When programming the festival, I knew I wanted to push the usual definition of the term “guided tour”. I wanted the programme to reflect the diversity of people I had encountered during the past year, only a few of whom would think of themselves as tour guides. My personal moment of epiphany was during Kira O’Reilly’s Silent Tour from last year’s Fierce festival. Guided walks didn’t have to be about learning new facts, or even involve talking to people. They didn’t even always need a guide.
I wanted the walks in the festival to be genuinely diverse; to include local histories, but to look beyond – the festival is all about exploring. I began to look at the world of the walking artist and discovered many artists who incorporated some aspect of walking and the landscape into their work, but who would shy away from the term “landscape artist”. The timing of the festival has enjoyed some happy coincidences which have helped convince me that I was heading in the right direction. One of these was the IKON gallery’s exhibition of the art of Hamish Fulton (on now until 29th April).
Hamish Fulton sees his lengthy marches across the world as being his art form. He doesn’t alter the landscape in anyway way, or leave anything behind. The art is the walk itself. What he exhibits in the gallery isn’t the actual event, nor even a thorough documentation of his voyage. We are presented with information about the date and location of his walks, and short factual statements (such as “no paths”) in a huge, bold typographic layout that reminds me of the road signs he must regularly encounter on his journeys. Those signs have to convey their meaning quickly and efficiently.
Looking around the exhibition I had the feeling you get when rain lashes against the window from the safety of your warm living room. Hamish’s walks are often epic lengths and sometimes crossover into mountain climbing – gentle strolls these are not. One work from August 2000 shouts what Fulton’s world was reduced to that day: “BRAIN HEART LUNGS”, with the tiny annotation: “climb to the summit of Cho Oyu… without supplementary oxygen”. Spending more time with the huge wall pieces reveals subtleties – words are often to a specific letter-count and have a measured rhythm. Poetry from a man conserving his energy.
Hamish leads a city centre walk on Sun 8 April in connection with Fierce Festival
Hamish talks about his work on Sat 7 April at IKON- places for both events are free but booking from IKON is essential.
Hamish Fulton – IKON Gallery until 29th April
The IKON are also teaming up with Northfield EcoCentre for a River Rea exploration on Sat 17 March
I came back from town this afternoon with a clutch of fliers, programmes and printed ephemera. One of my favourite pastimes is to lie on the sofa and leaf through these things with the diary and plan what I can actually see, what needs booking ahead, what clashes with the other thing happening at the other end of town. I brought back the first Fierce festival flier of the year, containing events already booked, talks I’d better get on and book and phrases I’ll never read again anywhere else (this year’s: “A sea of live local sausage dogs”). The programme reminded me that it is a year on from having the idea for a walking festival – it happened during Fierce.
Last year, Fierce fell on the same weekend as Flatpack. I was leading my Invisible Cinema tour – visiting abandoned or reused former cinema buildings around the city. Before the tour, I joined Kira O’Reilly’s Silent Walk – a performance piece in which a group are led in silence into the streets and allowed to find their own direction and leader. Both direction and leader constantly alter over the course of an hour. My usual role is tour guide, but here I held back to watch what was happening. The tour faltered twice – once to watch water bubbling through the pavement (a broken water main). No one seemed to want to leave. The second was outside the police station on Digbeth High Street… interesting.
After my research-driven tour, I thought about the very different approaches we each had for our tours – yet both were guided walks. I wondered if there was another direction I could take my tours, or what else counted as a guided tour. I began to think of many examples of walks people give, and take (and a year on, I haven’t stopped). Influenced by what was unfolding around me, I thought of a festival composed of all those walks. “Someone should organise that festival”, I thought lazily.
On the last day of the festival, I mentioned to Ian and Pip (the Flatpack directors) my musings – that I had been inspired by their efforts to create my own festival. This is perhaps the ultimate compliment – that through your creative efforts, others have been inspired to do their own. The earlier shadowy organiser had become me.
I’ve never been able to work out when exactly Fierce and Flatpack fall – something to do with full moons, I think. But this year they are separated by a couple of weeks, and Still Walking fits nicely into that gap. The sheer variety of forms and themes that a guided walk can take means it has been possible to group the tours according to the bread of the festival sandwich – Cinema History and Film / TV locations at the beginning for Flatpack and the more exploratory artist walks towards the Fierce end. And I hope you enjoy the filling!
The other booklet I brought back to peruse while lounging around was March’s IKON programme. No-one will see it but me probably, but there at the back amongst the IKON partners’ logos is a tiny black square with SW in it. That’s me! Still Walking is real, happening and out there, with a life of its own. I’d better try and catch it up!