Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

FOSTERING THE CITY



I just got an email from a satisfied customer who’d read The Lost Art of Walking, “had a good time with it” and thought I might be interested in her artwork.  She wasn’t wrong.  That's it above and below. Her name is Foster Spragge, which sounds somehow like an anagram, and indeed is an anagram for a great many things including “far gorge steps,” which isn’t entirely inappropriate.


One of her projects is to make “Walking Drawings” that record the walks she’s done, and I’m always fascinated by the question of how we want to remember or memorialize our walking.  I know there are some walkers who don’t want any sort of record, but I think the majority do, whether it’s just making notes, or taking pictures, or marking it on a map, or in extreme cases writing books and blogs.  Of course there are myriad other ways too.


Foster Spragge writes on her blog, “Whilst searching for a venue for the installation of Ticket Cylinder (that’s one of her ‘sculptural’ artworks) I began to Walk & Draw. Mirroring the walking process, tracing a movement while allowing the mind to roam exploring new thoughts. To start each Drawing, the paper is folded so that only part of it can be seen at any one time while working. This stops aesthetic decisions, allowing the drawing to take its own shape. The whole Drawing is not unfolded until the walk is finished. 
 The initial Drawings are filled with an explorative range of marks to represent footsteps. For every step during the walk a pencil mark is made. Each time the path turns the paper is turned the same way.”


Well this all seemed pleasantly obsessive, especially the part about making one mark for each footstep.  It also wasn’t clear to me just how big these pieces of folded paper were.  I imagined she might be strolling around with a piece of paper six feet square.  I wanted too much – they’re just 59 centimeters square.

Even so, as she explained in an email, “Walking though town folding and unfolding is a challenge. What is quite amusing is people often ask me for directions.”  Then when she was doing the Square Mile Walks, a series of drawings made while walking within the square mile of the City of London, never venturing outside the city boundary, “some bikers spied me walking around the edge of Smithfields market while avoiding the rain. They asked me what I was doing, on showing them the Drawing they said I should buy myself a map.”

Well, this is interesting isn’t it?  Obviously some of these drawings don’t resemble maps in any conventional way, but some definitely do.


Above are two drawings, a diptych I suppose, titled South to North, North to South.  They record a series of London walks.  In case the caption comes out too small on the blog, I’ll repeat what Foster writes, “One day I would walk from South to North, then on another piece of paper I repeated the walk, starting where the previous walk ended and retracing my footsteps … The two drawings are therefore the same but in reverse, but not a mirror image of each other.”  


I suppose you might conclude that you can never walk in the same street twice, in the same Zen way that you can never jump into the same river twice.  The street is different from moment to moment.

Now obviously you’d be hard pressed to find your way around London with these drawings, but when you look at them you somehow know that they represent a walk in London.  A walk made in Manhattan or Paris or Colchester simply wouldn’t look like that.

These days we all feel that maps printed, or drawn, on paper are a dying form, as GPS and cell phone technology takes over.  At the same time, if you’re lost in a big city and you see someone carrying a map (or in this case what only appears to be a map) you’re far more likely to approach them for directions than you are to approach someone who’s simply carrying a cell phone.

Foster Spragge’s drawings are on show for a short time at the Westminster Reference Library in London, behind the National Gallery, Orange Street, 28th May to 2nd June.

Her website is here:   http://www.fosterspragge.com/ 

It so happens that I too sometimes walk around Smithfield market, though in a rather less rigorous way that Foster Spragge, and I’ve never been troubled by bikers.  Here’s a picture I took on one of my walks there, a much-photographed tripe dresser wedged between a classical column and a men’s lavatory.  Ah, London.



2 comments:

  1. Oh Woe! - the Tripe Dresser, which had been derelict for years, has now been demolished. I made a pot with a print of it - and a map of the area on the inside - some years ago. It's on my website in the Street category.

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  2. Woe indeed, Annabel. One always knew the Tripe Dresser wouldn't be there forever, and in some ways it was surprising that it remained in its derelict state for as long as it did. But heck, I already miss it.

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