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.
Showing posts with label Richard Long. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Long. Show all posts

Sunday, November 6, 2016


I was in the city by the bay and I went to the newly refurbished San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  The thing I really wanted to see was the exhibition by Sohei Nishino titled New Work.  It consisted chiefly of what Nishino calls “Diorama Maps,” a kind of photo collage. 

Image - Michael Hoppen Gallery

The method, as I understood it, is that he chooses, or gets a commission to photograph, a city.  He goes there, explores, and takes thousands of pictures.  Much of this exploration is done by walking the streets and most of the photographs are taken at ground level, though some are obviously taken from much higher viewpoints.

Nishino prints off contact sheets, cuts out single frames, and assembles them into large-scale collages that looks somewhat like a map, somewhat like an aerial view of the city.  These collages are then rephotographed and printed large scale, and this print is the final product.

I didn’t absolutely understand all that before I went, and I found myself just a little disappointed by the size of the works on display in the exhibition.  Having seem images like the one below, I’d imagined they might be as big as a gallery wall.

Still, it would be churlish to complain that the prints weren’t big enough, so I’m not going to do that.  Like real maps, these works by Nishino allow a dual perspective – you see them from a distance and they give an overall sense of the city but then you need to look closer at all the details.

Image - Michael Hoppen Gallery

Nishino has been making the diorama maps for the best part of fifteen years but lately he’s started a series he calls Day Drawings.  He tracks his own movements via GPS, brings them up on the computer screen, places a piece of paper over the screen and punches holes in the paper tracking his route.  This then becomes a kind of negative.  He shines light through the holes onto a sheet of photographic paper, thereby again forming a sort of map. 

Photograph - Ivan Vartanian

Nishino cites the great artist, walker and mapper Richard Long as an influence (well, how could he not?) and a work by Long titled “Autumn Circle,” 1990, was situated in the museum conveniently close to the Nishina exhibition. Thus:

You may already know that I once had a job guarding a stone circle by Richard Long in the Tate Gallery in London (I was a security guard – long, not very interesting story) and I spent hours on end walking around it.  This was not long after there’d been some controversy about the Tate acquiring Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII” otherwise known as the bricks.

People would come up to me as I was pacing around the Long piece and say, “Is this the bricks?” and I’d take great delight in saying, “No it’s the stones.”  How we laughed.

Meanwhile elsewhere in San Francisco, at the Paul Smith store on Geary Street, the window-dressers (do we still call them window-dressers?) were showing a certain disrespect for the printed map – I mean, really.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I can’t remember exactly when I worked it out, but it seems that when I first arrived in Los Angeles I lived within walking distance of both Steve Vai and Robert Cray, a couple of wildly different, but indisputably mighty guitarists, admittedly ones I respect rather than love, but I did write about both them in a not quite forgotten book titled Big Noises.

 In any case, such is the nature of these things, I only realized they both lived in the area as they were moving out.  Keeping an eye on the property market is a major preoccupation in LA, even for people like me who have no intention of buying or selling a house, and of course there’s always the added value of a celebrity connection.  I only located the Vai and Cray houses because they were touted as desirable properties when they came up for sale.

Cray, it turned out, had been living in an “Enchanting one story European, private and custom home on huge lot w/almost 1 acre flat with pool. An island unto itself. 3 Bds. 21/2 Baths.L.R. has beamed ceilings. & Ariz. Flagstone F.P., Wood flrs.D.R. has adjct. patio bringing in the outdoors. Kitch. has Viking Range & Sub-Zero in pantry. Sep. office/gst.hse + office/studio. Master has secret garden w/spa. Rear patio has F.P. & B.B.Q. Huge driveway w/rm. for 8 cars. Wine cellar-Pool-Zinfandel Vines ready for harvest! Views of Griffith Observ.”  Blimey.  Who knew the blues was so profitable? Though to be fair he’d bought the house in 1997 for just $800,000.  A nice return.

Vai’s digs were “modest” by comparison, on sale for “just” a couple of million, featuring “open floor plan, views of Beachwood Canyon, four and a half baths, a den, and a patio, according to listing information. The house’s size is up for debate; public records say it measures 3,316 square feet, while listing information proclaims that it has 4,716 square feet.”  It also had a “top-of-the-line sound studio with a control room, a live room, and a mic room,” but then it would, wouldn't it?

Are Messrs. Vai and Cray great walkers?  Well, I’m guessing no, not really.  There’s an interview with Vai in which he says, “I am sort of a walking dichotomy.”  But that hardly counts. And at the end of his song “For the Love of God” there’s a voice over by David Coverdale, in which he intones, "Walking the fine line... between Pagan... and Christian.”  Vai allegedly recorded that piece on day 4 of a 10 day fast.  "I do try to push myself into relatively altered states of consciousness. Because in those states you can come up with things that are unique even for yourself.”  But why day 4 rather day 9 or 10, I have no idea.

         Cray performs a couple of walking-related songs. “I’m Walking” and “Walk Around Time” the latter of which includes the lyric
“Love can be easy
But the trust is hard to find
And all I need is some walk around time.”

Did Steve ever sling his Ibanez over his shoulder and stroll across to Robert’s place for a jam, or vice versa?   They surely could have, but I’m guessing they didn’t.  So I decided to make the journey on their behalf, to drift from the former Vai to the former Cray property. However, since this is really a pathetically short distance I decided to do a long detour that took me up to in Bronson Canyon and the “Batcave” as seen in the 1960s TV series, an old haunt for me.  I kept hoping that I’d find evidence that Vai or Cray were great Batman fans or had at least jammed together on the Batman theme.  Apparently not.

That’s Vai place above as it is now, and it presents a fairly blank and private face to the world.  On the other hand it is closely hemmed in on all side by other houses, and however good the studio’s soundproofing you have to imagine than when Stevie spanked his plank, the neighbors would have known all about it.  Still, at least you could have knocked on his front door and asked him to turn it down.

When Robert Cray (that’s his gaff above) turned it up to eleven, or even eight, you’d have had to scale a couple of fences and an earthwork before you could confront the man and try to do any “strong persuading.”

And I realized as well, that I’d walked past both these houses before, and I’d certainly not imagined that any great guitar heroics were going on inside, but that I suppose is just what you’d want if you were a guitar hero.

And so to the Batcave.  The weather report I’d read said the day was going to be comparatively cool but as I schlepped along the road into the canyon, and then along the dirt track that led to the “cave,” uphill all the way, it felt pretty darned hot.  Whenever I’d been there before, there had always been a few people around, often it seemed shooting some kind of amateur video using the Batcave as setting, but today there was absolutely nobody.  Maybe they’d all read a more accurate weather report.

But there was evidence of human presence.  Somebody, perhaps several people, with an arty bent, and at least a nodding acquaintance with the works of Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy (that's their work above) but with less lofty ambitions, had created some site-specific interventions, using the natural materials at hand.  First there was a stone circle:

And just as interesting, inside the cave, or tunnel, or whatever you want to call it, there were tiny constructions, involving piles of stones, miniature cairns,  and in one place a self-supporting arch, no bigger than your hand.  Anonymous art by unseen creators.  Clearly none of it was ancient or primitive, but it did seem somehow magical, evidence of “relatively altered states of consciousness” and also just a little unsettling.

Anyway, in due course the spell was broken.  Along came a hiker in a Batman tee shirt.  “Ah, you too have come to Mecca,” he said, and I didn’t argue with him.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I have on my shelf a book titled The Art of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell, published in 1934. It’s a short anthology, a gift book I suppose, with extracts from Dickens, Hazlitt, Leslie Stephen, Hilaire Belloc and others.  And now I’ve been sent a book titled The Art of Walking: A Field Guide, edited by David Evans, published by Black Dog Press, "the first extensive survey of walking in contemporary art.”  I love this stuff, but I’m pretty sure that Dickens et al wouldn’t recognize any of it as art.  I’m not certain they’d even recognize all of it as walking.

         Some of the new book's contents will be familiar enough to anyone interested in modern art, even if not interested in walking per se; works by Richard Long, Francis Alys, Marina Abromovic and Bruce Nauman all put in appearances.

     But I suspect very few will be very familiar with all of it.  This is encouraging, a sign that the ways of walking are inexhaustible.  I was enormously taken with Regina Jose Galindo’s Who Can Erase the Traces, a performance piece created after she learned that former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos was to stand for president, despite this being against the country’s constitution.  She walked barefoot between two government buildings in Guatemala City, the Court of Constitutionality and the National Palace, carrying a basin full of blood.  She would step in in from time to time thereby creating a trail of bloody footprints as she went: not a very long walk but a very moving one.

         And I had only vaguely heard of Ukrainian-born Oleg Kulik, seen below on hands and knees being walked, like a dog, through the streets of Moscow; a performance which may or may not be some sort of post-communist allegory.  Apparently things took an unexpected turn when he started biting people.

         Kulik makes an interesting contrast with a series of photographs from the 1970s by Keith Arnatt, portraits of people and their dogs, taken while they were out walking.  The images are benign and humane, and they now seem like very telling historical documents of their time.  They also raise all sorts of questions about whether people resemble their dogs or dogs resemble their owners.

Right there in the introduction Evans also reveals (and I never knew this though I probably should have) that after 9/11, as America considered all aspects of its national security, it was mooted that analyzing people’s gait as they walked might be as reliable a form of identification as fingerprints, and very possibly it might.  The problem was that gait is too easily modified.  A change of shoes or a pair of extra tight trousers surely change the way we walk completely.  And of course the bad guys would deliberately walk out of character.

I once had a conversation with the actor Frank Harper (that's him below) who said he never thinks he’s really nailed down a character until he’s worked out the way that character walks; which means of course that as an actor he constantly changes the way he walks from one part to another.

 The book also has a small but pithy bibliography, containing The Lost Art of Walking, by yours truly.