Critical Dialogues on Walking, Art, Landskip, and Knowledge

National Gallery of modern Art, Edinburgh

28th July 2011 

Chairs: Tim Brennan and Heather Yeung

W.A.L.K. was launched nationally and internationally at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, with a one-day symposium, presented by the University of Sunderland W.A.L.K. research centre, interrogating the practice of walking in all its cultural, ethnographic, poetic, and geographical ramifications, bringing together innovative and speculative ideas on walking, landscape, and social, cultural, artistic and geographical constructions of space.

The papers from this symposium can be found below as a viewable and downloadable PDs. They are as follows:

Heather Yeung Ways of Walking and Not Walking

Misha Myers Enduring Gravity: Footnotes on Walking, Distance and Endurance

Alec Finlay Mountaineering in Counterpane

Matthew Beaumont Beginning with the Big Toe: Peregrinations on Obligatory Bipedal Plantigrade Locomotion


Alec Finlay
‘Mountaineering in Counterpane: a Report to the Armchair Mountaineering Club’

Misha Myers
‘Enduring Gravity: Footnotes on walking, duration and distance’

The footnote is an elusive fugitive that creates diversions, detours and breaks of consciousness from the more linear path of a text. Using the footnote as a structural and formal device for speaking on endurance and duration in walking, this performative lecture considers how time and space are experienced with walking practices and performances that involve slowness and/or long distance, how space and time are manipulated, collapsed or expanded in the consciousness and performance of the walker as they contend with gravity, the requisite condition of walking and falling into the world. The walker switches-back, turns, retraces and falls between steps and gaps in thoughts or the blister, break or sprain collapses and shatters space and thought to be endured.  As is the nature of the footnote, the diversions are diverse, but aggregate around this concern and are grounded with the walker’s perspective and experience. The footnoted include feats of endurance and duration, such as, performing Ten Teka Ten, the exercise from Suzuki Tadashi’s training that focuses on showing off the foot, the exercise that best articulates the director’s approach and challenges and tests its practitioner’s manipulation of time, balance and gravity through a slow motion walk; the the four-mile walk-dance of Cornwall’s Furry dance; a group of performers walking six miles as spacemen as if in zero gravity; the daily walk of a postman on his eleven mile journey up and downhills and an audio walk that traces the transition and detour of this route to his new one now made with van and computer; Robert Wilson’s ‘Walking’, created for the Oerol Festival with Dutch theatre designer Theun Mosk and actress Bourkke Schweigman, which involved the audience walking in slow motion the length of the island of Tershchelling; and Tim Brennan’s 298 mile walk ‘Crusade’ along the historic route of the Jarrow Crusade.

Matthew Beaumont
‘Beginning with the Big Toe: A Peregrination on Bipedal Plantigrade

This talk revolves around the big toe, that part of the human body which, in evolutionary terms, is most distinct from the anatomy of apes, and which is therefore constitutive of human beings’ identity as a species that walks (rather than climbs). It recapitulates palaeoanatomic theories of the evolution of the big toe, and explores its contradictory role, in our cultural as well as physical life, as both the most and least human part of the body. In doing so, it draws on the work of the surrealist philosopher Georges Bataille, and on readings of him by Roland Barthes. And it discusses novels in which big toes figures. The aim of the talk, following Bataille’s example, is to reorient the human body in relation to the big toe, and so to celebrate walking as the fundamental human activity. To this extent, the talk represents a manifestoe.

Matthew Beaumont is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at University College London. He is the author of Utopia Ltd.: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England, 1870-1900 (2005), and the co-author, with Terry Eagleton, of The Task of the Critic: Terry Eagleton in Dialogue (2009). He is the editor of Adventures in Realism, and the co-editor of As Radical as Reality Itself: Essays on Marxism and Art for the 21st Century (2007), The Railway and Modernity: Time, Space, and the Machine Ensemble (2007), and Restless Cities (2010). He is currently researching a book called Nightwalking: A History. He has set up a City Centre in the English Department at UCL.