Walking as art: When attitudes turn forms

The definition of “walking as art” might sound quite familiar with art-seekers or people interested in art forms. This conception has now been the key pursuit of an increasing number of contemporary artists with more and more international exhibitions being held every year. Taking a walk through the ‘wandering’ art history, it is a must to visit Guy Debord – a man permanently seeks for serious fun – and his inherits: Richard Long and Francis Alÿs.

  1. Guy Debord: A masterpiece of dérive mind

Guy Debord was born in a place lavish in historical heritages and profound culture – Paris, the city eventually became his biggest inspiration and obsession during his lifetime. In Debord’s late twentieth, with the ideal of integrating art and daily life to transform urban landscape, Debord and his Lettrists colleagues invented a system of practices which helps to erase the boundary between individual autonomy and the spectacle. By walking through Paris in a free-associative manner, they discovered the theory of psychogeography, which states that geographical environment has its potent effects on emotions and behaviors of one individual though it is consciously recognized or not. Following this theory were two basic techniques that were claimed to be essential in liberating oneself from narrowness: dérive and détournement. Dérive is a term describing aimless drifting through a particular place to reach a vivid feeling of space, “a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances” (Lynch Debord), while détournement (E: rerouting) is a real usage of those drifting with its inclination to subversive political pranks like punk movement and culture jamming.

Debord’s most well-known artwork of those wandering journeys is The Society of The Spectacle. The book is a sorrowful call from Debord for individual actively entering manmade nature of the world, closing the distance steming from passive intake of TV factual programme and “pseudo-festivals”. By dérive across Paris, Debord separated his experience from the environment of the near future; whereby enabling himself to accurately foretell the contemporary spectacle that we are all living in. With this masterpiece, Debord successfully inspired not only global movements but also a generation of walking and drifting artists.

  1. Richard Long: A simple nature respecter

In Richard Long’s official website, what we first can see is this poetry line that immediately provokes our imagination: “The music of stones, paths of shared footmarks, sleeping by the river’s roar.This seems like an outer-self sentiment of a person who deeply attuned to the nature, and to Long, it no longer is “seem”. By walking for days to remote areas, he searched for high articulation of time and space, a freedom of movement and expression, and a balance between nature force and human characteristics. “My work is about working in the wide world, wherever, on the surface of the Earth. My work is not urban, nor it is romantic. It is the laying down of modern ideas in the only practical places to take them.” Long said. With this intention in mind, his artworks are mostly created from stones and driftwood, raw materials arranged in geometric configurations that scatter along Long’s journey. This is because he never intends to intrude in or change the way that nature exists, his works all are about simple interventions and marks of passage. “They are a sort of simple celebration of the place, like its stones, or the horizon, or the mist, and of me being there, at that particular time, possibly never to pass that way again.”

  1. Francis Alÿs: A waking rocker

Seeing Alÿs a rocker is describing his style of making arts, which is so intense and poetic in its nature. Using paseos, a walking technique that surpasses the subjection of common space, as a medium has enabled Alÿs to expose himself to urban landscape with its hidden battles between arts and politics, between individual and impotence. Alÿs possesses a diverse body of works ranging from performance, videos to paintings, these are all acquired from his keen perception of strolling and urban experience in dramatic situations. To take an example is one of his famous performance Pradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing) in 1997 when he pushed a large ice block through Mexico streets for 9 hours until it melted away to nothing. This is an allegory for the failure of modernization reforms in Mexico and showing the idea of maximum effort turning into minimum results.


Debord, Long and Alÿs are practicians of the concept that art could be a journey, for which feeds the sense and mind of those strollers. As Edward Thomas put it, “walking alone gives access to the keyless chambers of the brain”, the wandering experience should be beyond your own narrow and limited lifestyle for its returning to its true purpose – harmony.


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