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.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


Those vintage purveyors of pulp fiction knew a thing or two about the dangers of being a flaneuse.

What could make the dangers even more compelling? Why, a snake, of course.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


In another country, England, London, the Barbican, a simpler approach applies.  And only to one pedestrian:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Outside the Beverly Centre, corner of Third Street and La Cienega:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Last weekend I went for a walk in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, a couple of hours from Los Angeles, 25,000 plus acres of desert, though because of snowmelt and underground water parts of it are marsh, wetland, and riparian forest.  It’s not far from Joshua Tree National Park, but Morongo receives a couple of million fewer visitors per year, which some of us think is a definite advantage.

I’d been there once before, and if you’d asked me when that was, I’d have said just a few years back, but a little research reveals that it was over a decade ago in 2006.

At the time I was a great desert enthusiast but a bit new to the game (I’d only recently moved to California) and in many ways I was na├»ve about the desert. I found the Morongo Preserve a bit tame and well-groomed with its designated trails and its boardwalks across the marshland.  Back then I wanted every walk in the desert to be some great, wild, cosmic expedition of self-discovery.  I’ve lightened up a lot since then. 

2006 was an “interesting” year to visit.  In June 2005 there had been a serious fire that started in a house in the unincorporated community of Morongo Valley.  It’s known as the Paradise Fire because the house was in Paradise Avenue; the fire destroyed half a dozen homes and 6,000 acres of the Preserve.
At its worst it looked like this (photo from Friends of Morongo):

Volunteers rallied round and some trails reopened within a few weeks of the fire, though it wasn’t till March 2006 that all of the trails were open again.  And in October of that year, I sauntered along.

As you see in the pictures I took at the time (above and below), there was still plenty of evidence of the blaze, and some startling contrasts between the burned,  blackened trees and the new growth.  According to the Preserve’s website there were signs of growth within a week of the fire being extinguished.

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is one of those places where they let nature take its course, as far as they can, and so the old burned trees are still there today, sometimes with exuberant new growth all around them, and the effect is even more startling than it was over ten years ago; like this Giacometti-style burned tree:

And here – and I didn’t realize I’d photographed it before until I got home and checked the archive – are two photographs of the same dead tree taken a decade or so apart.  The tree is still dead, of course, it’s lost some of its extremities, but it’s still standing, looking resolute and noble (and anthropomorphic), right next to the boardwalk where hikers pass all the time, You can pick your own metaphors out of that one.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017


My Richard Long post brought up a couple of things.  First, Steve Duffy reminds me (and I probably shouldn’t have needed reminding) of Bill Drummond’s Iceland/Richard Long adventures.  If the story is to be believed, and with Bill Drummond it may not be, in 1970 he and his sister tried, but failed, to walk the length of Iceland, North to South.  I’m not sure exactly what route they intended to take, but whichever way they went would have been 550 plus kilometers, and he was only 17 years old at the time, so failure was perhaps to be expected.

In 1970, Richard Long would have been 25 years old and had already done a certain amount of walking and art making – A Line Made By Walking is from 1967, but he wasn’t a household word, even the artiest of households.  A Line Made By Walking looks like this:

 In 1994 Long successfully walked the length of Iceland, taking the same route that Drummond had attempted: Drummond is the source of that bit of information, and I assume Long had never heard of Drummond or his failed walking expedition.

During that Icelandic walk, and afterwards, Long created works inspired by the trip, including a photography and text piece called A Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind.  It looks (or I suppose looked – since we have to use the past tense) like this:

In 1995 Drummond bought the work for $20,000 (the price was in dollars since that’s the international art currency), but three 3 years later he’d gone off it, so he tried to sell it for what he’d paid – and couldn’t find a buyer.   Well, there is such a thing as a gallery mark-up.

Ever the provocateur, in 2001 when he published and publicized his book How To Be An Artist, Drummond tried to sell the work again, this time by cutting it up into 20,000 separate numbered segments (each one approximately 10mm x 4mm) and selling them for $1 each.  You can still buy them for that price at Drummond live events, or you can buy them online, via a third party, for five quid a time, the extra money covering “administration and registration.”

Once the last segment’s been sold, Drummond will supposedly take the $20,000, attempt the walk again and (assuming he succeeds, at least in part) he’ll bury the money in the center of the stone circle depicted in the Richard Long photograph, again assuming it’s still there.

I’m not sure this Bill Drummond project constitutes great art but it does sound like fun, a bit of a lark, and larkishness is in pretty short supply in the art world.  Long is apparently deeply unamused by Drummond slicing up his work. 

I wonder how Long feels about Carey Young who is reworking or reinterpreting (or something) his art in what strike me as some fairly uninteresting ways One piece is titled Body Techniques (after A Line in Ireland, Richard Long, 1974), from 2007.  It looks like this:

Richard Long’s A Line in Ireland looks like this:

Would you like to hear what it says on Young’s website about her piece?  Well of course you would.  Body Techniques (2007) is a series of eight photographs that considers the interrelationships between art and globalized commerce. The title of the series refers to a phrase originally coined by Marcel Mauss and developed by Pierre Bourdieu as habitus, which describes how an operational context or behavior can be affected by institutions or ideologies.”
It’s a striking photograph - she’s in the United Arab Emirates apparently – and I always approve of wearing a suit in the desert, and it’s not hard to “get” the work - Long’s Irish rocks are “natural” while the path Young’s navigating consists of “manmade” discarded concrete.  But you know, where’s the walking?

There’s also Young’s Lines Made by Walking, a 2003, a looped slide projection sequence.  Some of it looks like this:

Again her website describes it in ways I couldn’t possibly manage.  “The viewer sees Carey Young, dressed in a suit, walking backwards and forwards in a crowd of commuters. … This action is repeated this (sic) until we realize that her repeated walking appears, in fact, to be ‘inscribing’ a line in the crowd. The artist appears to be restaging works by the Situationists as much as Richard Long, particularly his ‘A Line Made by Walking’ much as her activity can also be read as that of a the clockwork toy or caged animal pacing in captivity. She appears as if displaced, or within a different temporal continuum: the artist appears to be repeating the workers’ daily journey but at a faster speed. Her struggles to create a space within the crowd could be seen as a deadpan parallel for artistic ‘struggle’. The artwork appears balanced between two states, as confined as the daily monotony of the commuters’ journey and as some kind of free act hidden within monotony, but equally within its own modes of institutionalization.”

Deadpan indeed.  God it must be awful to be a contemporary visual artist.  Part of the gig involves describing, or having other people describe, what you do in language so inert, so exhausted, so pretentious and hollow, that it’s rendered meaningless.  It seems to me that a robust sense of humor, a sense of the absurd, a lack of pomposity, is quite handy when you’re making art.  Bill Drummond has those qualities in spades.  Those same qualities also come in no less when you’re walking, if you ask me.