Ways to Wander is a collection of 54 different sets of suggestions, reflections, instructions, or scores about walking, created by 54 different walkers. It also contains an introduction by Carl Lavery and copies of e-mails between the two editors. All of this material is assembled randomly, and I think that was deliberate. The list of contributors at the end of the book gives contact information and web addresses for all of the contributors, which is helpful information. The book isn’t paginated, which suggests (to me) that its intent is more artistic than scholarly.
Let me start with Lavery’s introduction, which isn’t where the book begins. (I’m straightening out this book, at least a little, in this summary; I hope nobody minds.) Lavery begins by likening a walk to a performance score (indeed, what I’ve called “instructions” as I’ve taken notes perhaps ought to have been described as scores):
there is no simple method for walking or indeed for describing a walk. Like a performance score, a walk is an open-ended phenomenon, no knows in advance what will present itself or who you might mean. The meaning is in the doing, properly performative then, which is to say, self-generating, contingent, improvisatory, light-footed and rooted in the everyday. It is also unexpected. ()
Like performances, walks also risk failing; there’s always the possibility that a walk won’t amount to very much (). Chance is important—Lavery cites Robert Walser’s story “The Walk” on that score. The comparison between walking and a score organizes his discussion of the scores, or instructions, presented in this book.
When I read Phil Smith’s Walking’s New Movement, I was a little concerned by what I took to be a demand that walking be collaborative and relational. Lavery doesn’t agree. He notes that some of his walking friends, including Deirdre Heddon and Wrights & Sites, walk with others, but says that he prefers to walk alone:
Though fully aware that my gender and “ablebodiedness” assign me a special privilege, I walk in order to think, to engage in a kind of embodied thinking, to let an idea, like a landscape, unfold. . . .There is nothing exclusive or regulatory in this strategy. Other users will doubtless have different ideas and practices of engagement ()
Lavery prefers to walk alone because he finds it conducive to thinking; he cites Kant, Benjamin, Nietzche, and Solnit on this point (). However, these days he thinks of walking and thinking “in terms of a creative process of ruination, which troubles normative notions of the archive” (). He compares that “process of ruination” to Derrida’s notion of “archive fever,” noting that Derrida described that fever as an “infinity of evil” because it tries to impose an order on the past that transcends the fictions of memory. Archive fever sets out to fix the past, whereas walking is “an act of necessary negation” because one step follows the next, and one’s previous steps are typically forgotten ([12-13]). Lavery suggests that it makes sense “to celebrate walking as an act of perpetual and incessant ruination, an instance of a secret that refuses, stubbornly, to reveal itself” (). That secret could be a catalyst for imagining, looking ahead and affirming the future, “which is tantamount to affirming the impersonal flux and flow of a time that we can never inhabit fully or know” ().
Lavery notes that his article, “25 Instructions for Performance in Cities,” was a stimulus for this book ()—everyone seems to cite that article, which means I need to read it. Those instructions, or scores, bring him back to the place where he started:
To perform a score is not to perform in the name of truth, as if one were somehow concerned with idealising a perfect, self-contained actualisation of the original instruction; rather, it is to affirm the necessity of betrayal and the ineluctable reality of failure. In this way, through the necessary ruination of the instruction, the performed score, like the walk, is a guardian of the secret. It realises that the footprints it leaves are a kind of wreckage, an act of creative destruction that has the generosity to foreclose in advance its own will to truth, to temper its own archive fever, and to leave a space for ghosts of the future to come, those spectres who are always still to arrive but yet are strangely already here. ()
I’m not sure what Lavery means by the last words of that final sentence—the part about the “ghosts of the future”—but the notion of walking as a form of creative destruction, of footprints as wreckage, is interesting. Often my feet leave no footprints behind at all—if I’m walking on gravel or pavement or dry ground—and I often think of the traces I leave behind as more or less entirely imaginary. However, my walks are not scored—ever. I wonder if that means they aren’t performative at all. That is something I am going to have to think about.
Next, I want to think about the e-mails between the editors that are included here. In the first, Claire Hind praises Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust and suggests “if there is ever a pilgrimage then it is the walk that slips between Ludus (serious play) and Paidia (free play)—which Roger Caillois talks about in his book Man, Play and Games” (). I haven’t read Caillois, but I’m surprised that Hind praises Solnit’s book, given Smith’s critique of its romanticism and literariness. Clearly there are many ways of thinking about walking, and Smith’s version isn’t the only one. The second e-mail sees Clare Qualmann recalling childhood walks in Cornwall and comparing them to her artistic practice of walking in urban spaces (). They are very different forms of walking, and it’s hard for Qualmann to make connections between them. In the third, Claire Hind thinks about the word “wander” in the context of performing and walking and a response to the book they have assembled (). In the fourth, Clare Qualmann notes her affection for following instructions and in “the combination of structure and freedom that rule-based works give me” (). That’s not surprising, since many of the works included here are rule-based. The suggestion that rule-based works combine structure and freedom is interesting. My garden is rule-based—all of the plants included must be native to Saskatchewan—but within that rule there is a tremendous amount of freedom as to what goes where and why. (Most of my reasons are what Smith would call “functional”: I put plants that like shade in the shade, and plants that like sun in the sun). I had not thought much about rule-based walking works, though, which is what the majority of the 54 contributions here are.
Now to those 54 contributions. I’ve left them numbered, because that’s how they appear in the book:
- Roger Bygott, “River Rural; River Urban”: Bygott suggests identifying some significant point of a river in an urban area, and then walking to the source and returning; then doing the same, from the city to the river’s mouth and back, taking notes and reflecting, thinking about “how the journey of the river changed as you walked along it” and “how your journey changed as you walked along it” ().
- Debbie Kent, “Feeling and Touching: a tactile-kinaesthetic walk”: Kent calls upon the reader to feel the ground beneath our feet; then experiment with walking on different surfaces (soft, hard, slippery, bumpy), or touching the surfaces we see (touch everything, or take samples), and thinking about how long our skin holds the memory of what it touched; or try imagining the feel of everything you see, checking for accuracy by touching something. “With practice,” she writes, “perhaps your brain will start directly converting the visual to the tactile and you can feel the landscape on your skin without thinking” ().
- Ranulph Glanville: he suggests wandering is a metaphor for the creative process; one arrives at a place without knowing that place was there when starting out ().
- Romany Reagan: she describes a walk in Abney Park Cemetery in London, a place where she goes to think ().
- Townley and Bradby: these collaborators present a game for two players, using mobile phones, in which walkers head off in different directions by make the same turns/pauses/resumptions etc. The leader lets the follower know of changes in direction or pauses by sending text messages ().
- Alison Lloyd, “I Cannot See the Summit from Here”: Lloyd describes a walk in the Scottish Highlands in which she felt she discovered and owned the landscape, following the map’s contours, which she calls “contour walking” ().
- Bronwyn Preece and her daughter, Similkameen O’Rourke, “Off-the-Grid Walking cARTography”: This piece is a collaborative poem written by mother and daughter, and it includes instructions for writing such a poem together over the course of a 24-kilometre walk on a gravel road ().
- Alexander “Twig” Champion: Champion presents a meditation on walking in circles, particularly around an object with some personal importance ().
- Helen Frosi’s contribution is a poem about walking ().
- Simon Pope, “The Underpass”: Pope gives instructions for using one of London’s “multi-exit” pedestrian underpasses to generate a random walk ().
- Lizzie Phelps, “Maternity Leaves”: Phelps presents instructions for taking a walk with a young child, walks that are performances, and reflects on having a child has changed her practice ().
- Clare Qualmann, “Perambulator”: Qualmann gives suggestions for creating a “Perambulator Parade” to identify places that are difficult for stroller use—a performance that sets out to make a small, local change. I wonder if this is the kind of work Smith is referring to when he criticizes localism—it seems possible ().
- David Prescott-Steed, “Walking in Drains”: in Melbourne, Australia, there is a vast network of underwater drains for stormwater runoff; Prescott-Steed likes to walk in them as “a way for me to transgress the rigid structures of the city that routinely discipline our bodies, in turn shaping how we communicate with each other” (), and he suggests a game in which one speaks into a storm sewer, because someone might be passing by below ().
- Robin Smith, “Notes to the novice pedestrian”: Smith gives instructions for walking in a city for someone who has never done that before ().
- Andrew Brown presents instructions for walking on water: you just have to imagine that it’s an inch deep ().
- Bridget Sheridan, “Following Forgotten Footprints”: Sheridan offers instructions for returning to a place where you walked as a child, and then creating a new walk in response ().
- Misha Myers: she instructs readers on how to make a journey from home to some special place nearby ().
- Neil Callaghan and Simone Kenyon, “Step-By-Step”: these collaborators challenge readers to walk with eyes closed, to walk slowly, to walk backwards, and to walk while imitating someone else’s gait ().
- Tom Hall, “City Centre”: Hall, a geographer, gives instructions for walking away from and towards the city centre, watching for signs of the direction you are taking from the cityscape ().
- Helen Stratford and Idit Elia Nathan, “Play the City Now or Never!”: this piece is a die that can be cut out and assembled that will, when rolled, issue random instructions for things to do while walking, actions that will make the walk fresh or strange ().
- Annie Lloyd, “Walking with my Dog”: this piece is a description, in the form of instructions, for walking in the park with her late dog ().
- Phil Smith: he presents a series of instructions for making walking strange, or making walking into a performance; I wondered, as I read them, if this piece is an example of Smith’s mythogeography in action ().
- Jess Allen, “Long Shore Drift”: Allen issues instructions for a walk in which the reader carries a stone from one beach to another, in homage to Richard Long’s Crossing Stones ().
- Barbara Lounder, “Walker”: Nova Scotia artist Lounder offers three approaches for walking, using the word “walker” as a starting point ().
- Marie-Anne Lerjen, “The Closer Walk”: Lerjen gives instructions for walking close to fences, walls, hedges, buildings, without touching them ().
- Vinko Nino Jaeger, “Walking Ideas”: Jaeger offers five different ideas about walking and art, including “Walk a poem/tale” and “Walk the gravitational force” ().
- Karen McCoy, “Folding Paper Listening Trumpet”: McCoy gives instructions for assembling and using a paper listening trumpet (included on the facing page), which may give its user the ability “to hear and see in alternative ways,” and can be used as “a device for locating minute visual phenomena” by looking through the large end. “In experiencing sound as geographical, the process is one of assembling sound into an aural picture of the landscape or urbanspace,” she writes. The listening/viewing trumpet is intended as a way to cultivate awareness of what is around us ().
- Blake Morris: he givesinstructions for using Google Maps to generate a walk, by walking to the pin Google drops on your town, city, or neighbourhood ()—except Google Maps doesn’t seem to do that anymore? It doesn’t on my phone, anyway.
- Nick Tobier, “The Best of All Possible Places”: Detroit artist Tobier issues instructions—or mock instructions?—for finding “the best of all possible places” by walking south from a transit station for 15 minutes ().
- Thomas Bolton, “The A-Game”: Bolton makes suggestions for walking major highways (not expressways) in London ().
- Chance Marshall, “A Walk for Seaton Carew Beach in Hartlepool at Low Tide”: Marshall gives instructions for walking along a beach and helping a group of sea-coalers shovel sea-coal into their trucks (); sea-coalers, according to Wikipedia, are men who collect coal that washes ashore. That would explain why Marshall asks readers to carry a shovel with them on this walk.
- Penny Newell, “How to Wander Lonely as a Cloud”: Newell presents a poem, intended for performance, about clouds ().
- walkwalkwalk, “Chip Walk”: the three collaborators in walkwalkwalk (Gail Burton, Serena Korda, and Clare Qualmann) present readers with a game that involves walking from one chip shop to the next until full or exhausted ().
- Gary Winters and Claire Hind, “Walking With Limited Longevity & A Bottle of Soap Bubbles”: these collaborators offer instructions for a walk that involves blowing soap bubbles and following them as they move ().
- Carl Lavery, “Walking in a Gallery”: Lavery’s piece gives instructions for watching Douglas Gordon’s installation 24 Hour Psycho (a version of the Hitchcock film that slows it down so that it runs for 24 hours rather than the original 109 minutes), instructions that include going away for a walk ().
- Bram Arnold, “Transecting”: Arnold issues instructions for drawing a line on a map between two points and then walking that line, transecting its “social, historical and personal archives,” along with suggestions about documenting this activity ().
- Chris Green, “Radically Walking”: Green gives instructions for taking back public space (space that has become, or feels, private) by walking together with others in a group ().
- Jane Fox, “For the River Valley”: Fox presents a poem (apparently made collaboratively with students ) that issues instructions for walking through a river valley ().
- Matthew Reason, “Perhaps we are like stones”: Reason offers what is either instructions for or a description of a walk in Yorkshire with a group of fine arts students ().
- Molly Mullen, “On the Maunga”: this piece is a bilingual (English/Maori) inviting readers to walk on a mountain ().
- Cecilia Lagerström and Helena Kågemark, “In One Step”: the collaborators give instructions for walking slowly, very slowly, one step at a time, with attention ().
- Chris Mollon, “Intertidal Walking”: in a poem, Mollon presents instructions for a long walk before and after low tide ().
- Vanessa Grasse: she offers instructions for watching people and movement—“The space is performing for you,” she suggests; for walking between two things; for following things; and for reorienting your whole body “to observe and reframe what you see” ().
- Emma Cocker: this work is a call to pay attention to the decisions one makes while walking, rather than allowing those decisions to become automatic and thoughtless ().
- Kris Darby, “The city as a site of performative possibilities”: Darby presents six walking games, two each for groups, pairs, and individuals ().
- Kerstin Kussmaul, “Wolf Trot”: Kussmaul presents instructions for a dance she calls “wolf trotting” and scores to use for this movement ()—this piece is interesting, because it separates the terms “instruction” and “score” quite clearly.
- Steve Fossey, “Love at First (Site)”: Fossey offers instructions for a walk in which you imagine falling in love, and an invitation to share those moments, or the fictions you construct about them, with Fossey by e-mail ().
- Tobias Grice: this piece gives instructions for a walk in which you bounce a tennis ball against various surfaces, allowing it to dictate (somewhat) your pace and direction ().
- Charlie Fox, “Waylaid Walking”: Fox offers instructions for a walk in which you see objects, attend to the thoughts they “conjure,” write those thoughts down, and then, after the walk is over, thread those words together to create a longer text ().
- Isabel Mosely, “Psithurism”: this piece is a description of, or instructions for, three walks, each of which takes place in a specific, and unnamed, urban environment ().
- Linda Rae Dornan, “A Certain History”: Dornan gives instructions for a walk, with repeated demands to document what you see in writing in a notebook, or by drawing them ()—the text is arranged in a figure eight, so that it continues indefinitely or infinitely.
- Wrights & Sites, “Nostalgic and Pre-Nostalgic Drifts”: this piece is made of instructions (reprinted from the Exeter Mis-Guide) for revisiting scenes from your past (houses you lived in, places you had a memorable conversation or kissed), and marking them with chalk or a wreath ().
- Mark Hunter, “Welcome to. . .”: Hunter presents detailed instructions for a guided walk led by someone who knows little about the location where the walk occurs; as a performance it requires the performer to spend a day interviewing people, collecting stories, histories, facts, whatever, and presenting the results in an alternative to the “official” guided tour ().
- Claire Hind, “Ways to Reflect”: Hind offers instructions for interpreting or reflecting on walks, using specific theoretical approaches; by researching the histories of a place you photographed; and by making visual connections between 12 different memories by drawing lines between them ().
I realize that by reading this book in this way, cover to cover, I have not read it properly. The back cover copy, in fact, invites readers to put it in their backpacks and refer to it while walking, or to use it in creative workshops, or to treat each page as visual art or poetry (I haven’t mentioned the creativity involved in many of the layouts, although at the same time sometimes those complex layouts make it hard for me to read the text). I might carry this book with me on some walks, as a way of shaking up the dull routines I sometimes feel I fall into, and certainly the range of activities and suggestions and scores and instructions presented here gives a clear sense of the richness of contemporary art walking. At the same time, though, there is a slightness to some of the offerings, which makes me wonder if this book is an example of the kind of work Smith criticizes in Walking’s New Movement, and if it is the reason he is calling for a much more politically radical and engaged form of walking. I don’t know. There is a rich culture of walking art in the UK, and trying to piece it together from here, a long ways away–to figure out who likes what kind of work and who doesn’t, or what kind of work is important and what kind isn’t–is a little like being a Sovietologist during the Cold War, trying to figure out what’s happening in the Politburo by reading the classified ads in Pravda. But that’s my hunch, anyway: I think that Smith wants to inject some of the political energy he sees in psychogeography into the kinds of disparate practices on display in Ways to Wander. I will have to read more to find out for sure.
Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind, eds., Ways to Wander, Triarchy, 2015.
Smith, Phil. Walking’s New Movement: Opportunities, Decelerations and Beautiful Obstacles in the Performances, Politics, Philosophies and Spaces of Contemporary Radical Walking, Triarchy, 2015.