Richard White

explorations in place and time

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Hamish Fulton. Walk On. Plymouth

Walking in Plymouth city centre. With Lorna Brunstein, visiting Walk On exhibition over 4 different venues. From Francis Alys’s lost guardsmen walking the City of London and activating each other like daleks to tightrope walkers and Sarah Cullen’s automatic drawing pencil suspended in a box, held like a miners canary. Took part in a walk choreographed by Hamish Fulton, perfect timing for a mass silent communal walk,  it filled the pavement for an intense hour as Plymouth’s Christmas Market ground into gear with the pop canon full blast.

Hamish Fulton

Hamish Fulton explains Plymouth City Centre walk

Hamish Fulton walk steward

Steward gets walkers organised

Two lines of walkers about 50 in each line, facing each other alternatively on the cold grey square concrete paving slabs. We were to follow the lines of the paving, to choose and maintain our pace for exactly one hour walking back and forth across the narrow space. Without a call to start the line broke at 11.00. We walked back and forth. Some walked fast, some barely moved. I chose to walk methodically and not to tread on the cracks. 9 steps then turn, sometime 10 when I messed up on the annoying half stone at the green grass end. In front of me one way decaying 1970s corporation building with modernist reflecting pool and the other way official green space and the court.  Up the line, the Christmas market and diesel throbbing fund fair blasted out the songs of the seasonal spectacle. I drifted in and out. I counted 9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up on that annoying half stone. I breathed on each pace. I breathed for in for a whole crossing and out for the return.

9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up

I focused on my breath.

I focused on my feet.

I focused on the lines in the pavement.

It became a meditation.

I listened to my breath.

…..beyond the hissing in my ears I heard:

Christmas Songs:
John Lennon and Yoko still declaring that War is Over now from the funfair PA, made me feel sad, distant and alone.

Slade belting out their eternal Christmas song, once such a refreshing ripost to Bing and Dean now merging with them into the seasonal till ringing repertoire.

Over the roar of the generators I heard Hi ho Silver Lining and was thrown into long ago discos when walking was what you did to get anywhere, mainly to get back home. Then Mona Mona and I was back into bands and dances when rock and roll was not such a distant memory and even though I didn’t have a clue who Eddie Cochrane was I knew about the United Nations.

9 steps then turn, only 10  if I messed up

music fades and earliest memories float

The larch lap wall. Dark overlapped wood. Maybe moving along a path. Larch lap, I know it now.

9 steps then turn

Perfect walk, can’t mess up. Quality control
Don’t tread on the cracks. only 10 if I messed up
9 steps then turn

I could feel my body. I became my body with no sense of time. I could hear my breath. Aches in my back. Look up and forward and down to check those cracks at my toes.

 9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up

We were watched, I heard comments in the air:
“They could have picked a better space”
“Better if they took their clothes off”
“What’s this all about then”

I wanted to say where I was in all this and share but the pavement slabs were my discipline and its lines my control: my feet, my movement, my focus. Occasional furtive glances up the line, disappointed that it lacked the communal grace of other Fulton walks. Annoyed at a walker’s shoe crossing the edge line. Brushing shoulders with a fellow walker at the turn, brief moment of solidarity and then on, alone, as our chosen pace separated us again. Back into the measured space between my lines.

 9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up

Suddenly a shopper, a different kind of walker interrupts the line, I resent breaking my step.
Then another and this time aggressive presence, he bumps my shoulder, deliberate? A provocation? The space responds. Questions of purpose….

 9 steps then turn, only 10  if I messed up
Pacing like a caged beast in the spectacle.

The short walk of the internment cell. Ai Wei Wei. Stan
Prison cell walk. Smashing into the wall. Walking away.
9 steps.

I was so far away.

At 12.00 on the command of our iPhones the walking came to a halt. We turned and stood in silence for a moment. Acknowledging each other.  We connect from across the now shrinking space. Big smiles. Applause ripples up the line.