I recently became Facebook friends with the “walking artist” Hamish Fulton (actually I’m not sure if those inverted commas are required or not) - that's him above and below. Anyway, I’m sure this friendship is far more of a thrill for me than it is for him, but as you can see from the photographs, he’s quite an affable chap, and we’ve exchanged a couple of personal messages, which is more than I’ve done with the majority of my Facebook friends.
Fulton has walked all over the world, and some of the walking has been insanely intrepid – 1000 miles in 47 days from Duncansby Head to Land’s End, eight one day walks and a climb to the Summit of Marmalada, a peak in the Italian Dolomites, a month long coast to coast walk from Bilbao to Rotterdam. He makes art works based on the walks, often using text, and these subsequently appear in galleries.
Fulton also sometimes walks with largish groups of people; volunteers who sign up to become part of an art project or performance. One particularly fine one titled Slowalk (in Support of Ai Weiwei) took place in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London, a 2 hour walk in which participants made 4 separate half hour walks across the length and the breadth of the hall, a process requiring the walkers to slow down to a snail’s, or a certain kind of human's, meditative pace.
Apparently it’s not always so easy to get volunteers. In his book Keep Moving he tells a story of being invited to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2003 to conduct an eleven day group walk, but when he got there he found that not a single person had signed up for it. He says, “Undeterred, the walks I made were wonderful, and for the first time I made a series of walks all within the ‘limits’ of a city. I performed seventeen circuits of the same route.” Good for him.
Fulton also comes up with some pretty good walking quotations. His website opens up with the line, “An artwork may be purchased but a walk cannot be sold.” Pick the bones out of that one, art collectors. Elsewhere he’s said, “The texts are facts for the walker and fiction for everyone else.” “An object cannot compete with an experience,” “Walks are like clouds they come and go.”
In another interview in Keep Moving he proposes another work of art, “The idea is to walk for 1000 miles ... all inside Los Angeles, California. This means averaging 33 miles a day for about one month … it strikes me as a very strong idea. Of all the cities in the world, surely LA is the epitome of a car city, of a non–walking city … the 1000 mile city walker would be basically indistinguishable from any other category of person walking for whatever reason. Any ‘suffering’ that may occur as a consequences of walking for sustained distance on concrete would be offset by the thought of making such a clear comment on our car dependent culture and the ensuing politics of the oil industry ... I’m sure the experience could set in motion a new creativity in my work. Art dedicated to the Chumash and Gabrieleno Indians.”
Since the book was published in 2005 I wasn’t sure whether he’d actually done this walk. So, since this is the kind of thing we Facebook friends do, I messaged him and asked. He replied “Hi Geoff, great to hear from you. No, I haven't, but it's still on my list. It will be called the Jay-Walker's Blues. I'll keep you posted.”
I can hardly wait.