National Walking Day, brought to us by the American Heart Association, was April 1st, and is intended to encourage all ages to get the ol’ ticker pumping on a vigorous 30 minute walk. But dammit! Trailheads, closed. Beaches, closed. Dog parks, closed. What are we to do? Walk anyway! Just do it as close to home as possible and stay at least six feet apart of course.
As an inspiration for life in the time of quarantine, I’m recommending a book as well as a documentary that’s now up on Hulu and On-Demand, just in case you prefer to experience an artful walk vicariously.
In 1968 the artist Richard Long pioneered the idea of an artist walking through space as a sculptural notion, and in so doing, became arguably one of Britain’s most influential artists in his generation. His “A Ten Mile Walk England” in which the artist set out in a straight line across Exmoor was an important reexamination of what the role of an artist is, and what in fact might constitute a piece of art. Breaking the fourth wall so to speak of landscape painting as theater, it was in fact no easy jaunt and its absurdist elements have sometimes been lost to critical discussion about the aspects of time, space and environmental awareness that dominated the art press of the time.
Check out Stones, Clouds, Miles: A Richard Long Reader from Ridinghouse Publications. An anthology of critical writings, the book tracks the artist’s progressive rethinking of the relationship between an artist and the landscape from 1968 to the present. Long’s work grew from his deep love of nature and the experience of making solitary walks.
Often grouped with other art luminaries from the time that explore an artist’s interaction with natural phenomena, such as Robert Smithson and Douglas Huebler, Long makes arresting work that not only reminds us of our modest place in the cosmological scale of things, but recognizes the pride in our humanity evidenced by the need to make marks in the universe. These reviews and essays are invaluable for an understanding of the rich complexities of his work.
I hope that inspires you to get out and move, but if you prefer remaining on your couch, I suggest you watch Leaning into the Wind, the second of two documentaries about another U.K. artist who is compelled to go for painstaking walks in the woods. In Andy Goldsworthy’s case however, he is more likely to actually walk through a thicket than around it. In a sort of sequel to Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, director Thomas Reidelsheimer again presents lush and richly framed images of the work as well as intimate moments with Goldsworthy who is now collaborating with his daughter and son. This time out, he shows how his subject has evolved since the debut of Rivers and Tides in 2002.
Goldsworthy still just wants to be one with nature and makes it his studio space. Using minimally invasive, low tech methods, Goldsworthy rearranges brightly colored flowers, icicles, leaves, mud, pine cones, snow, stone, twigs, and thorns into breathtaking moments — the pieces are by design ephemeral and the documentary captures the sense of time and space magnificently. The documentary is fascinating but also, like a long walk, it is refreshing, calming and damn good for you.
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