Hamish Fulton Group Walk, Birmingham, Easter Sunday 8 April.
Text by Harun Morrison
Static, isolated figures on a concrete plain.
Geometrically placed but without discernable logic.
At least sixty of us across the area of two or three football pitches.
Lines of weeds, small flowers and determined grass, score the ground.
This was the abstract playing field for our game.
‘Choose a line. It can be short or long, across or lengthways. Over the next two hours walk the distance of the line. You can use your phone or watch to pace yourself. The only thing is that you don’t speak over this time. Once you’re in position begin when you hear the gong. After two hours it will ring again, this is the sign the walk is over.’
We had convened at 2.30pm on Easter Sunday for a group walk organised by Hamish Fulton; an event accompanying his exhibition at Ikon Gallery, (now - 29 April 2012) and the closing day of Fierce Festival. This is one of a series of group walks Fulton has instigated since 1994. He states: ‘Group art walks use what is already there [...]. What is built, is an experience. [...] Art walks encourage inventiveness, creating new perceptions of familiar neighbourhoods - transforming our sense of purpose.’ (Fulton 2008). Recent walks have been varied as the sites they have taken place each one responsive to the chosen surface.
A palpable sense of mystery gathered through our gathering. And so we stood, an ephemeral archipelago of bodies. . .Yet while we waited for the gong we were as impenetrable and portentous as the stone Heads of Easter Island.
Looking straight ahead there are several individuals in my line of vision. Some opposite me, some at right-angles, in my peripheral vision are others on parallel lines. I am not compelled to rush to make my first step. Instead I wait for something in my mind to clear, for a particular atmosphere to emerge. Making that first step, l become aware of the mechanics of my body, bones, sinews, muscles, nerves, ankle rising, weight shifting, balance adjusting, one foot off, and back on the ground again.
I look forward, considering the distance I have to travel, about 15 meters, more or less’ I consider how dependent I am on technology to mark distance and time. How would I know when the two hours were up without checking my mobile’
It being Easter Sunday, I think about not being at a family dinner. Is this communion its’ replacement’ I imagine forward, to the walk’s end, when we talk and share our experiences.
I think of the landscape immediately around me. Curzon Street Station opened in 1838: a witness to the new building developments that rapidly rise above it.
When is an activity a waste of time and when not’
Landlocked seagulls squawk and flap above me with a loitering speed of 22mph (so the experts say).
The 2.50pm train departs from New St to London and will arrive before I get to the end of my line. The 3.10pm to London will get to its destination ahead of me too.
I try and indentify a single cloud to focus my attention. I wonder how quickly it’s moving.
A gang of skateboarders traipse across the grounds. They don’t notice us at first. One glides effortlessly. Then they do, they slow down to. They pause. You can imagine them saying WTF’
The documentors move about at their usual pace. Zooming in, zooming out. I think about shutter speeds.
I’m vaguely hoping for some kind of moment of transcendence. A moment when time and space will buckle and distort, loop back on itself, generating some kind of epiphanic moment. But maybe I need to stop waiting for this. Stop expecting it.
It’s too cold.
A man on a line parallel to me is making noises, scratching lines on the ground with a stone. Has he misinterpreted the instructions’ I can’t say anything to him or I’ll break the rules. He’s incredibly annoying.
Another walker lights up a cigarette. I wonder how long it will take for him to smoke it. How many steps I will have taken. How many steps he will have taken.
I think about the other performances in the festival that have included walking: Berlin Love Tour and Eloise Fornieles’ The Message in particular. She walked in circles. How does that differ from walking in straight lines’
I think of Helen. She would enjoy this. Or perhaps she thinks in this kind of timescape’ If not this landscape’
I consider the graffiti directly opposite me. I mentally retrace the artist’s hand holding the can. Doing these pieces under the time pressure of potential police arrival.
I see Millennium Point, a complex that houses retail stores, university lecture rooms and a science museum - is itself a marker of time - opened at the turn of this century.
Above me I see the clouds: dark grey and drifting.
On my eye level I see the roads.
Behind me I hear the trains coming back and forth from New St Station.
Cold wind against my face. I should have worn more layers.
When will this be over’
What would I be doing if I weren’t doing this’
I hope I haven’t lost count of my steps.
I check my mobile. Is Rosalie cold. How is James doing’
My legs hurt. My arms hurt. Even though they are hanging.
I check my mobile.
Are other people having as tough a time as me’
I catch someone slowly making a step. Have I travelled too far too soon’ Is it ok to just speed up towards the end’
A woman has been walking towards me, now I see her face, the detail on her collar. Her smile. I see her dimples now.
I have reached the end of the line, there are still 10 minutes to go. The cold winds blow, I’m fighting the distraction of the temperature. I look across at the stewards, wondering what they wonder about us on the lines. Are they asking themselves where have we travelled, where have we been’