Since my move back to Minneapolis a few months ago, I've spent a significant amount of time thinking about the purpose making art around pedestrianism and parks. As subject matter, I personally find it interesting because it interrelates with with our broader approach to transportation and the use of public spaces, as well as climate change mitigation.
Urbanism has seen a rise in interest the last few years through many new Youtube channels, podcasts and discourse on the various social channels. Of course, this probably seems more true to me since I follow it closely, but those in the space longer have confirmed it as well, at least anecdotally.
Engaging with this community has provided me with a lot of new insights because they generally are not focused on art, at least not directly. Because I've been focusing on learning from this flow of information, I've probably neglected to do more research on what other artists have been creating. I've seen enough, historically at least to have a broad idea, but not with contemporary art, beyond the handful of walking artists I've followed over the years.
All of it has me asking myself, why am I doing this and what's the purpose? The first answer is easy: I enjoy the experience of walking and navigating pedestrian infrastructure, parks and green spaces. Beyond all of the health reasons, going out on a 10 mile walk that last 5 hours provides you an opportunity to immerse yourself in a continuously changing landscape.
It's a visual feast which is probably why I make so many photographs even though the majority don't remotely capture the immediate visual experience. Photography will always fall short but still can provide our minds with enough information to stimulate the imagination, if done well.
However, it's more than the visual delight I appreciate, it's the full sensory experience and how our minds interact with the changing landscape. On a novelty walk, you encounter many new landscapes and perspectives, so there's an added element of fascination involved. But on any ritual walk, with the right mindset, you'll end up looking at the familiar with a new perspective for so many different reasons, I can't begin to list them. I suppose this is where the term psychogeography gets involved for some as it ties together our psychology with geography we are navigating to create a new sensation, at least in our minds.
The experience of the walk is sufficient for me. At this point, I could simply do that and not be bothered to mediate or try to create art. So that leads me to believe there's something deeper going on. There's a need to mediate and share but why?
I suppose I could directly say that I want to inspire people to embrace pedestrianism and walking to gain the same benefits as I do. I want everyone to be healthy and to thrive, and I think walking and engaging with public spaces is important for our well being, sense of communal cohesion and the health of our planet.
I think where the magic truly arrives though is with setting up a plan, and knowingly seeking certain elements in the landscape. Parks, gardens, large bodies of water and historical sites are often good destinations, but there's also public art and any number of local locations of interest.
Where these walks often take on a new life is along the way, in the network of paths and streets that connect the city, in this maze of infrastructure there are the edges, and urban idiosyncrasies that can be difficult to articulate why they are interesting in the moment, but capture and hold your attention as being of significance.
The the time spent on long walks, for me, are a way to find a balance in a world where we spend so much time glued to media, news and entertainment that we often forget there's an actual world outside the screen.
We have more media than we can imagine, and now I can even fall asleep listening to someone like RMTransit talking about the subway system in Seoul. We can immerse ourselves in our niche interests like never before.
But outside, on a walk, you are on the live wire and nothing is really happening other than your own movement through the landscape. Perhaps there's nothing to be learned by staring at a curb, desire path or tree branch but I think at minimum it can act as an important counter-balance which is maybe why the phrase 'touch grass' has become shorthand for get off the internet and go outside.
For me, there's only so much you can communicate about a walk through writing and photography. Video is an interesting, although a more complicated creative path. However, I think ultimately the goal is to inspire people to join the game. I am sure this happening all over right now, so part of my goal is to learn more about walk design.
I think there's an interesting challenge in trying to design a walk that would inspire someone to engage in the landscape and infrastructure in a physical, sensory way. It's a different type of art and presents a lot of unique challenges, so I'm curious what I'll learn along the way. If anything, it's a good way to think about images in a different way.
My conclusion is that even if that's a very, very tiny audience, even 1 person, then it would be worth the effort because at that point, I believe it sets off a chain reaction. I've experienced it. I've seen it happen. Strange things happen when you start to spend more time in public spaces, especially on long walks where there are transitions in the landscape. We're narrative beings and I think one of the cool things that happens is that you start to remember these experiences in unique ways. That's they type of art and communication I'm interested in, even if it's elusive and somewhat irrational.
I still have a lot of work to do on these ideas but I'm making progress and have a new idea that I hope to have fleshed out going into the new year. In the meantime, I have a few new maps and photos I'm sharing as well as the usual inspiration.
What motivates you to get out on a long walk? Would love to hear some ideas.
The Joys of Walking, Together and Solo: “Walking is a rare moment in our modern life where you can just let your mind wander. Aimless walking is a lost art in our ever-optimizing society.”
The Secret to Unlocking One of the Universe’s Greatest Mysteries: “We linger at the border of our knowledge. We familiarize ourselves with it, and we spend a long time there, walking back and forth along its length, searching for the gap. We try out new combinations. New concepts.I think that this is also how the best art works. Science and art are both concerned with the continual reorganization of our conceptual space, of what we call meaning.”
The World’s Most Popular Painter Sent His Followers After Me Because He Didn’t Like a Review of His Work. Here’s What I Learned: “Today, personal biography and narrative are more important than ever in the gallery—most art comes equipped with some kind of story. But social media gives an added twist: Hordes of people can feel as if they have a relationship with a painter like Devon Rodriguez without ever having had any direct experience of his painting at all.”
RIP Robert Irwin: “I do things which from any social or political view are outrageous. I mean, they absolutely ignore all the social issues of the day. […] But my way of balancing that out is that there’s one thing I can do that has immediate social value, and that has been this kind of running around and talking with people. So I do that for free. Because I don’t want to put economics on it at all.”
Yoko Ono and the Women of Fluxus Changed the Rules in Art and Life: “Long before the internet and its instant global connections, her “Spatial Poem” treated communication as a network. Shiomi provided participants with cards and instructions to write something on them, place them somewhere and report back to her. Then, like a social scientist, she would track and map the results.”
The dismantling of the Twin Cities' streetcar system was part of a larger trend across the U.S., where many streetcar systems were replaced by bus lines or abandoned altogether. Several factors contributed to the decline:
- Rise of the Automobile: Post-World War II America saw a significant increase in automobile ownership. The convenience and individualism of car travel made it a preferred mode of transportation.
- Economic Factors: Operating streetcars was becoming increasingly expensive, especially in terms of maintaining the tracks and the vehicles. Buses were seen as a more economical and flexible alternative.
- Federal and Local Policies: Post-war urban and transportation policies often favored highways and roads over public transit. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which financed the creation of the Interstate Highway System, further incentivized automobile travel.
- National City Lines Influence: National City Lines (NCL), a company that bought out streetcar systems in many U.S. cities (often with backing from automobile, tire, and oil corporations), played a role in the transition from streetcars to buses. While the extent of the so-called "Great American Streetcar Scandal" is debated among historians, NCL did have a hand in the dismantling of the streetcar system in the Twin Cities.
- Perceived Modernity of Buses: Buses were seen as a modern replacement for the streetcar. They didn't require tracks, could be rerouted more easily, and were seen as a more contemporary form of transit.
By the 1950s, the once-extensive streetcar system in the Twin Cities was entirely replaced by buses. The last streetcar ran in Minneapolis in 1954.
I’m an artist and marketing strategist based in Minneapolis. This is my newsletter on art, walking, urbanism and mindfulness.
Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me. You can email me at email@example.com or follow me on Instagram or Threads.