Pace, rhythm, repetition: walking in art since the 1960s
Burgon, Ruth Amy
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In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in the use of walking in artistic practice. Artists explore, map, narrate, draw, follow and procrastinate through the use of pedestrianism. This rise in an artistic output that uses the walking body has coincided with a burgeoning literature in this field; a literature that, I argue, has yet to find its feet, frequently repeating, and so depoliticising, the dominant narrative that casts walking as a strategy of resistance to the high-speed technological demands of late capitalism. Beyond its role as emancipatory gesture, I show, walking is enmeshed in histories of gender, labour, punishment, power and protest; something that a focus on the art of the 1960s and ‘70s can help to uncover. Accordingly, this thesis seeks to place the recent rise of ‘walking art’ in a specific historical context, positing that the uses of walking by artists today find the key to their legitimation in moving image and performance work of the 1960s and ‘70s. Through chapters on the work of the Judson Dance Theater (1962-7) and Trisha Brown (early 1970s), Bruce Nauman’s studio films and videos (1967-9) and Agnes Martin’s only film Gabriel (1976), I argue that these artists used walking not only to deconstruct the mediums out of which they worked (dance, sculpture, painting), but also to negotiate the wider socio-political issues of the era, from protest marching and the moon landings to much more clandestine concerns such as surveillance and controlled viewership. These chapters reveal a walking body as supported by technology, subject to self-discipline, and negotiating a new relationship with the natural world. A final chapter on Janet Cardiff’s audio walks, which she first developed in the late 1990s, makes explicit a feminist problematic, as I ask where the female body resides in a long history of male walkers, and explore the broader question of how we write the history of ‘walking art’. Via Cardiff, I reflect on the place of the 1960s and ‘70s in our historical imagination today, arguing for a more uneasy reading of the art of these decades than we have previously been used to.