On the outside, walking the streets

Walking is not only the „natural“ (if something like „natural does exist) manner of transportation for mankind, it is also a cultural technique.

Because one does not have to think about the movement of ones legs, resulting in walking (unless he chosses so) one has time to perceive and reflect. It is a commonly shared experience that thougths tend to „walk with you“, e.g. that they seemingly evolve by themselves while moving – oftenly stimulated by the performance of walking itself (this slow rythm of putting one feet before another that somehow resembles the flow of words in your head) and of the stimula granted by passing through a constantly changing surrounding (because your „point of view“ constantly changes while you are moving), may this be the houses, a park, people, the landscape. Another most common experience is the culturally developped theme of taking a walk if one has got a problem (may this be personal or professional, it does not matter). Surely enough the problem might not be solved, but as you make progress in distance step by step, the problem at least will evolve and you might near yourselve to a solution or (even more important) the understanding of the given problem. Even if it is a false approach, one feels progress and subjectively a form of movement within.

Surely enough there are famous approaches on the art of walking in literature, notably the „easterwalk“ in the first book of Goethes Faust or „Ulysses“ by James Joyce, which not only introduces the „stream of consciousness in modern literature but is (more o less) the account of a long, long walk through Dublin streets on what is nowadays called the „Bloomsday“. In literature walking is a technique of writing and inspiration since the early romantic movement in germany, where the poets left the citys and escaped into the countryside to search for images, ideas and what one could referre to as „feeling“. Later it is especially the french authors who are walking the boulevards in early to late 19th century and taking those experiences into account in their novels, usually depicting social life in various forms. American poet Edgar Allen Poe uses the state of walking to describe the alienation of city-life in his well known short story „The Man of the crowd“, where a man is following a stranger, trying to get in touch with him through the crowded streets of 19th century London, without being able to catch up. Unique ways of incorporating the sensations of the modern city and walking (e.g. perception) into literature is the collage-technique used by Alfred Döblin in his Novel „Berlin Alexanderplatz“ and the approaches of the surrealists gathering around André Breton and their idea of the „écriture automatique“ (automatic writing), which tries to cease narrative structures for assembling a stream of perception. This somehow translates also into fine arts with the idea of the „objet trouvé“ (found object) that is displayed (oftenly slightly alienated) as itself (most famous probably: the fountain by Marcel Duchamps).

Because Walking is a means of inspiration and imagination, it plays a role for arts in general. Since the theories of city-planning, architecture and social landscape begin to play a bigger role in contemporary art since the sixties, the city as a „medium“ for artistic production and concept takes a more influential position in the contemporary art discourse. The walking experiences and techniques therby have a great variety – some try to use the  technique of walking to discover, gather, rearrange and submerge their quarter, the city, streets and landscapes for the purpose of artistic use (ranging from landart to concepts and even details which are transformed into symbols), others search for more direct approaches of expression, like capturing the sound of the streets, filming and photographing.

But now it is high time for me to take a walk. Gathering images and rallying words into columns of meaning.



Über philippkoch

author and curator, specializing in literature and writing on visual arts
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