes of travel” (28). 

Wilkie gives Smith’s 2008 performance In Search of Pontiflunk as an example of “this doubling effect” (28). In Search of Pontiflunk is a theatre project based on two walks: Charles Hurst’s acorn-planting walk in the early twentieth century in the English midlands, and Smith’s 16-day reprise of that walk in 2007, “with a variety of accidental and invited companions at various stages along the way” (28). Smith’s account of the journey became a solo play and was toured by Nottingham’s New Perspectives Theatre Company in 2008 (28). During the walk, Smith looked for 100-year-old oak trees that might have grown from Hurst’s acorns. “The performed account reveals both the pleasures and the frustrations of walking,” Wilkie states: “alongside memorable meetings . . . and the enjoyment of ‘private journeying,’ Smith records encounters with others unwilling to talk, blisters and a burning pain in his left knee. He confesses to taking a taxi for part of the route. Certainly, Smith’s enduring belief in the power of walking is tested here, but it remains strong” (28-29). Smith’s belief in the power of walking is political, though, rather than spiritual, an important distinction to be made in relation to his work. Smith’s play (as opposed to his walk, or as well as his walk?) “emerges as a study in time,” contemplating temporality through the acorn. As well as looking back in time at Hurst’s journey, Smith looks ahead, to our responsibility for the planet’s future. He also conceives of his walk in opposition to other forms of transportation: the point is to meditate on walking and the way motorized transportation “displaces us” (qtd. 29). In her chapters on other modes of transportation, Wilkie says, she discusses “many examples of artistic practice that parallel this concern with ‘what our mobility makes us’ at the same time as they challenge Smith’s argument by articulating ways in which transport still has the power to move us and to reassert our sense of place” (29). As a walker, I would be interested in reading those chapters—not now, but eventually—partly because I believe it would be difficult to make that kind of argument successfully.

Another example of walking as reenactment is Esther Pilkington’s A Long Walk (2009), in which Pilkington retraces half of one of Richard Long’s walks: a 626-mile walk carrying a stone from the beach at Aldeburgh to the one at Aberystwyth, and then retracing the journey with another stone. “Divided into 20 short sections, the performance text describes weather conditions, clothing, walking companions, stopping points and photographs taken along the way,” Wilkie writes.  “Alongside such details, the artist considers issues of generosity, identity and documentation. Her focus is on the relationship ‘between the walk and its documentation,’ the activity and its description, and it is a relationship that we can only guess in Long’s work,” which is documented with a sparse text work, as is his practice (30). With its emphasis on anxiety, Pilkington’s text “makes an appealing contrast to the prevailing image of the confident walking artist in command of the task to be undertaken and fully equal to the distances involved” (30). Her decision to treat Long’s text work as instructions rather than a record of a past event “complicates the apparent simplicity” of Long’s Crossing Stones (30). Pilkington’s text “could be read as a postscript to Long’s attending to the sometimes messy realities involved in long-distance walking and art-making. She recasts the closed, completed work as an open invitation, and in doing so implicitly reminds us that any experience of walking is circumscribed by gender, age and expertise” (30). In fact, for Wilkie Pilkington’s performance leaves her inspired to think that she could walk across Britain one day. That is “part of the appeal of conceiving the walk as reenactment: the fact that another has gone before not only validates and lends historical weight to a current walk but also acts as reassurance that it can be done” (30-31). It also generates a sense of being in dialogue with previous walkers even as we are issuing an invitation to future walkers who might follow in our own footsteps (31). 

“As A Long Walk makes clear, though, none of these manifestations of one route can every really be understood as the same walk” Wilkie continues. “When a walk enacts a retracing, it also marks out—footstep by footstep—historical changes, personal differences and cultural shifts” (31). Deidre Heddon’s reenactment of Mike Pearson’s autobiographical talking tour Bubbling Tom is one example: when she reperformed Pearson’s work in 2000, “she found that the ‘original’ guided tour was ‘remembered, written over, added to, forgotten, extended, transformed, recontextualized, reinvented, as space and place were shared, contested, and for the ‘outsider,’ borrowed” (Heddon, qtd. 31). “Indeed, Bubbling Tom itself might be understood as an act of retracing, attempting a communion with the cumulative power of many childhood explorations of the same territory more than 40 years earlier,” Wilkie writes. “By similarly unsettling any sense of a stable ‘original’ walk that exists unproblematically to be traced and retraced, we might view each of the reenactments discussed here as creative exploratory acts, positing histories of walking as open-ended conversations stretched across time” (31). 

Audio walks, such as those created by Janet Cardiff, are another kind of retracing: “The artist walks and records that walk along with instructions for repeating it,” Wilkie writes. “In doing so, she makes claims for the significance of the route: it is, implicitly, worth walking again. The effect of the binaural recording technique used by Cardiff is that the walker follows in the artist’s footsteps, retracing the walk that she has done before” (31-32). This retracing is a layering, and the power of these audio walks lies in the slippages between the two layers. “My suggestion here is that a significant proportion of walking art is premised not just on walking but on walking again: reenacting; retracing; reconsidering,” Wilkie continues. “Legacy thus emerges as one of the value-based claims made for walking over other forms of transport: walking practices are supported, or perhaps haunted, by historical precedence” (32).

Resistance is another theme in walking art: “it is one means by which we can conceive of separate instances of apparently private walking as, cumulatively, a public art. Walking more explicitly engages with the public realm—and with pressing questions of what it is to be public—in those instances when it is figured as an act of resistance” (32). Wilkie suggests that there is an etymological link between “mobility” and “mob” and that protestors are usually on foot. “But resistance, of course, does not necessarily mean protest,” she continues. “Rather quieter forms of resistance involve walking as a deliberate choice in the face of its perceived ‘others,’ including commerce, globalization, transport culture and urban planning” (33). Debord and de Certeau provide key theoretical texts about walking as resistance, and many art projects use walking as a form of resistance: Platform’s 2006 And While London Burns; FrenchMottershead’s 2012 Walkways; Bruno de Wachter’s ongoing series Circling Around (Without Taking Off), in which de Wachter and participants walk around the perimeters of international airports (33-35). 

“In all of these examples, the choice to walk is deemed important to the capacity of resistance,” Wilkie writes, partly because walking is literally out-of-step with modern (or postmodern) forms of space, time, and embodiment (35). “The claim for slowness is used to set walking apart as a more virtuous choice than other means of travel, and therefore has clear implications for the practices discussed in the chapters that follow,” she continues (35). Whereas French theorist Paul Virilio has been called “the ‘high priest of speed,’” he is interested in deceleration as well as acceleration. “One of the means by which the world might now be said to be slowing down is the advocacy of slow travel, which, by association with slow food, signals ‘a concern for locality, ecology and quality of life’” (Dickinson and Lumsdon, qtd. 36). The 2010 performance installation Slow Travel Agency (presented by Sustrans in Bristol) is an example of a performance that emphasizes slowness (36). The work of Wrights & Sites is another example of work that uses slowness to resist hierarchies that value speed. “Many of those employing pedestrian travel in practice and theory rely, implicitly or explicitly, on celebrating the pace of the walk over the speed of mechanized transport,” Wilkie writes. “The comparison with other forms of transport is fundamental to this celebration of walking” (36-37). She notes that slowness is not the only important aspect of walking, and suggests that “pedestrian performance is not so much a return to ‘slowness’ . . . as a quest to find a more fluid and mobile mode of interaction with our surroundings, one which is based on a self-generated rhythm” (Lavery, qtd. 37). Nevertheless, Wilkie emphasizes slowness “because it continues to be cited by those performing and documenting pedestrian travel. Lavery’s caveat would be that walking is a reaction against both the speed and the passivity of contemporary life” (37).

Writer Andie Miller highlights these elements in her book on walking. The artist Ohad Fishof’s Slow Walk series announces its emphasis on slowness: rather than travelling at three miles per hour, Fishof walks at one metre per minute (37-38). The Slow Walk project is intended to have an audience; Robert Wilson’s Walking, another “slowed-down walking event, operates rather differently” (39). First created for the Oerol Festival in the Netherlands in 2008, “Wilson’s immersive installation does not really work in conceptual terms” but rather operates “as something to be experienced” (39-40). “The work sends its participant-spectators on a three-mile, three-hour walk,” Wilkie writes. “Participants set off at intervals of about a minute: the piece works . . . by creating a continuous line of walkers” (40). Participants leave “stress-inducing” items (phones, watches, cameras) behind (40). “The central event of the walk insists on silence, and explicitly strips away what might be seen as the trappings of a fast-paced walk,” Wilkie continues (40). The experience is both solitary but also a communal ritual. “Even as I find myself resistant to any straightforward equation of thought, landscape, pedestrian travel and well-being, I cannot deny the physical invigoration I feel at the end of Wilson’s walk,” she recalls (41). That’s because the work operates through a slow pace and “what it means for the artist or participant to switch to a different tempo” (42). While Fishof connects slowness to political resistance, Wilson “constructs an enjoyably escapist experience that sidesteps any sense of its relationality” (42). Running performances, though, address a very different pace: “Part of its potential, perhaps, will be to problematize the historically enduring sense that contact between the foot and the ground is characterized by slowness and leads to [a] profound relationship with both the self and the environment” (43).

In her conclusion, Wilkie notes her attraction to and skepticism about statements that equate walking with thinking. Despite caveats about the connection between those two activities, “walking seems to maintain an air of righteousness, whether it lies in the ‘one-ness with nature of rural walking or the potential for subversion often claimed for urban walking” (43-44). “Walking is valued because it inspires belief,” she continues, “because it has a strong legacy that can be trace and celebrated, because of its power to resist dominant structures, and because it is slow. It is connected rhetorically or symbolically with ideals of autonomy, freedom, insight, truth, political subversion and critical reflection” (44). But we need to be cautious about claims that the values of walking are “universally available and when the differential experiences of walking are overlooked” (44-45).

Wilkie’s discussion of walking is both a brief introduction and an interesting analysis, through her four themes, of the practice. It would be worth assigning as reading in a course on walking. But my sense, from the chapter’s conclusion, is that Wilkie is more interested in the other forms of transportation she explores in the rest of the book. That might explain some of her missteps: I don’t think Phil Smith’s walking practice is about belief, for instance; it would be better to consider his walking as a form of resistance. That’s how he would frame it, anyway. 

Work Cited

Wilkie, Fiona. Performance, Transport and Mobility: Making Passage, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.