The sight of the walker

A reflection on William Sharpes article – Part One

This is the first part summary taken from William Sharpes paper in Walking Bodies (2020), on reading the paper, I started to find alignment with my work which Sharpe (2020) talked about.

The first statement Sharpe ponders is whether;

‘walking art offers its proponents a choice; do I make my body visible in the work, as a painter might, so that my audience may have a sign of the walker, or shall I shape my work in such as way that the audience, perhaps as participant, sees something else ‘ thought through my eyes’ as Joyce puts it’ (page139).

In my work on the Lost and Forgotten Heinkels, I did place a photograph of myself in the work, but during a tutorial with Richard Webb, it was recommended that I don’t include photos of myself but rather let the reader/viewer explore.

Sharpe (2020) also suggests that art critics and historians desire images of walks more than the artists ‘the fact that it (the walk) happened is not merely enough’. Sharpe continues to suggest that; with artists such as ‘Long and Fulton it is not the length of the walk but the strength of the idea animating from it that counts in making provocative, illuminating art’ Sharpe argues that is the fact that there is a strong alliance between concept and image. This is very much where I have placed my walks and mini-pilgrimages, they are based on ideas rather than long walks. This can be demonstrated in my work of the Granite orthostats, where I have associated the walk with the image and in the Lost and Forgotten Heinkels where the concept of the walk was as important as the walk itself , in fact it was the concept that created the walk.

Sharpe also draws on the performance concept of walking such as Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s The lovers (1988) and Francis Alys’ work ‘sometimes something leads to nothing’ which both have political and social impact more than the walk itself. Sharpe asks a question whether visual artifacts generated by the walk are incidental or integral to the art-walk itself. Does the art reside in the walk, the walker or the documentation? This is something that I too have mulled over, how do I document a walk or indeed do I need to?

Sharpe highlights that a growing number of practitioners, have argued that walking art needs to challenge ocular-centrism to pay less attention to objects that can be visually consumed without engaging other senses. Linking walks and place with the senses, lies at the core of my research proposal so this is something where I need to take a deeper dive into. Sharpe also recalls that ‘a greater emphasis on walking as a collective activity form of art has emerged, together with less certainly about the value of tying the meaning of the art walk to representative images ‘ Sharpe suggests that walking artists move away from sight and physical force and seek a greater emphasis on haptics, sound, memory and orality. This part of the essay links to my labyrinth work where I not only worked collaboratively in the design but then got the walkers to participate in walking the labyrinth.

Sharpe highlights that over the last century the type of work favoured is that of a participatory embodied experiences that generate no-normative ways of walking/traversing together thereby ‘cripping the flaneur’ However Fulton would argue that a photo of a Buzzard simply says buzzard, ‘what comes in to play is the simultaneously of senes. There is a certain sight, we hear the birds, we smell the brush, the wind whistles in the corner of the eyes from the direction of the setting sun.’

Sharpe feels that ‘the sight of the walker is related to the words the surround or appear in the image, since walking images rarely circulate without language to sustain them’. He links this back to psychogeography which he perceives might bridge the gap between sight and sense. He mentions the work of Ian Sinclair who talks about the feeling of the street. He then draws upon the work of Phil Smith who walks discover thoughts, feelings and textures and organic matter often takes the form of documentation, handbooks and exemplary objects designed to encourage others to undertake exploratory walking. I know a little of Ian Sinclair’ work, but much of his walking is done in an urban environment, whereas `I am researching the more rural nature of walking. The work of Phil Smith I may wish to delve into more as I too am creating documentation from my walk, so I may find some similarities with his work.


Billinghurst, H., et al., (2020). Walking Bodies: Papers, Provocations, Actions from Walking’s New Movements, the Conference. Triarchy Press.

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