Walking, Rituals and Time

Article by Philly Hunt

I’m on the train from Horsham to London. It’s drizzling and I’m imagining walking through the fields I’m passing, based on my memories of walks in the rain. The bright wet sky shimmies all the lines and contours of the trees together, so they look like one dark shape along the skyline. The green right in front of you is bright green. Everything is quieter than when you walk in the sun, except for the ground, which is guzzling and squelching with saturation I imagine – the train is moving so fast, it’s hard to tell.

Horsham is a town in West Sussex where my Grandma lives. Her house is in the Causeway, and she’s been there since she was a matron at a boy’s prep school. It was here she met Grandpa, who was the headmaster. Both my parents grew up in Horsham, and my father’s family used to run a department store in town. At the end of the Causeway is St Mary’s Church where my parents were married, and where they both used to go as children, unbeknownst to each other at that age. This town, and my parents’ story there, is one of the most beautiful examples of human paths meeting and crossing through space and time. The evolution of our family is based around and returns to Horsham, and I can feel it and learn it when I wander down the streets and amongst the houses there.

As sure as paths lead us through places, they also lead us across time, revealing the histories and legacies of places and people. And just as the paths we tread are eroded and diverted by circumstance, so are the tales we tell of them. This is folklore.

A deep concern with arrogant 21st century disregard for nature led me to set about creating a persuasive and demonstrative art project whereby I aimed to remind people of the majesty of nature and the humbling experience one feels when exposed to it. I settled upon the act of walking as a focal point for this experience. Walking is the purest, most honest form of sensual experience; it returns the pace of both our body and our mind to that of the natural world, whilst also enlivening our senses to the physicality of our planet, elements and life.

In order to make my project, I had to walk. I couldn’t be lazy or apathetic in my methodology, nor a hypocrite, as this is the very lifestyle I detest; the i-lifestyle, if you like.

The more I walked the more I wrote about walking, and the more I wrote about walking the more I realised how inappropriate language is for such a subject. How could one possibly relate the sensual experience of a walk with mere words? Walking is a time-based, space-situated action, and its effect on our body and mind is entirely subjective and personal.

In contrast, language is absolute – when a word means something, it means exactly that and there is no room for subjectivity or relative perception. The way in which we must describe our individual experiences is limited to a set of universal absolute linguistic rules. And because language is a human and immaterial construct, there is no way it can ever do justice to the physicality of nature’s presence and the unique effect we each feel in its presence.

Discovering this I realised that perhaps language was the perfect flawed medium with which to compare walking, in order to communicate (or indeed not communicate) how holistic and rejuvenating the experience of walking is.

The first leg of my project was to take myself out into nature and photograph – as a means of submitting myself to its awesomeness. I went to St Leonard’s Forest in Horsham where both my parents walked as children. The photos I took here hold a moment for me where I could access my parents’ past. The next step was to then film the static photographic prints, in order to reactivate the moment; to let my personal history walk on alongside my parents’. (Another hope is that this slightly odd filmic imagery will challenge the viewer’s initial perception, encouraging them to look closer at nature).

I projected this footage across a room filled with intercepting screens of fabric and paper. The beam of the projected image illustrates space, and the intercepting screens represent time; the moments at which different people inhabit a space and cross paths with others. I also set up a smaller slide projection in a corner which shows slides of typewritten texts about walking and the landscape (both my own and others) to show the inadequacy of language to communicate the physical world – the words click on too fast for full comprehension, and the click of the typewriter mirrors the rhythmic beat of a walker’s footfall.

The brief perception one is allowed of the frames in the film and of the text on the slides makes sure the viewer can never get the whole experience of what I saw in St Leonard’s Forest; and no experience of my parents’ and their parents’ lives there. The intercepting screens that break up the projected image also further confuse visual perception. This all works together to hopefully tantilise the viewers into wanting to see more for themselves – to walk. And even if they don’t appreciate the concept, they cannot deny that standing before a great wall of Fir and Pine trees as they tower magnificently above, is anything but humbling.

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