There is no such thing as territory without paths.
Nature is already crisscrossed by visible and invisible, infinite paths. Myriad paths preexist human steps everywhere. Everything is path: big or small; up, down, and sideways; through the through. There is no space that is not the path to some form of life. Large bodies are paths to small bodies, and they to the microscopic.
Ernesto Pujol Walking Art Practice: Reflections on Socially Engaged Paths
While preparing for the second session we revisited a site we had chosen a month or so before and found that the plant life we had been planning to draw had been completely cut back. This is somewhat expected in urban sites where nature is finding opportunity, but is not protected or widely valued as the place for it. The site is a roadside strip of gravel which rosehip and other plants were growing through and up against a concrete wall. The reason for the cutting back at this time is unclear. This road strip allowed access to an industrial site and was maybe considered an inconvenience. Plant diversity can also be increased by mowing at certain times of year although there didn’t seem to be a case for this in this instance that we could ascertain. (This unexpected removal of plants recalled a site we had worked in previously in Granton which was mowed back in early summer, completely decimating a rich ecosystem which had been establishing there before the flowers had a chance to bloom and welcome insects and birds).
Adapting, we looked for what else was in the site, and found it to be a case of the more you look the more you see. With the plants gone there was an uncovered history of what had been living in and amongst them – a history of paths. The now exposed wall proved host to a rich tapestry of marks, the trails of creatures, weather marks and red lichens.
This called to mind Ernesto Pujol’s chapter Multiple Paths in Walking Art Practice quoted above. In particular his assertion that ‘Everything is Path’.
In cities human paths dominate, and often in their definiteness obscure and obliterate the activities of the other species we share urban spaces with. This busy corridor of vehicles and industrial activity had allowed for a margin of opportunity for non-human activity. A fringe corridor for plants and snails and other small life forms.
Although the cutting back wasn’t welcomed from our perspective. It had in a way brought some of the themes we had been planning to explore through Pujol’s text into greater focus. Bringing the paths of other creatures into an urban walking arts practice.
Other chapters in Pujol’s book range through ‘Walking & Death’, ‘Walking the Child’ & ‘Walking the Future’. For this session we chose to focus on extracts which engaged with imagination and otherness in the context of paths. Themes which tied together both walking arts practice and drawing; and the opportunities they engender to embrace new perspectives.
In the essay Walking the Imagination he writes:
Imagination is a precursor to walking. In fact, imagination bookends walking practice. There’s no first step without imagining the path and the journey, its travails and destinations. Even if we surrender our imagination at the portal to a path, before our first step, seeking to walk with no thought, completely open to stimuli, our imagination is what greets us after the walk, reactivated, to help us process what we experienced.
The imagination of the walker completes the experience of the road. We need great imagination to walk through reality, for reality is so vast that only our imagination can help fill what our intellect cannot encompass.
What is interesting about this quote is that it does not characterise imagination as something extra or additional to reality. Our experience of the world is open, and the role of the imagination is closer to interpretation or creating a perspective. This relates strongly also to drawing. It is not an objective copying of reality but an act of imaginative interpretation.
For the session we wanted to explore approaches to drawing which channel our imagination into otherness, as a way to be open to another less anthropomorphic perspective. To draw as a root finding its way through the soil, or a plant finding purchase on a wall. To approach drawing in a landscape as an opportunity to tune into otherness. To complete our experience of the road in a less habitual way.
To begin with the participants made drawings of the paths and markings on the wall. Evidence of ‘everything is path’. Creating interesting and varied abstract drawings. From these drawings on paper they then drew onto the wall directly with water. Creating something looser and more ephemeral.
Before finishing the session, and walking our own path, we read a final extract from Pujol’s chapter Path into Paths. Ending the session by making our own path.
Do not just walk along a path. Talk with a path; dialogue with a path. Speak with your mouth, talk with your hands, and talk with your feet. Listen carefully with all of your body for its responses. See what it presents you with, what you find and what finds you. Seek to be found by what is visible and invisible to the human eye. And if you are healthy enough to walk it barefoot, feeling the soil with your soles, touching the rocks and tree bark with your hands, a truly tactile walk, learn through the nonverbal, learn through your skin, so that you experience the skin of the path.