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Walkscapes, strollology, and the politics of promenade - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 12:04 am
Walkscapes, strollology, and the politics of promenade

What do these have in common? A battered VHS tape of a 1988 documentary about the artist Richard Long entitled Stones and Flies: Richard Long in the Sahara, a double DVD of Andrew Kotting’s film Gallivant, the fictional documentary Robinson in Space by Patrick Keiller, and the book Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice by Francesco Careri?

Well, apart from the fact that they've all passed across my shelves and through my video projector recently, these books, tapes and films have a common theme, a common flavour and feel, which is something to do with the aesthetics of walking.



The way, in particular, walking gives you a certain perspective on landscape -- a kind of alienation from alienation. Walking, in these films and books, might be an adventure, an exploration, a way of making art and architecture, an "intervention", a way to approach urban planning, a situation, even a sort of politics. In Careri's case, we get a complete history of subversive forms of walking as well as an aesthetics of perambulation: "From primitive nomadism to Dada and Surrealism, from the Lettrist to the Situationist International, and from Minimalism to Land Art, this book narrates the perception of landscape through a history of the traversed city".



Yesterday's entry on pervasive urban gaming prompted two emails about walking. One was from designer Jan Lindenberg, who alerted me to a talk by Martin Schmitz being held here in Berlin next Monday entitled "Why is a landscape beautiful? The strollology of Lucius Burckhardt". German Wikipedia tells me that strollology is a perfectly serious science founded by the late political economist, sociologist, art historian and planning theorist Lucius Burckhardt in the 1980s at the University of Kassel. Also called Spaziergangswissenschaft (knowledge about moving through space), it deals with human perception and its feedback into planning and building.

"We are conducting a new science," Burckhardt explained to Hans-Ulrich Obrist in the preface to his book Why is Landscape Beautiful? "It's founded on the idea that the environment is normally not perceived, and if it is, it tends to be in terms of the observer's preconceived ideas. The classic walk goes to the city limits, the hills, the lake, the cliffs. But walkers also traverse parking lots, suburbs, settlements, factories, wastelands, highway intersections on their way to meadows, moors, farms. Coming home, when the walker tells what he has seen he tends to speak only of the forest and the lake, the things he set out to see, the things he read about, had geographical knowledge of, or saw in brochures and pictures. He leaves out the factory and the dump. Strollology deals not only with these prefabricated ideal images, but with the reality they eliminate."



A blend of sociology and urbanism, strollology attempts to correct the way technical progress, from trains through cars to GPS, has alienated our perception of the landscapes we move through. It does this by asking people to make "purely scientific descriptions" of walks they've made, leaving nothing out. Which brings us back to Richard Long and Patrick Keiller. Their work is so startling because it's so rare, in film or in art, to find people actually looking at landscapes as they are -- landscapes all too often made for cars and therefore somewhat incoherent to someone passing through them at walking speed, with full attention. Which brings us back to the paradox that not being alienated, in many contemporary environments, is being alienated. Most modern landscapes weren't designed to be seen, and seen slowly. They were designed to be read, half-consciously, as a traffic system glimpsed through a windscreen, and passed through quickly and carelessly.



It's people in the art world -- people who look on behalf of the rest of us -- who've taken it upon themselves to see what landscape has become -- landscape as recorded by modern versions of Rousseau's Solitary Walker. But Rousseau didn't have locative media.

The other mail I received yesterday was from Nick Slater, director of arts at Loughborough University. "After reading today's post on your blog," he said, "I thought you might be interested to see that gaming / walking activity has reached Loughborough. It is interesting to see how walking practice has taken on a new life with the advent of locative media. Roam: A Weekend of Walking (March 15th to 17th) has tried to combine the two and have feet in both camps".

It does the heart good to see all this walking happening -- all this attention to walking, and to the things that walking shows us, and all these events and talks about walking, and new words for that old, old thing of just putting one foot in front of the other. It seems to be in the air at the moment. And it's good that it does the heart good, because they've just found out that car exhaust fumes, which are also in the air, damage your heart. Let's go for a walk.

81CommentReply

brokenjunior
brokenjunior
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 01:01 am (UTC)
Über die Leitplanke und los

Do you know about Boris Sievers and his Büro für Städtereisen (agency for city trips)?
He organises trips through the boundaries of cities, the suburbs and wastelands, which sometimes last several days.

I'm planing to attend one of his walks in spring/summer, maybe through the Ruhr Area, as a kind of vacation trip.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)

that profile shot. Look like he need makeover so bad...

Hisao


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 01:13 am (UTC)

maybe more walking would help?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
At the dock

"landscapes all too often made for cars and therefore somewhat incoherent to someone passing through them at walking speed, with full attention. Which brings us back to the paradox that not being alienated, in many contemporary environments, is being alienated. Most modern landscapes weren't designed to be seen, and seen slowly. They were designed to be read, half-consciously, as a traffic system glimpsed through a windscreen, and passed through quickly and carelessly."

If one adds 'light railway' to the transport options, these words seem perfectly to fit the developments now occurring in the Docklands area of London, where i live in what seems a Ballardian dystopia.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)

- je vois. c'est un travail tres serieux, avec de gros livres et beacoup de papiers sur une grande table...

- NON, JE ME PROMENE. PRINCIPALEMENT JE ME PROMENE


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violet_hemlock
violet mendonca
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)

great post...I am a walker...and it is how I relate to this city.(San Francisco), it has hills and many un tread paths...The urban planning ascpect to the roam, the re-mapping that goes on as one moves through a city, collecting new psychic maps...this is something that we all need to do more...walk roam....


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
Walk on By



We had the Walk21 conference in Toronto this past fall. One of the ideas put forth was the "naked" or shared street idea. According to Spacing Magazine, "the concept is based on removing most of the signs, signals and curbs that direct traffic (both vehicles and pedestrians), leaving just street furniture, the texture of the environment, and the other people who occupy the space to shape people’s traffic behaviour. It was pioneered by Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who bases it on the principle that people will take less risks if their environment is more uncertain (and will move more slowly if their environment is attractive)."
I'm wondering in your travels, especially in the Netherlands, if you have seen this put into practice. I worry that if you are more focused on the traffic you share the street with, you may miss the landscapes mentioned in the post.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 05:56 am (UTC)
the principle that people will take less risks if their environment is more uncertain


this certainly is the case when riding a fixed gear bike with no (hand)brakes and have to rely on back-pedaling - which is a rather organic form of slowing-down - and not on the supposedly safe mechanical device. it ultimately feels safer because you're more connected (both to yr vehicle and to the traffic).

>I worry that if you are more focused on the traffic you share the street with, you may miss the landscapes mentioned in the post.

the result in terms of what one perceives might be a blurring of the line between traffic and landscape.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
pay_option07
pay_option07
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)
landscapes

Nothing like a good bog and sluice.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 06:20 am (UTC)

You think it will happen when she's walking?

Will we get a link to that? Youtube? Or the mailing list?

Can I get it too?

Ed


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 07:47 am (UTC)

Enough, Spook! Vanish!


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 07:42 am (UTC)

I walk everywhere, avoiding any kind of transport as much as I can, whether public or private. Always have. I've read Debord, seen Gallivant, know Robinson in Space by heart and love the work of Richard Long, but, appreciation of these came long after I'd worn out a remarkable quantity of shoe leather. I get the sense that you are interested in the idea of walking, but do you actually walk? In all honesty I'm not sure I get a sense that you do (sorry if I'm wrong). For all the theorising walking is something you either do or you don't. Its rewards are likewise product of a physical as much as an intellectual activity. And if you don't do it, you don't really understand it. I hope you do, you are missing out if you don't.

Possibly too mainstream for you to appreciate, but Will Self has been banging on about the same themes for a long while now. Here is some of his celebrated walk to New York. He is particularly interested in the idea of urban walking. Many of his recent talks have been on exactly the same lines as your post above. Iain Sinclair has been exploring the same themes for a while too.

A rather nervous and strangely humourless Self can also be seen below, in a talk given to the evidently under-socialised and attention deficit brains at Google ('close your laptops during the talk")?



As ever, there must be something in the air...



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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)
terrorrism zone

consumerism zone..thats the best morning read ive had this year..i dont carry any fucking luggage..i always loved wil self, you should done a blog deut...funny to hear about bobby ,a couple of years back i bumped into him an mani smoking furiously outside the bbc, i had a firey furnaces t-shirt on which interested the rock gods greatly..it was around the time of the b.n.p. winning all these seats near london i think..they were getting interviewed for some inane crap and as bobby was going on about how maggie thatcher had raided this very building and stolen some tapes which were never returned or even questioned , something to do with ireland, i cant remember the rest..my bycycles calling fuck walking


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 10:29 am (UTC)

So full of crap Momus. We met up with you in New York. You had a shitload of luggage wherever you went. You walked only as far as the closest cafe. You whined unceasingly about everything. You sneered at everything and everyone. People thought you were an imbecile. So now you live in Berlin. You speak English. Not as many people notice how irritating you are. Sure it would be the same everywhere people know you!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 10:44 am (UTC)

Bullshit, Anon troll!

I walk more in New York than anywhere. It's a great walking town, as you might know if your IP address weren't in Texas. You've probably never even been there.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 11:15 am (UTC)
"Solvitur Ambulando" - It is solved by walking

Nick, I've only just scanned this entry but it looks fantastic. Did you ever read 'The Songlines' by Bruce Chatwin? It's full of great ideas, one of which is his contention that humans are designed to walk, to the extent that nomadism is a migratory instinct in us that we ignore to our detriment. The concept of the Aboriginal Songlines, literally the mnemonic singing of landscapes might appeal to your imagination.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Songlines
Thanks again
Jason


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
Re: "Solvitur Ambulando" - It is solved by walking

The Songlines was on everyone's shelf in the 80s, next to their copy of Paul Simon's Graceland. Which is probably why I avoided it... maybe unjustly!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 11:30 am (UTC)

A yes. You walked in New York. And complained. And took the public transport. And complained and whined. And all the time; this isn't as good as....this is crap compared to ..........always demanding star treatment, always ready with a dismissive comparison. The producers have to give you two nights when other musicians get one? Sounds correct. Picking up tech Bling at the airport to add to your already overweight luggage? Sounds right. You sniff and hold up your nose to the norms. Not because they are ordinary. Because you are special.

The great think about Texas? You are unlikely to live here. People here have low tolerance to whiners.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Feb. 20th, 2008 11:34 am (UTC)

You dress up and sing along to an IPOD! PANTOMIME! You fill your house with IKEA! You are UGLY.


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